One of the biggest allures of wet shaving is the function that the different parts of a straight razor perform. Aside from forming better camaraderie with other enthusiasts, knowing each razor part will help ease your search for the best technique to get a nick-free, smooth, and perfect shave.
The first step in mastering the art of shaving with a traditional single-edge razor is understanding its different sections.
So, let’s break down a straight razor, shall we?
- Straight Razor Shaving History
- Straight Razor Vs. Other Razors
- Basic Straight Razor Parts
- Razor Grinds
- Finding The Right Straight Razor
Straight Razor Shaving History
Since the dawn of time, man has used many tools to shave with. From stone and flint to clamshells, and from gold or copper by the Egyptians to today’s medical-grade stainless steel, shaving gear and razor blades have taken many forms.1
Men were not too keen on shaving at first. But when parasites and skin diseases started to arise from unkempt body hair, prehistoric men found the nearest sharp tool—clamshells, stone, flint, or whatever—to tame their human fuzz.
However, as the mind evolved, so did their shaving tools. Forging blades became popular, and so did the straight razor industry as early as the late 1600s, pioneered in Sheffield, which Thiers Issards became a loyal patron of.
In the mid-20th century, people were getting tired of honing and stropping. Along with the emerging stereotypical threats of HIV and other blood-borne diseases, barbers and men opted to shave with something more manageable. Hence, the safety razors of the Kampfe brothers rapidly replaced the straight razor.2
And as more modern advancements came to light and men became busier, there was a need for further developments in a razor’s design. King Camp Gillette was happy to oblige to the fast-changing demands, developing the modern cartridge razor.3
Today, gentlemen have rekindled their affairs with traditional wet shaving. The interest in learning how to shave with a straight razor is increasing again.
One reason would be the need for a new hobby brought about by the pandemic. Another would be the ecological threats that modern shaving incurs.
Straight Razor Vs. Other Razors
Safety and cartridge razors owe their superiority to the convenience they offer. They bear disposable razor blades with safety bars and coverings that protect their cutting edge. On the other hand, straight razors were not shy in having their edges lay bare—hence, gaining the alias as cut-throat razors.
However, just because the single-edge blade is fearfully sharp, it does not mean that it is bad for the skin. Shaving with a straight razor is better than shaving with a cartridge and a safety razor. Here is why:
Less skin irritation
The single edge blade’s sharpness allows it to shave the hair in a one to two pass, while shaving with a cartridge is similar to having 3-5 blades gliding on your skin, which causes irritation.4
More precision and control
The blade’s geometry of a straight edge razor lets you easily see where to position the edge, especially when trying to shave or reach small areas.
With a straight razor, you can properly get the ideal blade-to-skin angle that lets you cut hair as close to the skin level as possible.
If partnered with a lather you whipped up from an all-natural shaving soap, shaving with a straight edge razor lessens the risks of getting accidental cuts and nicks, which can later be the cause of razor burn, infections, irritation, and in-grown hairs after wet shaving.
Cost-efficient and sustainable
Wet shaving is the most eco-friendly way of grooming. Straight razors can replace $1,000 worth of plastic razors and lessen the demand for the industry’s resource-intensive production needs.
Once you get over the learning curve, wet shaving with a straight razor will open your grooming routine in a unique way of taming your facial and body hair. Both your skin and beard will enjoy the benefits of a comfortable, refreshing, and perfect shave.
Basic Straight Razor Parts
The parts of a straight razor lets you determine the safest place to grip on.
Other razors have simple mechanisms involving three main parts: the blade, handle, and head. Meanwhile, there are 13 different straight razor parts that control and define their pivot, grip, and sharpness.
Learning the parts of straight razors is your key in finding the right shaving technique to get the nick-free, smooth, close shave all shavers deserve. Here are the different structural parts of a straight razor:
- Pivot pin - connecting peg between the scales and the razor blade
- Scales - official term for a straight razor handle
- Tang - other end of the blade for balancing or stabilizing the finger
- Shank - binding metal section between the blade and the pivot pin
- Jimps - ridges or “fluting” under the shank assisting better grip on the underside of the shank
- Shoulder - end of a straight razor blade or the section between the shank and spine
- Spine - top side of the blade
- Point - straight razor blade’s profile or flat end
- Face - blade’s side surface that can be customized with logos, initials, and other decorations
- Toe - endpoint of the blade’s cutting edge
- Edge - straight razor blade’s cutting edge or sharp cut-throat surface
- Heel - area under the shoulder, connecting the heel and shank, aiming to protect the thumb
- Stabilizer - embossed area between the shoulder and heel
A straight razor’s pivot pin is the bolt allowing the blade to swivel away from the handle for its open and close mechanism. It is an essential razor part requiring an ideal amount of tension to keep the blade steady and prevent it from closing during the shaving process.
The scales refer to the straight razor’s handle and the material it is made of, which can be plastic, steel, brass, or wood. It functions as the point of balance, providing the ideal blade-to-handle heft, which is crucial in making the pivot pin work when opened.
Wood is the best material for the scales because it is a heavyweight that can perfectly offset the straight razor’s blade. It is preferable over using plastic and resin for the handle or scales.
Naked Armor’s selection of straight razors uses fine woods that last, look great, and help add weight to the blade. They come with handles from a Biblical wood, algum, which traces its lineage back to the Temple of Solomon.5 It elevates your shaving experience to an entirely new level of luxury.
The tang or tail is the part of the straight razor that projects out beyond the pivot pin. It also helps counterbalance the blade when you rest your finger on top for stability. Hence, it should not be too heavy or extend too far past the pivot pin if it were to provide the perfect balance needed for precision.
The shank is the straight razor’s metal section that lets you hold the tool correctly while grooming your face. It allows your index, middle, ring, and pinky fingers to get a good grip.
Here is a quick guide on the simplest way to hold a straight razor:
- Always hold the razor with your dominant hand or the hand that you are comfortable using.
- Hold the shank of the straight razor between the index and middle finger.
- Pinch the scale with your index finger and thumb.
- Curl the ring finger on the tang to stabilize the blade.
- Place the tip of your pinky under the tang if you need more support—or let it hang if you do not.
Read our guide on How To Hold Straight Razors: Grips, Angle, and Shaving Direction for a more extensive tutorial on holding straight razors.
The ridges under the shank are the straight razor’s jimps, and it serves as tiny speed bumps for your finger to get a better grip on the razor and prevent slipping while shaving.
Jimps first became popular on large, wedge-bladed razors that barbers used in the 1800s.6 The design was a functional addition to the shank to help the professionals have more control and precise grip on their tools.
The shoulder of a straight razor is the section between the spine and the shank. It is where the blade starts to take form and separate from the thick steel of the tang. Simply put, the shoulder is the transition point to the shaving thickness of the blade.
The spine or top is the section of the blade on the opposite side of the cutting edge. Its thickness and thinness define the blade’s weight, which is crucial to balance the scale for an effortless shave.
Point or Tip
Pros often refer to the straight razor blade’s endpoint as the tip or point,7 which comes in many shapes to help you maneuver around your mustache. It is generally round or square and is a stylistic aesthetic.
- Square Point - straight edge profile
- Dutch Point - round points
- Spike Point - edge is slightly longer than the spine
- French Point - slightly curved edge profile
- Spanish Point - small rounded spine tip and concave edge profile
- Barber’s Notch - similar to a Spanish point but with a deeper curve.
However, experts suggest sticking to rounded tips for beginners as it is easier to manage, lessening accidental nicks and cuts.8 You can read more about what type of straight razor blade point is perfect for your expertise level here.
The face of a straight razor is the section parallel to your facial skin when shaving. It is usually where brands etch their logos and unique designs to add more character and aesthetic appeal to the blade.
The toe is the part of a straight razor furthest from the tang and is the point when the edge moves toward the point.
The edge is the sharp part of the blade that cuts your facial hair, usually made of stainless steel, carbon steel, and sometimes Damascus steel. Only a few straight razors have shave-ready edges, and many companies produce razors that you need to hone and strop to your liking before use.
That is why investing in blade sharpening tools, like strop, honing stone, and Chromium Oxide is a complementary essential if you plan to get into traditional wet shaving.
If your straight razor is not shave-ready, it is best to learn how to use a strop to sharpen it up and maintain its edge. But, be careful not to roll your edge, thus removing the cut-ability of the blade. If you roll it, you will have to hone it.
The heel is the blade section at the bottom of the shoulder and is nearest to the tang. It acts as a safeguard for your thumb.
The stabilizer is the embossed part of the blade between the shoulder and the heel. Some aficionados also often call it a belly or ridge. Its primary goal is to provide support and more resistance to make the blade less prone to breaking despite its thin edge.
Straight razors are more than just their blade and handle. It requires a harmonious synergy of all the razor parts to function correctly and give you an excellent shave. When looking for a straight razor, you need to consider how well each part was made.
Aside from the main parts of a straight razor, it is also essential to get familiar with the complementary touch that defines a straight razor’s edge and face or razor grinds. Doing so will ensure that you will only find the best and high-quality razor suitable for your grooming needs.
Razor grind is the difference in the thickness of the razor blade and the shape of the cross-section of a straight razor blade’s face. You will notice that some razors have a flat face with a thick blade, and meanwhile some razors have thin blades with hollow faces.
The grinding process of a straight razor’s blade begins with forging a piece of steel into a blank. Then, the blank goes through grinding, determining its thickness and shape by removing parts of the steel to achieve the proper form, which can either be a hollow or a wedge.
The different straight razor grinds are:
- Quarter Hollow is a partial wedge or the thickest hollow grind with 1/4 of the blade reduced to a concave.
- Half Hollow is the balance between a wedge and extra hollow with only the middle of the blade ground into a concave. It is popular among Dovo, Boker, and Thiers Issard blades.
- Full Hollow, or the most popular straight razor blade grind has the thinnest edge, most flexibility, and sharpness.
- Extra Hollow is also known as the singing hollow blades with a deeper grind compared to a full hollow, hence more sharpness, thinness, and flexibility.
- Wedge grind is a thick, full, heavy grind perfect for cutting through coarse and thick hair.
- Frameback is a straight razor with a separate flat grind blade pressed on the frame, resulting in a more convenient production process. It is the original version of a shavette.9
Straight razors with a hollow grind have a concave face wherein the blade is thinner as the grinding process removes more materials from the steel. Blades that are hollowed and thin are more flexible and more delicate to the skin, and it does not add much pressure on your face as you shave.
The entire opposite of a hollow grind is the wedge grind. This finish creates a flat and thick face of a straight razor. Vintage straight razors often wear this grind, meaning it is rare to find in today’s designs.
Unlike the hollow grind, a wedge grind has a heavier weight. It can be challenging to glide smoothly over your face, especially if you are not a pro. However, blades with a wedge grind are better for cutting thicker hair.
Finding the Right Straight Razor
There is an increasing need for straight razors. And you might be worried that the ones currently available in the market today compromise the quality of their razors to meet the consumer’s needs. Hence, it is only important to be extra wary when choosing a straight razor.
The best modern straight razor designs steer more towards the hollow and half-hollow grind. Not only is it easier to use, but it is also less challenging to manage since the wedge grind’s thickness can be hard to hone.10 Meanwhile, its handle should have scales from the toughest of woods that do not break down easily due to water exposure and humidity.
Here at Naked Armor, we do not compromise quality for the demand.
We understand the value and importance that every part of a straight razor provides. Hence, we make sure that all of it—from the pivot to the tip—is carefully crafted. We only use the best kind of wood for our handles and even go beyond quality for our blades by using Japanese steel, which the Japanese use to create their samurai swords and Damascus steel for our most premium selections.
Each part of a straight razor is the key to its optimum functionality. Hence, when looking for the perfect razor, look for one that provides balance—quality blade, quality handle, and just the right weight—like our own straight razors.
More Naked Armor Reads:
- J. Attebery, P. Kiger. 10 Amazing Ancient Egyptian Inventions. HowStuffWorks. https://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/inventions/5-amazing-ancient-egyptian-inventions.htm#pt8. December 16, 2021
- American Safety Razor Company. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Safety_Razor_Company
- The Safety Razor. Penn State University. http://www.personal.psu.edu/users/j/j/jjr5001/razor/
- N. Burns. Shaving With Five Blades When Maybe Two Will Do. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/19/fashion/thursdaystyles/shaving-with-five-blades-when-maybe-two-will-do.html. January 19, 2006
- C.A. Roth. Praising God – Algum Wood. Carolyn Roth Ministry. https://www.carolynrothministry.com/post/praising-god-algum-wood. October 22, 2020
- The History Of Straight Razors. The Invisible Edge. https://www.theinvisibleedge.co.uk/content/the-history-of-straight-razors
- Brett. Shave Like Your Great Grandpa: The Ultimate Straight Razor Shaving Guide. The Art Of Manliness. https://www.artofmanliness.com/style/shaving/how-to-straight-razor-shave/. September 25, 2021
- How To Pick Your First Straight Razor. The Beard Mag. http://www.thebeardmag.com/grooming/grooming-articles/how-to-pick-your-first-straight-razor/
- So Who Invented The Shavette. Badger & Blade. https://www.badgerandblade.com/forum/threads/so-who-invented-the-shavette.499947/
- Straight Razor Series – Comparing Grinds. Fendrihan. https://blog.fendrihan.com/2019/05/straight-razor-series-comparing-grinds/. May 24, 2019