In a scenario that would have the onlooker spewing clichés like “each to their own,” it’s quite the wonder why things become heated when the straight razors vs. safety razors debate ensues. Is it not ultimately about finding the best solution for you? It just goes to show how competitive we naturally are, even going back and forth about which of these two methods offers the closest shave.
In reality, each of these has its merits, with the ultimate choice coming down to personal preference, hopefully based on the shaving experience. Join us as we weigh-in on the safety razors versus straight razors debate, zoning-in on some pros and cons of each so that if you’re on the fence about it you can make a more informed decision.
Safety razors are those which are integrated into disposable cartridge razors, with a perpendicular handle leading up to a blade holder and accounting for the characteristic T-shape. The reason why these are referred to as safety razors is because they are encapsulated by a safety bar below the blade and a cap above. As a result, a limited portion of the blade sticks out to come into contact with the skin at a specific angle. Consequently, these are a lot safer to use than a straight cut razor.
Safety razors are aptly named because of the safety they offer.
As much as the protruding blade is limited in the amount which makes contact with the skin, the angle at which it occurs accounts for a very close shave, but this is in comparison to commercial and disposable razors such as those which carry popular brand names like Bic or Gillette.
So you get a closer shave than these without the added risk of nicking and cutting. If you have a particularly shaky hand, something which can rather annoyingly be an issue when you need to complete activities such as shaving, a safety razor is probably the best option for you. Elderly men in particular constantly come into focus as a class of gentlemen who regularly cut themselves shaving, so that can be prevented with the use of an aptly named safety razor.
In comparison with disposable razors, safety razors work out much cheaper, with a single double-edged blade costing up to only an eighth of what a disposable razor costs. Double-edged blades are often of a higher quality too, which means they last longer, accounting for measurable savings that can be brought right down to the per-shave level.
Safety razors also allow you the freedom of using different blades as required, which means that you can simply switch blades if you notice any changes to your skin as a result of longer hair or rash.
You’ll probably notice how the pros mentioned with regards to safety razors are largely in comparison to the use of disposable razors as an alternative, while safety is perhaps the most pronounced of these advantages when compared with the main angle of this content, which is how they measure up against straight razors. Otherwise the biggest disadvantage associated with safety razors, as compared to straight razors, is that you will have to keep buying blades.
Even for the “manliest” of men, straight razors make for a natural progression from shaving with a knife! The same blade feel was retained, except with the addition of a handle that made it easy to fold away. Finding the right straight razor for you can sometimes be tricky though.
Straight razors are quite the rarity these days, with most of us only ever really catching sight of them in the movies and on TV. So what a straight razor is, is simply that straight, singular blade which is sharpened on one side, but the sharp side is extremely sharp and requires some skilled and steady hands to use. A jerky hand will result in some nicks and cuts.
Safety razors didn’t officially make an appearance until the early 1900s and going back to the late 1800s, with straight razors making for the first purpose built razors. Some sources cite safety razors as having been built for the purposes of improving hygiene, since there was an understanding of the risks associated with blood transfusion. It would happen with some regularity that a barber nicks the skin of one customer, whose blood then leaks onto the straight razor and then transfers to the next customer who has the same thing happen to them.
One of the biggest benefits reported by men who prefer to use straight razors is the long-lasting nature of a single razor, which can last up to an entire lifetime. The quality of the build these razors are crafted with honours production traditions that go back to a time when manufacturers focussed on lasting quality and so the metal used is purposefully meant to maintain its quality even as it gets periodically sharpened. There’s no overlooking the nostalgia visibly attached to the use of straight razors, with the whole experience incorporating a rich history of authenticity in male grooming habits.
A straight razor usually has a blade that’s around 3 inches in length, which is a lot longer than any safety blade or commercial blade available. As a result, a larger surface area of the face can be covered with each stroke, something which contributes to the reduction of the irritation some men would have otherwise had to endure. This is an initial investment that can last a lifetime with proper stropping, honing and care. To put that into a bit of perspective, some men even go as far as passing down their razors to their sons as part of a growing family tradition.
It’s almost like some kind of initiation hazard, but you’re almost guaranteed to cut yourself the very first time you start shaving with the use of a straight razor. Nevertheless, the skill it takes to master the technique of shaving with a straight razor is considered to be something that should be learned by every man, especially by the traditionalists.
Additionally, if you somehow manage to deal some damage to the razor, a brand new unit will need to be purchased and as you’ll know by now, straight razors don’t come cheap. It’s highly unlikely that this will happen, but it’s been known to happen and is a possibility for first-timers.
Not only does it require some dedication to learn how to shave without cutting yourself, it takes the same kind of time and effort to learn the art of sharpening the blade. So every six months or so you’ll need to re-sharpen the blade to make sure you continue to get that close shave. Because of the amount of money you’d invest in buying your straight razor unit, you might also be faced with the disadvantage of being stuck with just one blade, leaving you with no workable alternative options should you start to develop some skin irritations, bumps or razor burns.
Straight Razors and Safety Razors: side by side.
Traditionalists are justified in their steadfast honouring of traditional male grooming with a straight razor, going as far as flouting the practices of those who make use of comparatively cheap cartridge shaving razors and worse yet, disposables which are even cheaper. It does however take some effort to make the leap into the realms of these traditionalists, so by the time you join these ranks you likely know all about the benefit of cut-throat shaving over safety razors. Otherwise for consumers simply seeking a better shave, the quality resides in a wet shave.
A wet shave prepares your face and the facial hair better for the process of shaving and also provides a much better set of results. You get a closer shave with less irritation, which makes one wonder just why so many men continue subjecting themselves to the irritation and pain that comes with following shaving routines that have become the norm.
So, with typical electric shavers out the way and cheap disposables as well, when the dust clears it’s either the straight razor or the safety razor which you would choose from for a true wet shave. In this particular case we’re specifically talking about those safety razors which feature one blade and not so much the double-edged ones or those with multiple blades.
That would defeat the purpose of minimising the amount of contact with the blades your skin is exposed to. In the case of the straight razor blade, it’s a very sharp blade that you’d be working with. Some big brands including the likes of Gillette tout their multiple blade, cartridge-based razors as producing a close shave while minimising irritation, but in truth only one blade is required to give the closest shave possible. It’s a matter of minimising the number of times the blade(s) make(s) contact with your face. Your skin will experience less irritation. With a multiple blade razor, logic dictates that every stroke equates to between three to five strokes of a single blade razor, so you can expect more irritation by default.
The steel that typically goes into the making of a straight razor is of a higher quality than that which goes into safety razors, while both of these boast steel that is of a higher quality than disposable razors. So the discussion around skin irritation comes to the fore again, this time from a different angle, so to say. With the lower quality steel of the throw-aways, you would need to press down a lot harder and in so doing contribute towards agitating the skin more to account for more irritation. Between a straight razor and a safety razor, the best-quality straight razor offers superior quality as it effortlessly glides over the skin.
The fact of the matter is either one of a straight razor or a safety razor can provide you with a high quality shave. What it comes down to is personal preference, but that personal preference is most likely driven by the results you get. So if a straight razor works best for you then that would make for the natural choice, while the same can be said of a safety razor. It all comes down to the quality of the application as well, i.e. the skill level of the person who is shaving your face, which is likely to be you in the case of a safety razor, while a cut-throat shave might be one which you get at a barber’s.
Straight Razors vs. Safety Razors – the Final Verdict
Now that you’re all clued-up on the basic knowledge of what straight razors offer in relation and in comparison to safety razors, the process of making your final decision might need a little look at a final verdict, summarising the pros and cons of each.
• Lower initial purchase costs in comparison to straight razors as well as minimal continuous costs to replace the blades
• A gentle learning curve, if any, which makes it very easy to make the transition from using cartridge or disposable razors
• Lower risk of nicks and cuts when compared to straight razors (hence the term “safety” razors)
• Provides a closer shave than using cartridge or disposable razors, but still falls slightly short in comparison to straight razors
• It will be required of you to learn a new shaving method which takes quite a bit of skill to master, so you will be subjected to a steeper learning curve
• High initial investment, but suggestively a one-time investment of which the benefits last a lifetime
• Higher risk of nicks and cuts, particularly while still building up your skill level to master the proper technique
• The highest quality shave you can get, bar-none!
• Entry into the world of honouring an old tradition which will have you feeling like a real man
Ultimately, logic dictates that the recommendation comes down to which of the two shaving methods works best for you, but we’re working with very fine margins here. Both methods can provide great quality, depending on your mastery of the techniques which go into them. However, based purely on the ultimate quality of the shave you’d get, a straight razor has no equal. The use of safety razors is often seen by traditionalists as the final step before making the leap to the ultimate gentlemen’s grooming club of the straight razor shavers, but it could get very comfortable in the world of the safety razor shavers.
If you’re up for the challenge of learning how to shave with a straight razor, you’re encouraged to go for it. It’s something which should at least be tried once in every man’s life.