One of the oldest and manliest grooming traditions, the cut throat shave, has come steaming back into fashion over the past six months, thanks in no small part to James Bond and the latest 007 film Skyfall.
During a scene in the film, British actress Naomie Harris gives 007, played by Daniel Craig, a close shave using a cut throat razor, whispering in his ear “sometimes the old ways are the best” as she performs the shave.
We even attributed the latest James Bond movie for a whopping 405% increase in sales of both our cut throat razors and shavettes.
With this in mind we decided to enlist the help of expert London barber Ian Woodmansey, from the London School of Shaving, to ensure every guy was fully briefed on the art of cut throat shaving and had all the right tips and tricks to achieve a great straight/cut throat razor shave.
Words by Ian Woodmansey
Introduction to the London School of Shaving
The London School of Shaving (LSoS) was established in early 2012 to teach men who are new to cut throat razor shaving some of the secrets of shaving with an old-school straight razor. Following the success of the 007 movie Skyfall, in which Daniel Craig proves that Bond is the ultimate man when he shaves with a cutthroat, the School has become the ‘go-to’ place to learn the art of this most refined form of shaving. LSoS has taught men from all walks of life and from all over the world how to shave, from London barristers to New York cops. The School, which is based in West Hampstead, is going from strength to strength and has teamed up with The Shaving Shack to give you the opportunity to pose questions to the cut throat shaving experts.
The London School of Shaving was founded by Ian Woodmansey, who first experienced cut throat shaving on a beach in India 13 years ago. He loved the experience so much that he decided to teach himself how to shave, and has never looked back since. After teaching himself how to use a cut throat, Ian then taught various friends the art of the ‘real’ shave before setting up LSoS. The School is a completely unique business, believed to be the only cut throat razor school on the face of the planet. Ian is passionate about the art of cut throat shaving and sees it as the most modern way of shaving, a way to escape the throw-away culture and to contribute to a life surrounded by quality. He wants to see the cut throat razor reclaim its rightful place as the 21st century way to shave, and invites you to follow this page to experience the pleasure and satisfaction of shaving ‘properly’.
The secret of a great cut throat shave can be summed up in a few key ideas: prepare the beard well; use the correct equipment; stretch the skin well; keep the angle of the blade at a steady 30 degrees, and use a very light touch. If you follow these rules you won’t go far wrong – although they still take some practicing.
There are some minor complications, such as the chin and the area below the nose, but practice will soon make perfect. If possible, force yourself to shave with both your dominant and less dominant hand – although it feels uncomfortable and slightly odd to begin with, you will soon get used to shaving with the ‘wrong’ hand and it will make life significantly easier in the long run.
The preparation of the beard is key: the best advice is to shave after a shower when the stubble is good and soft. Before lathering up, apply some pre-shave oil and then use a shaving brush to apply a good quality shaving soap. Barbers who shave people all day every day spend at least a minute or two building up a great lather on the face with a shaving brush – they do this because they know that it will make the shave significantly easier. It’s worth investing in decent shaving soap or cream; cheap soaps will dry out quickly meaning you have to use twice as much. Ensuring the edge of your razor – whether a traditional cut throat or a shavette razor – is super sharp is also vital (this can be achieved by good maintenance through honing and stropping the edge of the blade).
Once you are ready to shave, concentrate on 3 key things: the angle of the blade, the lightness of your touch, and how you stretch the skin in front of the blade. The angle should not be more than 30 degrees from the skin, the touch should be extremely light, and the skin should be stretched to ensure that a ridge of skin does not build up in front of the blade, thereby causing a nick. You should shave with the grain first, then across the grain, and for an incredibly close shave, against the grain last. Usually the first one or two of these should be sufficient.
When you have finished, splash cold water on your face to close up your pores, use a block of alum to disinfect your face and close up any small nicks, and apply some post-shave moisturiser. I swear by E45, which is kind to even the most sensitive of skin.
Different types of cut throat razors (shavette, single blade, etc) and their pros and cons
When starting to shave with a cut throat you have two main choices when it comes to shaving equipment: an old school straight razor or a ‘shavette’ straight razor with replaceable blades.
Each have their pros and cons. The traditional cut throat razor, as used by your granddad, has a certain cachet, a certain authenticity. When people imagine shaving with a cut throat razor this is what they think of: a cold, solid piece of steel slicing through stubble. This is the way 007 shaves, and there is nothing quite like it. However, despite its undoubted cool quotient, the traditional straight razor requires some looking after. For some this is one of its attractions, for others it is definitely a downside. It is important to ensure the blade does not rust. It is necessary to realign and mildly sharpen the edge of the blade after each use by running it over a strop. Every once in a while it is necessary to hone (sharpen) the blade edge on a stone designed for that purpose. These are all skills that one can learn over time, but they are not things that feel immediately natural, and they do take some time to master. So, with a traditional cut throat the deal is style vs. upkeep. It’s a bit like having a 1958 silver-grey 2-seater convertible Mercedes: it looks fantastic and people will definitely watch as you go past, but it requires TLC to keep it on the road.
Manufacturers – including our friends at The Bluebeards Revenge – are also now making shavette razors, which are very much in the spirit of the old school straight razor, but without the necessary maintenance. Shavette razors are a similar shape to cut throat razors, but they have one key difference: they take a replaceable razor blade that can be slotted into the cutting edge. Some say they lack some of the cachet of the traditional straight razor, although that’s strictly a matter of personal taste. What is certain, though, is that they require less upkeep. There is no need to keep the edge of the blade sharp – if it gets blunt you simply slot in a new razor blade. This means there is no need for stropping or honing, and therefore no need for the various bits of equipment necessary to run an old school razor. If you have children they are also safer (although not completely safe) to have around the house; and if you travel by air you should be able to take them in hand luggage through customs, even if you have to purchase new razor blades at your destination.
Personally, I use both. I love the authentic feel of a traditional straight razor on my face, and find using one is a very pleasurable experience. I have various old school razors – mainly British and German – and tend to use them at the weekend or as a treat on a weekday. On other days, when time is of the essence I often use my shavette, which is convenient, quick and gives an excellent shave. Horses for Courses!
We would like to take this opportunity to thank Ian for his time to write these excellent words and would recommend his school to all our customers.
For more information on the London School of Shaving, click here.
Aaron is asked a question about shaving under the chin
Nigel Watford, from the UK, asks:
“Currently using an Edwin Jagger DE89, with Gillette 7 o clock razor blades which I find are the best blades for me. Looking to change the razor. The size is fine but I’m struggling under the chin area. Thinking about a adjustable razor like a Merkur. Can you advise on a razor please? The blades and cream are fine.”
I’m glad you have a good set that works well for you. Under the chin is a common problem for many men and requires some good care and attention. An adjustable razor is a good place to start, and I highly recommend the Merkur Progress and the Merkur Futur.
Another product I would suggest is the Merkur 37c/ Slant razor. Using these razors can definitely help on your quest! Thanks for your question!!
Do you have any burning questions you would like ask our wet shaving expert Aaron Wolfenbarger?
Aaron answers a question about which safety razor is the best, the Merkur 34c or the Muhle R89
Billy Stewart, from the UK, asks:
Congratulations on your first safety razor purchase! Honestly the Muhle 89 and the Merkur 34c are both great introduction razors and you would do well to purchase either one. I personally started with the Merkur 34c, but know many others who have started with the Muhle. The choice is yours, choose which one seems to appeal to you most and welcome to the safety razor club!
Do you have any burning questions you would like ask our wet shaving expert Aaron Wolfenbarger?
In January 2011, I blogged about why a double edge razor is technically better than a cartridge based razor system. Now there is yet another reason for men to ditch the horrid multi-bladed cartridge razor in favour of the single bladed razor.
“Replacement cartridges for Gillette’s Fusion ProGlide can be as much as £3.49 each,” the newspaper said.
It went on to say that blades for Gillette’s top-of-the-range Fusion ProGlide cost less than 10p to manufacturer, which in my book is a fairly decent profit margin.
The paper also blames Gillette, the world’s largest shaving company by quite a distance, for imposing a stealth price rise by cutting the number of replacement cartridges in its Mach3 Turbo packs from five to four.
“The smaller pack did not bring a corresponding cut in the price, leaving men paying at least 20 per cent more,” the article says.
It went on to blame the increasing cost of cartridge blades for men’s poor shaving habits.
“At the same time, men worried about making ends meet are either trying to make their razor blades last longer, with the resulting scrapes and cuts – or ditching their shaving regime and opting for designer stubble.”
A better quality shave with a long term saving
This all makes me rather angry as there is an easy solution – change your shaving habits and ditch the overpriced cartridge razor. Opt instead for a double edge safety razor and if you’re feeling really adventurous, a straight or cut throat razor (as its more commonly referred to).
Not only will both types of razor give you a better quality of shave, they are also much cheaper in the long run, as a number of the comments on the Daily Mail article point out.
“I switched from cartridge razors to a straight razor and have never looked back. True your initial investment is a little higher but the payback on these cartridge blades is 6 months or so. Have not had to buy a single razor blade in 18 months now,” commented Derrick Young, Wasaga Beach, Ontario.
Roy, from York, also pointed out the massive cost savings men could experience from switching to a DE razor: “I have used an old fashioned Double Edge safety razor for years and blades for that can cost as little as 10p. As they are cheap you can afford to change them regularly and get a good shave. With multi bladed cartridges because of the price people carry on using them when they are going blunt. With DE razors, OK the razor is more expensive but it lasts for many years, but one sharp blade every couple of shaves is better than a dull multi blade being stretched out over a week. People have had good shaves with single blades for centuries. Multi blades are a marketing gimmick.”
Roy’s last sentence is a very accurate one, “Multi blades are a marketing gimmick”. Let’s face it Gillette are excellent at marketing their products, they have pretty much convinced men that 3 blades are better than 1 and 5 blades are better than 3. They also spend millions of pounds on celebrity endorsements, with sports stars like Roger Federer, Tiger Woods, and Thierry Henry (who now wears a beard) fronting lavish TV and newspaper campaigns.
It was Gillete who first worked out that men would indeed fork out for overpriced cartridges as long as the initial cost, i.e. the handle, was affordable. It’s pretty much the same business model adopted by ink jet printer companies. Sell a cheap printer, then sell really expensive “cartridges” that run out quickly. It’s simple, but very effective.
Dollar Shave Club
It will be interesting to see how successful the much-hyped Dollar Shave Club will turn out to be. Dollar Shave Club’s business model is similar to LoveFilm, which sends subscribers movies in the post for a small monthly fee. Dollar Shave Club will send customers a monthly supply of disposable razor blades starting at $1 a month (however, when you add in delivery costs it’s more like the 4-Dollar Shave Club). A catchy brand name and I must say a pretty cool launch commercial, which has picked up nearly 5 million views on YouTube. And according to widespread media reports, more than 12,000 people have signed up for the service.
There is no question that the Dollar Shave Club YouTube video is hilarious. But aside from the online hype, can the Dollar Shave Club compete against the likes of Gillette in the long term? I’m guessing not…
Looking ahead, I really hope men will start to see through all this cleaver marketing and take a stand against the rising cost of cartridges. For those switching to the affordable yet luxurious world of double edged shaving, all I can do is welcome you to the real men’s club. And I will finish this article by saying; shaving should be regarded as a pleasure, not a chore.
Sean Chawla-Duggan, from the UK, asks:
“Aaron, I have a very tough thick beard hair, and while when I do have the luxury of time I get a very good shave with a straight razor, I’d like to have a safety razor for mid week quickies. Should I use open or closed comb?”
Thank you for writing in! There is much debate surrounding the safety bar vs. open comb with strong opinions on both sides. Open comb razors do tend to be more aggressive and can give an easier shave for those of us with tougher beards. The shave also heavily depends on how sharp your blade is. If you like the look and feel of an open comb, go for it! There is a great open comb version of the Merkur HD which I highly recommend as well as the Muhle open comb.
Do you have any burning questions you would like ask our wet shaving expert Aaron Wolfenbarger? CLICK HERE TO ASK AARON YOUR QUESTION
My New Year started off beautifully. I woke up suddenly around 9am, entangled with my loved one, and had the startling and somewhat shocking revelation that I was completely hangover-free. I hopped out of bed, had a cup of coffee and some toast, and set about deciding what my first shave of 2011 should look like.
Nick from The Shaving Shack had recently sent me a box containing the Bluebeards Revenge Scimitar double-edged razor and a tub of the Bluebeards Revenge post-shave balm. This, then, was the way to go. I knew a review needed to be written, a beard needed to be shaved, and… Well, it was time to get moving.
My initial impression of the razor was that it was similar in nature to most other higher-end modern razors (see Merkur as a fine example). It displays the Jolly Rodger skull-and-crossbones proudly on the top piece, echoing the “Bluebeard” pirate theme that runs throughout their product line. The fit and finish were absolutely perfect, and the heft and balance of the razor definitely felt great. Perhaps my only complaint – out of the box – was that the grip was a touch slick.
After a hot shower, I popped a fresh Japanese Feather blade in, lathered up with Truefitt & Hill’s Lavender cream (which has quickly become my standard go-to luxury shave cream) and set to work. The razor was just slightly more aggressive in feel than my trusty vintage Gillette Superspeed. I’d put it close to setting 4 or 5 on the Gillette Fatboy adjustable, though very smooth and forgiving at the same time. It made short work of my beard and left me feeling quite happy with the results in 3 standard passes.
I finished up with a thorough rinse and a shot of witch hazel, and then opened up the tub of balm. The consistency was quite thick, so I popped a finger in, grabbed a dollop, and rubbed it in quickly. The first thing I noticed about the balm was that it burned as though it was an aftershave splash, which of course screams “alcohol!” to me. I’m not normally a huge fan of alcohol in my balms – if I want it, I’ll use a splash. In this case, however, it works. I was a little surprised, to be honest, just how WELL it worked. The balm absorbed into the skin, leaving it feeling fresh and moisturized without even a hint of oil or shine. The scent of the balm was pleasant as well, a nice classic barbershop style, though it lingers much too long for my taste.
I continued to use the two items every day until this morning, and the only change in my technique has been a switch to Art of Shaving’s excellent lemon shave cream. The razor has completely knocked every other double-edge out of rotation. My Superspeed, Fat Boy, the uber-1970′s Krona, even my Merkur slant – they’re all sitting unused in my medicine cabinet. I’ve not touched the other shave balms I’ve accumulated over the last few years at all lately, and even with daily use for over a month I’m still not even 1/4 of my way through the tub of aftershave balm.
My only suggestion for a change is that Bluebeard should release a completely unscented version of the shave balm. Otherwise, I’m extremely impressed with both products and would heavily recommend them to anyone entering the wetshaving world.
As Gillette launches its much-hyped Fusion ProGlide Power razor in the UK – I take a quick look at why a double edge razor is still technically superior to a ProGlide or any other cartridge based razor system out there.
For those who use double edge safety razors for shaving on a regular basis, the answer to the question “Why is a double edge razor technically better than a cartridge based razor system?” may seem quite obvious: ‘because you get better results’. However, for the rest of the men out there who use multi-bladed cartridges instead – and let’s face it that includes the vast majority of men in the Western world – they may wonder why they should ever consider changing their shaving method?
Well, the real answer to the question above lies within the technology of the types of razor on offer. From a scientific standpoint double edge safety razors certainly have the edge over cartridge based razor systems like the Fusion ProGlide Power razor, Wilkinson Sword Hydro and the King of Shaves Azor.
I recently spoke to American wet shaving expert Mike Sandoval, who runs the Shaving101 website, about why the cartridge razor system was so popular.
“The cartridge razor system is appealing to many men because it is advertised to be modern and high performing with innovative designs and multi-blade cutting action,” he said. “High-dollar marketing campaigns feature celebrity athletes that promote modern cartridges as the only masculine option.”
So why do double edge razors produce a closer and more rewarding shave?
The cartridge system razor generally works by using its hinge or pivot point to maintain a constant angle on the face while shaving. And while there may be many other features or gimmicks they offer, this pivoting mechanism is the most important aspect of the razor at making the shave quick and easy to use – which is the key advantage of these razors.
“The problem is that the blades of a cartridge are close together with extremely small spacing between each cutting edge,” explains Mike. “The razor is unable to cleanly cutting hair without requiring multiple passes along your skin, catching and pulling long stubble, as well as constantly clogging during the shave.”
On the other hand, while double edge razors may take longer to get used too – with a short learning curve to overcome – you have far more control over the razor and the closeness of the shave itself. Therefore, with DE shavers the process may take longer, with shorter strokes, but you will notice an improvement in the (even more crucial) performance aspect of the shave.
Mike adds: ”The double edge safety razor uses a single cutting edge that tracks along the skin at a much more comfortable angle and cuts the hair cleanly without grabbing or pulling excessively (provided you choose the right blade for your beard and skin type).
”Although you won’t find many celebrity athletes promoting the double edge razor, there has been a strong resurgence in traditional shaving. Many men are returning to old-school shaving because it is more comfortable and more economical.”
If time really is the most important factor when shaving, a Hydro, Azor or ProGlide may be the answer, but if you are a man who likes to work with engineering excellence that has stood the test of time and has the patience to learn, then maybe it is time to think about leaving those expensive cartridges behind and opt for a results-proven double edged razor.
Gillette launched the new Fusion ProGlide Power razor in the UK this month. It is the latest addition to its growing family of Fusion razors with Gillette’s thinnest-ever blades. The firm says the ProGlide outperforms its existing Fusion razor.
There are two versions of the Gillette ProGlide, a battery-powered model and a manual version. The battery-powered Gillette Fusion ProGlide Power comes with one blade cartridge and is available priced £12.99. The manual version comes with two blade cartridges and costs £9.99.
Over the last few years, I have used many different brands of cartridge based razor system, including the Azor, Gillette Fusion Power Stealth and Gillette Mach 3 Turbo, Wilkinson Sword Quattro Titanium Energy and Wilkinson Sword Hydro 5 and Boots’ Hydro and Titanium Triple Razor, but personally still prefer the excitement and closeness of a DE razor.
The Merkur 33C Classic will always be my all-time favourite, but I would also highly recommend the Merkur Futur 760, Goodfella, Muhle R89 and the relatively new Bluebeards Revenge “Scimitar” Double Edge Razor.
Follow Nick Gibbens on Twitter @nickgibbens
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More articles by Nick Gibbens
Mantic, the American wet shaving guru, has been taking part in a Question and Answer session with Shaving Shack visitors.
Already Mantic, a veteran of the BadgerAndBlade and ShaveMyFace forums, has answered questions on advanced shaving techniques, slant razors, brush break-in, passes, runny lather and suitable brush types.
Today he answers a further two questions in the Youtube video below.
The first is from Doug, who asks: “After many years of shaving with a heavy metal atra razor, what would be the best blade and method for using my grandfathers’ old Gillette 1961 Fat Boy and his 1948 Golden Aristocrat razor?”
The second comes from Jevon, who asks: “What different blades are recommended for different beard types?”
The Parker Model 90R “Knightsbridge” Metal Safety Razor comes in at number four in our list of the top 15 gifts to buy Dad this Father’s Day.
The 90R is an all-metal construction safety razor with nickel-plated finish, a butterfly opening, and some great styling on the handle.
Put this together with a decent blade, a nice rich lather and hot water and you get a close satisfying shave reputably out performing the likes of the Mach 3.
And don’t forget the savings in razor blades compared to the cost of the average Mach 3 refill cartridge; this razor will pay for itself!
The Parker 90R is priced at just £19.99 on the Shaving Shack website.
A great gift for Dad this Father’s Day.
17 days and counting… Father’s Day is less than 3 weeks away! And what better way to show Dad how much you really care by treating him to a luxurious razor on June 20.
And they don’t come more impressive than the Shaving Shack “Regent” Nickel Plated Mach 3 Razor.
Stylish, modern and elegant, this is perfect Mach 3 luxury, and number 13 in our top 15 gift ideas for Father’s Day!
Tom Trueman, customer services manager at the Shack, says: “This nickel plated Mach 3 razor is absolutely stunning and represents fantastic value for money at just £22.99.
“The handle is perfectly balanced and feels substantial and solid. It comes in a blue gift box (pictured), making it an ideal gift for Father’s Day.”
The razor is 120mm in length and comes with the Mach 3 razor blade.
So forget the socks, jumpers and silly T-shirts, get Dad something he really wants this year!!!
Please check back on Friday for perfect gift number 12, or better still, sign up to our email updates by clicking here.