If you’re reading this guide then chances are you’re new to traditional shaving. If you’re a seasoned traditional shaver you are, of course, still very welcome to have a read. We focus here on double-edge (DE) razors, as opposed to straight razors, but the principles remain the same whatever razor you use.
First off, there is a high probability that you will cut yourself. Shaving with a double-edge (DE) razor is very different to shaving with a cartridge razor. It’s an acquired skill and it’ll take time to adapt, but do not surrender – the rewards will be worth it. Trust us on this.
There are a few key principles that should be heeded to help give the best shaving experience and, ultimately, the closest shave possible. Absolutely fundamental to shaving success is a decent razor with a sharp blade, a quality brush, and proper pre-shave preparation. And take it slow; there will no longer be such a thing as a ‘quick shave’. The aim is to create a silky-smooth masterpiece each time you lather up, and perfection takes time.
The internet houses many a traditional shaving guide; a quick Google search on the subject will throw up countless sites offering advice on how to shave, but there is no definitive set of instructions on how you must shave. Everyone is unique, and what works for you may not be so great for the next person. There is much debate on whether you should shave exclusively with the grain (WTG), against the grain (ATG), or across the grain (XTG). Then there is the question of how many passes to make.
This will all depend on how coarse your beard hair is and the make-up of your skin, but a good compromise is to use a combination of shaving with, against and across the grain, over two to three passes. If you enter the realms of four or more passes, you’ll likely end up scraping off more skin than hair. You’ll bitterly regret it, and the resultant razor burn will be visible from space.
This concept is known as ‘multiple pass reduction’, also referred to as a ‘three-pass shave’. The idea is to reduce the beard using multiple passes of the razor from different angles. With each pass an increasing level of closeness is achieved.
To ensure you suffer the least irritation possible, it’s crucially important to prepare the skin properly for what’s to come. You’re going to be dragging a ‘razor-sharp’ blade across your face, and it really does need to be ready.
Start by washing and exfoliating your face to remove oil and dead skin cells, and help lift any matted down facial hair.
Pop the razor head in hot water to warm the blade up while you prepare the shaving cream. Using the quality brush that you’ve invested in, whip the cream into a rich lather in a shaving bowl. Using a circular motion, gently work the lather onto your face, covering all the areas that you intend to shave. It’s not just about covering your face in foam to show you where you have and haven’t shaved yet. The cream softens the hair and lubricates the skin. The brush serves to further exfoliate, help release stubborn ingrown hairs, and lift the hairs away from the face. With the hairs raised, they can be better coated with the lather, and easier cut with the blade.
Try applying to the neck first, and then shaving it last. The skin there is generally more sensitive and prone to irritation than on the face, so this will give the lather longer to work its magic.
If you want to take it a step further, try a pre-shave oil or cream. Applied before the shaving cream, it provides extra skin protection while further softening the beard and enhancing razor glide. It may sound like an extravagance and a bit superfluous, but the difference really is noticeable.
You’ve applied the lather to your intended shave areas, be it your whole neck and face, or just the bits around your awesome beard. Now it’s time to crack out the razor. As mentioned above, try starting with the face first, leaving the lather to soak into the hair and skin on the neck for longer.
Using the razor
Softly pull the skin straight with one hand and, with the other, draw the razor lightly across the skin. Keep your wrist locked in position and use the movement of your arm to make the stroke.
Really important: let the weight of the razor do the work, without applying any pressure. Hold the razor gently, use short, deliberate strokes, and avoid pressing the blade to the skin. This takes a bit of getting used to, but you’ll quickly see why it’s important, and will get better at it with each shave.
Below, we describe a three-pass shave. There are those who use and advocate a two-pass shave, but this will be down to the individual. It’s generally agreed that one pass is too few, while four is too many and will lead to post-shave irritation.
The standard model for the three-pass shave shave is with the grain, across, then against. Again, this isn’t written in stone, and you won’t be smote for changing things up a little. If opting for a two-pass, then perhaps try XTG and ATG, skipping WTG altogether. It’s your face, your skin and your hair, so experiment and find out what works best for you.
We recommend shaving with the grain on this pass. Some may find their hair grows a little differently in certain places, but this will generally mean shaving down on the face and up on the neck.
Avoid going over the same area repeatedly, as the blade will already have removed the lubrication and protection. There will still be some hair left, but save it for the next passes. Remember – take your time.
If following a standard three pass shave pattern, this pass is across the grain, with against the grain coming next. Instead, you may find that going straight to against the grain on this pass is better for you. You may also find that two passes is all you need.
Either way, be sure to prepare the skin again using the brush and lather (and any pre-shave treatment) before recommencing.
This would typically be your against the grain pass, or simply a touch-up pass to get the last troublesome areas that still feel a bit rough. The jaw line or dimple of the chin can often require a little extra attention with a third pass.
You might not even need to lather up fully if you’re not doing a full pass. But you still definitely need to lube up the areas you intend to hit.
Cleaning your razor and brush aside, this is probably the quickest and easiest stage. Assuming you’ve not cut yourself to ribbons, which hopefully you shouldn’t have if you’ve read this guide to traditional shaving, and our article: What is Razor Burn, and how do I avoid it?
Close the pores and soothe the skin. by splashing cold water or dabbing a cool, damp facecloth on your skin. Or use an alum block, if you have one. Then, dry your face and moisturise!
Remember to rinse your razor thoroughly, and clean your shaving brush by running it under warm water. Shake off the excess water and leave it to air dry. Allow the hairs to dry naturally, and prevent water from settling in the base by using a brush stand. Do not twist or squeeze the brush hair, otherwise it will part company with the handle. See our guide: Shaving Brushes – what they do, how to choose one and how to look after it.
We hope the advice in this guide will prove useful, and prepare you as you take your first steps into the world of traditional shaving. And remember, this guide is just that; a guide. Ultimately how you shave is down to you. It’s trial and error, and over time you will develop your own technique that you feel works best for you.