Straight Razor vs Safety Razor – What’s the Difference?

For the seasoned wet shaver it may seem like a pointless question but at some point we were all new to this and the question of what the difference between a straight razor and a safety razor is one that some may have. If you are one of these people, this article is for you. Each of these razors serve the same purpose; giving you a close, comfortable, great shave. The difference is really in how you go about achieving that shave.

The Blade

The first and most obvious difference between the two is the size of the blade. The straight razor, which design is much older than the safety razor, has a long blade that is attached to the handle with a hinge. That pivot point allows you to maneuver the blade across your face. The straight razor blade also requires regular maintenance (more on that below). The double edge razor is blade is very much like your modern looking plastic razor blades minus the excessive blades. You load the double sided blade into your razor, and after some good preparation, shave your face in more or less the same manner you would with a modern razor.

Technique

Outside of the difference in the way the two razor look, the way in which you use them is completely different.  The straight razor needs you to hold the razor in a very specific manner (read here for more on how to hold a straight razor). You also need to glide the blade across your face at a very specific angle in order to get the best shave possible, and decrease the chance of cutting yourself. As mentioned above the safety razor is more straightforward. You hold the razor like you would a modern razor you would purchase at the drugstore. Using only little pressure you glide the blade across your face and let the razor do the work.

how to hold a straight razor

Risk

As the name suggests the safety razor is more or less safe to use. If you use the razor properly, you really shouldn’t suffer any major cuts from your typical shave. The safety bar on the head of the razor dictates how much of the blades surface actually touches your face. The invention of the safety razor had a huge impact on the decline of the straight razor and visiting barbershops for shaves. All of a sudden a man was able to get a close shave at home, at a fraction of the cost of heading to the barber. Looking at the straight razor you are at the mercy of your technique and concentration. Wrong angle, wrong direction and you will be bleeding.  That is not to deter you from using a straight razor, but some education is required.

Additional Items

The only additional items you would need with a safety razor is shaving cream or soap, a shave brush, blades, and maybe some aftershave.  You would need the same items for a straight razor but in addition to the above you would also need a strop to keep your blade smooth.  Potentially a hone unless you want to send your razor out for sharpening.

Which to Use

The easy answer is to have at least one of each, then you can just go with what you are feeling on a particular day.  When I use a straight razor, it tends to be on the weekend simply because I have a bit more time and I the process is not rushed.  But if you were only planning on picking up one razor here are some other things to consider.

Straight Razor

Dovo classic straight razor

Pros:

One of the benefits to using or buying a straight razor is that, depending on the quality of the razor you pick up, it could potentially last you a lifetime assuming that you care for your blade. There are many options when it comes to handle design and brands that finding one can become a very personal experience. Of course there is also the fact that you get to tell people you use a straight razor to shave and you can feel like a big shot if even for only a moment.

Cons:

For most people one of the biggest downsides of choosing a straight razor is the initial cost of the razor. The learning curve on how to use the razor is another hurdle to clear if you are going to commit to a straight razor. Not a big deal, after some practice you will get it, but lack of patience and a straight razor shouldn’t mix. Then there is the necessarily honing of your razor and the need to use a strop with each shave.

Thinking about picking up a straight razor you might want to take a look at the Dovo Classic straight razor or the Thiers Issard straight.


 

The Safety Razor

Pros:

Using a safety razor is safe! Outside of that compared to a straight razor the initial cost is much less. There are many options out there (Choosing your first safety razor). The blades are cheap. Very small learning curve.

Cons:

Very few. Unlike a straight razor you will need to constantly buy blades. You may enjoy classic razors so much that you will find yourself, like me, buying more than one resulting in a shave cabinet full of razors.

If you are looking for a safety razor take a look at the Merkur 1904 (my first razor) review here.  Or take a look at my early favorite the Edwin Jagger 89lbl (review here)

So to wrap things up.  Both razors will provide you a close shave. The straight razor having the biggest learning curve, but perhaps the most long term satisfaction, albeit at a higher cost. The safety razor will also be satisfying, but in a different way with the opportunity to try different razors and blades.