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Heretical YMMV – The Inconvenient Truth About Straight Razor Shaving?

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In the shaving world we’re all familiar with the phrase “your mileage may vary” (YMMV) which of course means that each person’s experience is their own due to the many variables involved in a shave (e.g., beard/hair thickness, razor, blade, shave soap/cream, personal experience, skin, etc.).  In my case, and this is an important part of the equation, I don’t have a heavy beard.  I like to be cleanly shaved so do so daily.  If I don’t shave, it is obvious, but I don’t develop an obvious “5 o’clock shadow” in a single day. Also, my beard is relatively light on my cheeks so when I had a beard, it ran from my sideburns down and connected nicely to my chin beard with my cheeks mostly exposed.  With all that as background, I entered the wet shaving world several years ago where I’ve repeatedly read that a straight razor shaves closer than a DE.

I’m here to tell you that it ain’t necessarily so.

The Start

I started wet shaving a couple of years ago with the Merkur 34C (HD).  I liked the shave but wanted a longer handle so ended up with the Merkur Barber Pole (38C) which has the same head as the 34C (really, despite articles listing the blade gap as being different, I went to the source and Merkur confirmed the 34C and 38C use the same razor head). I bought a 10 pack blade sampler and meticulously went through them making notes on how they performed including closeness and smoothness of the shave experience as well as how many nicks I got.  I settled on Gillette 7 O’Clock greens or Astras as my preferred blades.  Feathers were smooth and close, but I seemed to nick myself too much with them.   I then took my time and felt I’d gotten my technique down and loved the shave I was getting: close and nick free.  However, I was drawn to the lure of the supposedly ultimate shaving experience of the straight razor.  When someone gave me a vintage straight (Thistle Cutlery ⅝” w/spike tip) , I decided to try it.

I educated myself on straights, sent the device out for professional honing and started training myself.  After a couple of months with the straight, I was a happy camper and felt I was getting a better shave than with my Barber Pole, but that spike tip was a little troublesome for me so I bought a Dovo Bismarck ⅝” round tip.  What a great blade!  I love that thing!  My shaves were BBS and the few nicks I was getting essentially vanished.


Although folks advise it time and again, it bears repeating that especially with straight razor shaving it is all about controlling the pressure.  I believe I finally achieved the right balance of light pressure with firm grip.  The blade did its job and I had a BBS shave, no nicks and no irritation.  Along the way, I investigate Rolls Razors as I recalled my Dad having had one.  I got all in with the Rolls too, learning how to hone and refurbish them and ended up with a couple of nice traveling sets (an Imperial 2 and a Viscount).  I also taught myself how to effectively hone them in and out of their case.  My Rolls were giving me the same BBS shave that I got with my Dovo Bismarck.  It was a different experience, but the end result seemed identical.  I loved my straights and traded off every 2-4 weeks between my Dovo and Rolls just for a change of pace.

Then a funny thing happened.  I decide, for no apparent reason other than a whim, to pick up my Barber Pole and try it again.  Honestly, I was thinking of selling off my 2 Merkur DEs since the straights were shaving me more closely and I was having fun with them.  I picked up the Barber Pole again more to prove to myself I should sell it than anything else.  But a funny thing happened: it shaved me just as well as my straights!  In fact, in a couple of regions of my neck, I was getting a slightly better shave! Heresy!

I analyzed what I was doing and realized the straight experience had really taught me the proper, light pressure needed for a great shave.  Thinking back, I realized that when I’d last used my DE, I was still using more pressure than necessary.  My straight razor experience had improved my DE skills and I was now truly letting the razor head weight do the work.  I held the DE gently but firmly, and only on the lower half of the handle.  This grip makes it easier to let the razor head weight provide the pressure on your face.  The razor seemed to float across my face just like my straights were doing.  And the shave was as close or closer than my straights.  But wait, there’s more!

I’d found that with my DE and my straights, in challenging areas like my chin using a slighting slanted blade angle seemed to work better for me.  The slant technique lead me to take the next step and buy the Merkur 39C and some Feather blades (hey, why mess around?  Go for it!).  I was pleasantly surprised to find the “Sledgehammer” with Feathers again gave me a nick free absolutely BBS shave.  I’m not sure it could be any closer now, but the Slant does seem to glide through my stubble slightly more smoothly as compared to the Barber Pole.  The Slant is a keeper!   I feel that my new Barber Pole and Sledgehammer experiences were further evidence that I’d mastered, or at least vastly improved, my shaving technique.

What’s Next

Where do I go from here?  Simple:  I’ve added DE shaving (with my Sledgehammer) back into my occasional rotations between equipment.  I still like the straight razor experience.  It’s nice to know I have the skill to do it right, and I don’t want to lose that skill.  The Sledgehammer gives an as good or better shave though so it’s probably going to take over as my go to weapon of choice.

 So I am an admitted heretic: my mileage indicates a good DE and blade with the proper shaving technique can provide a shave as close or closer than a straight razor. But let’s face it, YMMV.
Author Bio:

Steve Berte is a reformed electric razor user who started wet shaving with a DE razor in early 2014. I’ve progressed to cutthroat and Rolls straight razors along with my Merkur Slant (Sledgehammer).  Once I’ve achieved a clean shave, and get home from work,  I go on to enjoy photography, astronomy and a number of other fun pastimes.

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2 thoughts on “Heretical YMMV – The Inconvenient Truth About Straight Razor Shaving?”

  1. I am not a straight razor shaver but i know this feeling when you have reached the point, where no pressure is fully understood! It took me six months hearing and reading it over and over again, thinking “i do not use any pressure” …but boy was i wrong! It takes time to fully understand this. Those who have reached this point know it! With a merkur head and a mr5 handle i get bbs every day without thinking about angle or which blade or cream/soap i use. One day i will get into straight shaving but i already know that i can´t get it closer without irritation. Straights are just cooler 😉

  2. I completely agree with this article. It mirrored my experiences exactly. Except my favorite DE has become the Feather ASD2 but ONLY when used with a Feather blade. I also enjoy my Slant and Futur razors the most of the ones I kept, for a nice change of pace.
    As a matter of fact, my recommendation to the author is to try a Futur. If he likes the barberpole that much, I predict he would LOVE the way a Futur shaves even more!
    I myself used straights exclusively for a couple of years before I went back to primarily using DEs again. I kept 7 of my favorite straight razors and still do use them occaisonally. Straights were always preferred for my sensitive skin but the ASD2 gave me the gentle touch on my skin yet is efficient enough to give me BBS shaves. The bonus is the ease of the shave and not having to be overly careful. 🙂

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