King Camp Gillette is often incorrectly credited as inventor of the Safety Razor. In fact, his true invention was a mass-produced, disposable steel blade that was wafer-thin and flexible, with a sharp edge on the two opposing sides. Gillette’s thin blade was covered by the razor head that was attached to a hoe-style handle. This design provided protection against deep cuts. For the first time the majority of men were able to safely shave themselves. Before this, shaving was done with an open or straight razor, oftentimes referred to as a cuthroat razor (for obvious reasons).
Today this Safety Razor design is more commonly called the Double Edge or DE Razor and, as with any tool, proper use - and practice - yield optimal results. The level of shave quality is as dependent upon the skill of the user as it is upon the razor being used. Basically, there are three simple skills to master for the effective use of a DE razor:
First - Proper Blade Angle: In its simplest form the design of a DE razor is straightforward and uncomplicated. It consists of a handle connected to a platform. The platform is covered by a removable head. The blade is secured between the head and the platform with only its edges exposed. As the head is tightened and secured to the platform, the blade is slightly curved providing additional rigidity and a slight angle to the sharp edges. Consequently, when the razor head is placed against the face, and the handle held at the proper angle, the blade edge is in the correct cutting position, i.e. almost parallel to the surface of the face. When the blade is in this position it slices through whiskers, rather than pulling against or scraping over them. To achieve the proper blade angle carefully place the top of the razor head against the cheek, holding the handle perpendicular to the face and parallel to the floor. Slowly lower the handle while gradually moving the razor down the cheek until you hear the blade cut the hair. The cutting typically begins when the handle is approximately 30 degrees from the perpendicular.
Second - No Pressure: Most cartridge blade systems require significant pressure to gain a close shave. This is simply not the case with a double edge blade. The novice DE shaver’s most common error is applying too much pressure, a habit usually carried over from cartridge shaving. Proper pressure is actually little to no pressure. This is essential to avoid cuts and razor burn with a DE razor. As with certain hand tools, you achieve optimal results by allowing the blade to do the work. Applying extra muscle (pressure) will actually produce the opposite of the desired effect. Allow the blade and razor’s weight to do their respective jobs. A sharp blade will cut superbly as long as it is pulled along at the correct angle. A quality DE razor will have sufficient weight of its own to exert enough pressure. Apply NO added pressure; simply let the razor slowly glide across the well-lathered skin without pushing into it. For a variety of sound reasons, the strategy when shaving with a DE is the progressive reduction of stubble through multiple passes. To achieve a proper shave, some men may take as many as four passes.
Third - Short Smooth Strokes: It is much easier to maintain proper angle and pressure when shaving with short strokes. Depending upon the area being shaved, strokes should typically be no longer than one inch. As the surface of the face is not a continuous flat plain, short strokes provide better coverage and are easier to control over the irregular landscape. In areas such as the jaw line, short strokes work very well.
Pay Attention and Take Your Time: Proceed slowly, keeping in mind - proper blade angle, NO pressure, short smooth strokes. With a bit of practice in a short period of time these skills will be mastered and you will not only become faster, but get better and better shaves.
For the more experienced Wet Shaver, click here to read one customer's highly regarded technique for achieving the perfect shave with a DE razor.