Below are lists of the equipment you should have in your straight razor shaving kit. Starting from the absolute minimalist to the full kitchen sink, we’ve got suggestions for every straight razor user and their commitment/budget level.
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Bare Bones Minimum
This setup is recommended for the man who just wants to try a straight razor shave before jumping in. All you need in this setup is a shave ready straight razor. We cannot emphasize this point enough. Razors from Pakistan are not shave ready and never will be. Only some razors from China can be made shave ready. Fromm straight razors need to be professionally sharpened before use. Dovo and Thiers Issard usually put a decent edge on their razors from the factory, but it is still advisable to get them professionally sharpened. If you purchase a used razor, you definitely need to get it sharpened unless it is sold by a reputable seller you trust. Assuming you are already shaving, you should already have at the very least, canned shaving cream. Follow our guide on inexpensive strop alternatives and I’m sure you’ll find something you can use lying around the house or for free. Now, all that said, going this route is not a long term solution. Without proper stropping, the razor is going to go dull much quicker than it should. Expect the razor to last a week or two at most. So, if you just want to try straight razor shaving, try to figure out if you are going to stick with it after the second or third shave. Then buy a strop or sell the razor for close to what you paid for it.
Wet shaving with a straight razor is a fantastic experience and places you among a select group of men who refuse to follow the flow. If you decide to join our club, you should do it right. That means buying a good straight razor, a decent strop (or making your own), a good brush, and shaving soap/cream/stick. The wet shaving gear is necessary because if your going to straight razor shave, you should do it right. A straight razor shave using canned goop is no real straight razor shave. Shaving with a straight razor is a ritual of sorts and should be enjoyed to the fullest. This means hot water, warm soap, great scents, and relaxation. There is simply no substitute for a good brush and soap. It will bring you back to the days of our forebears. Days when men used to go to the barber for a full service shave.
Enough cannot be said about why you need a strop. Unless you want to sharpen your razor yourself every other week, not using one really isn’t an option for the long term. Lets look at it this way: a beginner can expect three to six months of good straight razor shaving before the razor should be resharpened. A veteran can expect six to twelve months of daily use if he/she strops correctly using a cloth/leather strop. As you can see, the benefits of stropping are great and the cost isn’t terribly much. Especially if you make your own by heading to your local leather store, buy a 2.5″ x 14″ strip of leather, punching a hole in one end, and threading a leather thong through it. Check out our guide to stropping part 1.
Check out Shaving 101’s similar recommendations for the minimalist setup.
The Deluxe Kit
In addition to everything in the Minimalist Kit, the serious straight razor user should add the following: an alum block, a styptic pencil, liquid bandaid, aftershave, & SPF facial sunscreen. The alum block is a natural antiseptic and is used right after the shave to cleanse the skin and stop any weepers or nicks. A styptic pencil is for stopping more serious nicks so you can apply the liquid bandaid afterwards. Or you could use a regular bandaid, but trust us, the liquid version looks a lot less inconspicuous. SPF sunscreen should be used for obvious reasons. Not only does it normally come with a moisturizer, but the SPF protects your face from premature ageing. I know, I know, men shouldn’t worry about it. Okay, well, it still protects from melanoma, which is deadly serious.
The serious straight razor user may want to seriously consider a second straight razor. The reason being that you’ll want to send the razor out for resharpening when it gets dull. Or you can spend hundreds of dollars and the same amount of hours learning to hone your own razor. The second razor serves as both a backup razor and also prolongs the time period between sharpenings. By using the razor half as much, it dulls half as quickly. We recommend a sharpening schedule something like this: send each razor out every six months, but alternate the months when you send each razor. For example, on month three send the first razor; on month six send the second razor. Then wait until month 9 to resend the first razor. Repeat.
The serious straight razor needs a serious strop. No one makes a better strop in the US than Tony Miller. There are copies, but the original is still the best. Some strops from other countries are just as good or better, but they also cost substantially more. Whichever strop is purchased, it should have a cotton/linen and leather component. Ideally you would be able to take the strop apart to both replace components if you damage the leather and flip the cloth side over. Webbing is used in some strops, but we don’t really like the webbing and cannot recommend it. Buy the cotton version. The serious straight razor user may also want a chromium oxide or diamond spray for periodic touch ups in between professional sharpenings. Read our article about how to use these components for more information.
The Complete Setup
The following products are not only for completionists, they are for the serious wet shaver. As a bonus, following this routine will immensely increase your skin health and vigor. Okay, but on to the actual products. Start with a facial scrub. You should be soaking your beard before you shave anyway. Washing your face is one of the best ways to do this. Using an exfoliant scrub is recommended by some wet shavers, but any gentle facial cleanser will do. Alternatively, you can wrap a hot towel around your face. OR you can do both! The hot water and cleansing action will open the pores, soften the hairs, and remove excess oil and skin; allowing for a closer, cleaner shave.
Follow this up with a pre-shave oil. The pre-shave oil will soften the hairs even further and provide additional glide to the shaving soap. The benefit of pre-shave oil over just water is that the oil will stay on your face longer and won’t dry out as quickly. They are also advertised to help protect the skin. In addition, pre shave oil helps with the prevention of ingrown hairs, razor bumps, and weepers. The best pre-shave oils and creams use natural oils, such as coconut, sunflower, olive or other oils drawn from plants. Unlike mineral oil, natural oils are low on the grease factor, so they won’t clog pores and cause damage to your skin. Also, keep your eyes open for pre-shave oils that contain antibacterial agents; these will help guard against breakouts and painful cuts.
Post shave, wet shavers recommend a post shave cream or oil. Aftershave can also be used, but aftershaves contain alcohol which dries out the skin. Not to mention, you should be using the alum block anyway, so you have no need for the alcohol. Post-shave products will relieve burn, dryness, razor bumps, and some will even help heal cuts. In addition, they re-moisturize your face. To make it simple, look for aftershave balms and gels that contain vitamins C and E, natural oils to moisturize and aloe to help heal the skin. Post-shave products with built-in sunscreen are also a solid purchase.
The final ingredient to the complete setup is
Everything & the Kitchen Sink
This one isn’t really a recommendation, so much as an extension of razor addiction. Unfortunately straight razor use carries the risk of a slight desire to buy more. And who can blame us? Straight razors are a collectible after all. They can last for lifetimes and they look amazing (at least to the straight razor community). Anyway, on to our recommendations for the person who has it all. The kitchen sink is pictured because this person will probably be using that sink to learn how to sharpen their razor.
This person is going to want at least one other razor. Another razor is desirable for a number of reasons. By using your razor half as often, it needs to be honed half as often. No, the fin does not grow back over 48 hours, that is just hogwash and an old wive’s tale. Another benefit is that when you send the razor out to be honed, you still have a straight razor on hand to shave with. A definite benefit. Follow our recommendations above in the Deluxe Kit. A seven day set is not unheard of. In fact, they are quite possibly the coolest straight razor sets.
This person definitely wants at least one other brush. Not only does having an additional brush cut down on the wear & tear on your brushes, but it changes up the shaving experience ever so slightly; keeping things interesting. A second brush also allows the first brush to completely dry out in between shavings. This helps reduce moisture problems such as mold or smell developing. Three brushes are even better. Four brushes might be overkill, but perhaps a seven day brush set isn’t that far fetched considering they exist for straight razors. We recommend buying different brands to keep it interesting. We like Semogue and Shavemac. Penworks also makes great brushes.
And the kitchen sink setup cannot be complete without several soaps, creams, pre-shave products, and after shave products to choose from. From every scent D.R. Harris and Geo F. Trumper produce to the entire Penhaligon’s line of EDTs, this person has it all. And why shouldn’t we have a huge variety of scents. Variety is the spice of life after all. Changing the daily routine is a great way to keep things fresh.
Don’t Forget the Hones
Finally, the kitchen sink needs sharpening stones. And we say the kitchen sink because outside of a sharpening pond, there really isn’t a better place to sharpen knives and razors at. The reason being that sharpening requires a water source. A spray bottle works with some stones, but for the most part, the kitchen sink provides both drainage and a steady source of water. For this person, it is hard to beat the Norton 4k/8k stone pictured above. While not nearly as good as what professionals use, the edge off the 8k stone is shave ready. Its good to go. The added benefit of this combination stone is that it comes with a stone holder/storage container. Its also beefy enough to not require an additional holder to bring it up to the correct level. For the truly serious straight razor person who wants to sharpen their own razors, the 16k stone from Shapton is hard to beat. Purchase the stone holder too for optimal performance. Other stone holders don’t work too well with the glass/ceramic Shaptons. Again, the edge can get better but at that point, your possibly losing money compared to just sending it out for professional servicing.
The survivalist’s end of the world scenario probably doesn’t include shaving at all. But the self sufficient attitude will permeate into daily life. The straight razor is the only choice for the self sufficient male. Unless this same person can forge their own razor, they’ll still need to buy one in the open market. This man will make his own strop out, preferably out of the hide of an animal he’s killed himself. There are tanneries that do this. Alternatively, he can strop on the palm of his hand and on the pants he’s wearing.
When the end of the world comes, shaving is an absolute luxury. A brush and soap is going to last a lot longer than canned shaving gel. We have no specific recommendations for the end of the world, but a boar brush might be more rugged than a silvertip shaving brush. Omega makes a nice one. Any soap should do; the problem would be finding water. The end of the world is going require the survivalist to maintain his knives and razors himself. Consequently we recommend the Norton 4k/8k or a Coticule. Either stone is incredibly versatile and can sharpen both knives and razors.