Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Straight Razor: Straight-Edge or the Disposable Blade?
USA Flag Razor (Shave Ready)
by Tyler Lowe

I travel to quite a few barber shops in any given month, and I am frequently asked by barbers and shaving enthusiasts alike, “which is better—a traditional straight-edge razor, or a Shavette (disposable blade) razor?” Now, before dismissing this topic thinking that the traditional straight-edge razor is prohibited in your state, I urge you to specifically research your state’s barbering regulations (SPOILER ALERT: Contrary to popular belief, California and Washington both allow for traditional straight edge razors! *WAC 308-20-110 & barbercosmo.ca.gov; Article 12, Title 16, Div. 9, No. 977*). This article will be focusing on three aspects of each razor: the myths, the pros, and the cons. I cannot definitively say which is better to use, but I can assist in dispelling rumors or misconceptions about either straight razor style, and perhaps help you choose your everyday cutter! 
Lets start by focusing on the aspects of the traditional straight-edge blade. When thinking about a classic barber shop, there are a few things that come to mind—Pinaud aftershave, twirling barber poles, a comfy chair with leather arm rests, good conversations, and straight razors. The traditional straight edge razor has been the barber’s best friend for generations, and only in recent history has the Shavette style razor become a major contender in the barbering scene. Unfortunately, with the introduction of disposable blades, the professional barbering community seems to have lost the “art” of straight-edge maintenance. This leads us to the first myth: the straight edge is too difficult to master. 
MD Dragon Shavette Style Barber Razor

   Although there is a learning curve associated with maintaining a traditional straight-razor, its certainly not difficult. Learning the proper way to hone and strop your razor takes time, but when you master the art, your material costs drop to $0, and who doesn't want to see their shop running at minimal cost? Of course, there is a catch. You have to ensure that you are always maintaining your blade and that you are operating within your state’s disinfecting regulations. This is actually a great place to introduce the second myth: the straight edge offers an uncomfortable shaving experience. 

   I remember getting a straight razor shave a few years back, and it HURT! Feeling like the blade was ripping every one of my hairs out, I quickly assumed all straight razor experiences were this way. In this instance, the truth and the myth look a lot alike—it was a terrible shaving experience! However, thats because the blade that was used on me was not properly maintained! If you sharpen a straight-edge razor like you would a knife, then you have a knife, not a straight razor. Looking back on it, I did not receive a straight razor shave that day. I received an awful experience with a knife. On the other hand, the straight razor that I personally use everyday is my favorite part of my morning routine. Its extremely comfortable, and I actually cut my ridiculously square chin less than when I used store-bought cartridge razors! Thats because the blade that I use is being properly maintained! I plan on doing a video tutorial on straight-edge maintenance, so I’ll hold off on specifics until then, as well as following up with a Facebook Live video Q&A. 

Shave Ready Football Razor by MD BARBER
   With the myths out of the way, lets address some pros and cons of the traditional straight razor. The first thing that stands out to me with the traditional straight edge is durability and longevity. I recently honed a razor for a barber in Washington state which was dated from the 1880s! This barber is using a 130 year old razor, and it looks AWESOME! Of course, not all straight razors are created equal. I have had multiple “knives-in-disguise” sent to my door step where the steel was way too soft to hold or maintain an edge, however it looked cool. I call those “mantle razors.” They look great on the mantle, but thats where the should stay! MD Barber Supply is one of the few companies producing good quality new straight razors, but if you are on the hunt for an everyday cutter, beware the “knives-in-disguise”! 




   For those of you lucky enough to find a great quality vintage razor, you already know this next pro to be true: the straight edge is time tested and has traditionally been the weapon of choice for barbers around the world. There is something to be said about using a traditional tool to accomplish your art. Just as Michelangelo used the brush, so to do you use the razor on your canvas! Personally speaking, this is my favorite part about using a straight razor. Sure, I can use a cartridge razor to accomplish the same task, but there is something about using the historic tradesman’s tool which connects us with the barbers of yesterday. Don't act like Sweeny Todd didn't inspire you. 

   Alright, lets talk about cons, because there certainly are cons with a traditional straight razor! The first thing that comes to mind is the initial start up cost. If you want to do this right, its expensive. If you want to experiment and explore the world of traditional straight edge razors in the barber shop, I would expect you to budget around $200. You would typically need to get 2 or more razors so that you can use one while the other is disinfecting, as well as a leather strop, of which both can add up quickly. 

   If you decide that the traditional straight razor is for you and you want to commit your hands to the straight edge, then expect to spend upward of $500 (on the low end!) to acquire your tools. It is not uncommon to see high quality razors being sold for $400 a piece used. There are some companies out there that sell new razors for around $700. That being said, you personally need to weigh the costs and decide if that is right for you—keep in mind, effectively equipping your barber stand with a traditional straight edge can potentially extinguish your cost, so lets assume you spend $500 total to get 2 razors, a leather strop, and a few whet-stones for honing: you have now armed your arsenal for the rest of your career. $500 spent now means more money in your pocket over the course of your career as a barber! Imagine the money you would save over 20 years! 

   Lastly, the very thing that I find most romantic about the straight razor can also be the fatal flaw for you—maintenance. Now, I enjoy the maintenance behind the straight razor. I love being able to strop my blades before every shave and hone my razor every few months. But what if you see a few dozen heads a day? I’ve been to some shops where 2 barbers are expected to meet demands for an entire town! Lets paint the picture—its Friday afternoon, and you have an entire family who comes in wanting to get cleaned up for a wedding later that night. If you have to run your strop before every use, they aren't making it to the wedding on time! Of course, the case could be made for having a Shavette disposable blade razor on hand for backup in a situation like this, and I would highly suggest having a backup Shavette for any barber wanting to use a traditional straight edge. 
Before continuing on to the Shavette razor, lets recap the Traditional Straight-Edge razor-
Myths
    • Too difficult to sharpen
    • Uncomfortable shaving experience 
Pros
    • Durability & Longevity
    • Time tested and traditionally the weapon of choice
Cons
    • Initial start up cost (Strops, whet-stones)
    • Initial curve required and maintenance 

   The majority of the barbers that I visit weekly are using the “Shavette” style straight razor—it looks like a traditional straight razor, but it has a disposable blade! More than likely, if you are a barber here in the US, you have been using a Shavette style razor since the very first week of barbering school. I don't have to go into much more detail regarding its function since 99% of you probably already use it! But lets start by dispelling some myths associated with this wonderful tool. 
The first myth I hear all the time (usually from those who prefer traditional straight-edge razors), is that the Shavette razor style is “poor quality” and “cheap.” Just like anything in the world of consumerism, there certainly are cheap Shavettes, but as mentioned previously, there are also cheap traditional straight razors! The fact is, there are some great quality Shavette style razors out there! I happen to use an MD Barber Supply “Dragon” razor personally, and I am always impressed with how comfortable it is.   

Franklin Razor: Available as Straight Edge OR Shavette

   The second myth that I have come across from some barbers is that some of the disposable blades available for the Shavette handles are too sharp. Yes, I said “too sharp.” It seems as though you would want the sharpest tool in the shed to get the job done, so when I hear about a bade being too sharp, I immediately ask what angle they are holding the blade at. If you happen to be one of the barbers who cut someone’s face or neck all up and blamed the razor, I’m going to encourage you to adjust your angle and the amount of pressure you are applying! With a Shavette, you shouldn't have to apply any pressure—you should be able to pull the skin tight and smoothly drawn the blade in the cutting direction. 

   Moving on to the pros of the Shavette, even though I prefer the traditional straight razor over the Shavette style, I still hold a few of them in my arsenal. I find that the #1 benefit to having a Shavette on hand is “accessibility.” Being able to change blades in a moments notice between customers without having to soak your blade or strop the edge saves a TON of time (you barbers in big shops know exactly what I am talking about!). The case for the Shavette is strong: you get similar results as a traditional straight razor without all of the work in maintaining your edge. Another benefit is that Shavettes are generally cheaper than their traditional counter-parts, however it should be noted that this is in reference to the initial purchase cost. It might cost you $60 to get a great quality Shavette handle, but the running cost of blades can quickly get expensive since every customer will get a new disposable blade.  

   Lets address some cons of the Shavette. As mentioned above, the running cost puts a damper on the whole thing. At first, its not a big deal, but lets assume you are paying for blades over the course of your entire career. At a generous saving of $10 per box, you could run through $30 a month or more in blades. 

Royal Red Single Edge (Pre-Snapped) Barber Razor Blades
   Here at MD Barber Supply, we cut you barbers some slack when buying in bulk since we offer entire cases worth of blades at extremely good prices. However, that is still a cost that you don't necessarily have to eat with a traditional straight razor. This is of course dependent on your preference. I know some barbers who would gladly pay for blades since they cannot afford the time for traditional blade maintenance, yet on the other hand I know barbers who enjoy the maintenance aspect and enjoy using the traditional straight razor more than a Shavette. I suppose that within itself could be considered another con of the Shavette: you miss out on the culture and ritual of a traditional straight razor. 

Alright, lets recap some the Shavette:
Myths
    • Shavettes are poor quality
    • Shavette blades are too sharp (change your angle and pressure!)
Pros
    • Quick to change blades (time saver!)
    • Similar results as a traditional straight razor without all the work in maintenance
    • Initially cheaper prices
Cons
    • Running cost of blades
    • Misses out on the culture and ritual of a traditional straight razor. 


   As I said in the opening paragraph, I cannot definitively say which is better, the traditional straight edge or the Shavette style razor. Each have wonderful aspects, and a few cons. As a barber, it would be wise to address the environment of your shop. Can you afford to spend time maintaining a traditional blade? Can you afford to spend money on blades every week? Whichever you choose, MD Barber Supply has the right tool for you and your shop! Happy cutting! 

To check out our huge selection of shave ready straight razors and shavettes download our MD Barber Supply App or go to www.mdbarber.com!

2 comments:

  1. I managed to make a decent living selling MD barber supplies while in barber school and my biggest sellers were MD razors. I love tradition so soon into my career I acquired some quality vintage straights. It took forever to finally get one sharp enough to shave with, barely. I would have kept going until I perfected my sharpening skills but I decided to use the straight at my station one day instead of the shavette. I used the blade, carefully wiped away all trace of hair and foam, and hung the razor in my squats jar. I seated my next customer and in fifteen minutes I was ready to use my trusty traditional blade to shave the neck. When I pulled it out of the squats it didn't look quite right. I put on my glasses and looked closely at the edge of the blade. The squats solution had eaten through the blade leaving it looking like my wife's lacey underwear. That 1940s Koken brand razor is one a decoration and I use an MD Dragon as well as a Feather nape and body. I know there are other sanitation methods, but without any foreknowledge that is what I did and that's my story

    ReplyDelete
  2. I managed to make a decent living selling MD barber supplies while in barber school and my biggest sellers were MD razors. I love tradition so soon into my career I acquired some quality vintage straights. It took forever to finally get one sharp enough to shave with, barely. I would have kept going until I perfected my sharpening skills but I decided to use the straight at my station one day instead of the shavette. I used the blade, carefully wiped away all trace of hair and foam, and hung the razor in my squats jar. I seated my next customer and in fifteen minutes I was ready to use my trusty traditional blade to shave the neck. When I pulled it out of the squats it didn't look quite right. I put on my glasses and looked closely at the edge of the blade. The squats solution had eaten through the blade leaving it looking like my wife's lacey underwear. That 1940s Koken brand razor is one a decoration and I use an MD Dragon as well as a Feather nape and body. I know there are other sanitation methods, but without any foreknowledge that is what I did and that's my story

    ReplyDelete