"Money, it's a gas..."
When confronted with the idea of shaving with a straight razor, most will say "Isn't that dangerous?" The short answer is, "No, just don't do anything silly like try to cut your ear off!" People usually have a healthy amount of fear and respect for a sharp blade, and so the danger issue becomes a non-issue. The next most common question we get is, "How much does that cost?" and we'll throw a few numbers out there that either make people laugh or cry. Folks who have been shopping for American-made straights for a while have even asked "what's wrong" with our razors that we can charge so little for a handmade product (the truth is: nothing. We just don't think American-made warrants charging a premium. In fact, it should be more affordable). Meanwhile, $120+ isn't exactly nothing, and it's easy to understand why the casual observer won't appreciate the value of it. If our goal is to make quality straight razors that are attainable for a new generation of shavers, we know they can't just look cool; they have to make sense to people. What follows is a careful look at what straight shaving really costs, its advantages and disadvantages, as well as a look at a few alternatives.
THE REAL COST OF SHAVING WITH STRAIGHT RAZORS
Straight razors are often touted as providing a closer, cleaner shave compared to other methods, and they can! The quality of the shave depends greatly on the state of the blade and the skill of the user, but the potential for a better shave is much higher. Additionally, with a little thought to care and maintenance, a straight razor will outlast multiple owners. Perhaps that’s why artisans labor so obsessively to make them attractive. We buy these beautiful razors, not simply because they are more practical, but because we enjoy using them. They are useful and beautiful; they have to be, because blades will frequently be passed down generation-to-generation and continue to give joy even after its usefulness has dulled or expired. Except for the materials used to make the blade, a straight razor generates essentially zero waste, can be used more or less indefinitely, and will never end up in a trashcan or landfill. This also means no more buying disposable razors and blades and paying for their disposal!
So, what's the catch?
The initial investment is higher with straight shaving than with disposables. Some choose to save money by purchasing used or vintage razors, which is a great option if you have the knowledge and wherewithal to restore it and it is in good condition. A good, modern razor which can last you the rest of your life will cost $120 or more. The only other piece of essential equipment is the strop, which is used to clean and warm the edge prior to shaving and make it keen before each shave. A decent strop will cost around $60. A lot of straight shaving guides recommend a brush, shave soap or cream, pre-shave oil, moisturizer, after shave, lotion… These are all things that will make your shaving experience more luxurious, but they will significantly increase your initial investment. Honestly, we often shave with just hot water and olive oil, and we can get away with forgoing shaving cream and other products because our blades are sharp, our stropping technique is on point, and our shave technique is smooth and consistent. Still, for a good blade and a strop, you'll be dropping a cool $200.
What are the recurring costs associated with straight razor shaving?
Any consumable products you decide to use--like shave soap, oils, alum, etc.--will have to be replaced eventually. In general, we minimize these costs by using household alternatives like olive oil, and for those who want the full wet shaving experience: once you have sampled a few things and settled on the products you like, buy them in bulk! What you will lack in variety, you will make up for with consistency and savings. There are decent options out there which will last for months, and cost less than $10.
One expense unique to straight shaving is having your razors professionally sharpened, or "honed," which will cost $10-$30 a pop. Honing your razor is recommended 2-4 times per year, but this is pretty variable based on how frequently you shave, the quality of the steel, your technique, and a host of other factors. Alternatively, you can purchase a good hone and learn to tune up your blade on your own (which we will certainly cover in a later article), which can cost $80 and up. Stones don't last forever, per se, but they will last for many years of regular use.
It sounds like there's a lot to learn to become a straight razor user...
It's true, there are some new skills required to shave with and care for a straight razor, and these take practice to master. Fortunately, the daily shaving ritual presents plenty of opportunities for improvement. Taking the time to learn these skills early on pays huge dividends in the future when time and money might be short by maximizing the usefulness of the blade and reducing or eliminating spending on maintenance.
To summarize, your first year straight shaving can be a bit expensive at around $200 for a razor and strop, $280 if you also buy a hone. And let’s not forget the time you’re going to take getting good at using and maintaining your equipment! The initial investment is the most important, because having better products and a good grasp of maintenance and technique will translate to lasting quality, lower future expenses, and better long-term savings.
Wait, $280 is a lot of money. How does straight shaving ever save you money?
I'm so glad you asked! Frankly, to many people it sounds downright backwards. But what I'm about to show you is that straight shaving doesn't just eliminate the cost of disposable blades, it can save hundreds--maybe thousands!-- of dollars in waste management and disposal.
THE REAL COST OF SHAVING WITH DISPOSABLE RAZORS
Every year, 68 million American men throw away 2 billion disposable razors, generating 34 million cubic feet of hazardous, non-recyclable waste. This adds to 250+ million tons of new trash annually, 13% of which is plastic.
The individual cost is not insignificant. The cost of shaving alone (razors, cartridges, and gels/creams) for most men averages $225 annually. Shaving more than your face will cost even more if you change blades regularly, as will upgrading your shaving equipment over time. Without accounting for inflation or upgrades, men will spend over $15,000 on these shaving products in a lifetime! Each of those 68 million men is responsible for, on average: 30 disposable razors and ½ cubic foot of hazardous waste. Disposal costs average $3/lb for American households, but this doesn't begin to factor in the financial burden on local taxpayers to construct, fill, and close landfills… nor does it factor in the overwhelming cost of environmental cleanup as a consequence of poorly-constructed or improperly-sealed landfills. The long-term cost of removal and disposal is much higher than the cost of any thing that gets thrown away. I wish there were more accurate data to determine what percentage of our landfills are packed with disposable razors, because it would allow us to calculate exactly how much is being spent on their disposal alone, as well as the savings potential if they ceased to be used entirely! It is well recognized by now that using and consuming less is the biggest savings you can generate for your wallet and the environment. The straight razor addresses these problems because it is the only razor you will ever need.
MORE COST-SAVING TIPS FROM THE FRUGAL SHAVER
My brother is a great example of a young man with a good head on his shoulders who still uses disposable blades. Incredibly, he can make a 6-pack of disposable razor heads last 9 months… As most first-year college students do, he has acquired a sudden awareness of money and the real cost of things, and he has worked out a way to make his disposable blades go further.
His method: every few days, knock down the bulk of his stubble with an electric shaver, then clean up with handsoap and a disposable razor. Rinse the blade thoroughly, blow/shake it dry, consider adding a drop of oil (baby oil works just fine) and store it back in its plastic case in a dark, dry place. Starting with the electric razor means less material for the disposable to cut through, while keeping it clean, dry, and oiled preserves the blades by preventing corrosion.
There’s a lesson to be learned here for straight shavers, too. Combining shaving methods will keep your blades sharp longer, requiring less frequent maintenance or disposal. For example, you could knock down the bulk of your beard with the straight, then transition to a safety razor or disposable for a second and third pass. You get a closer shave in less time, don’t go through as many disposable blades, and don’t have to hone the straight as often. This would also be a great way to make the transition from disposables to straights. While you’re still learning especially, it will be beneficial to do your first pass with the straight and then clean up with your leftover disposable blades.
There is always the option of not shaving, which is pretty widely accepted nowadays. There’s a reason No-Shave-November is a thing, and whatever your preferences might be, growing all your hair out can be very enjoyable and is more sustainable in every aspect. That being said, it still might be prudent to use a straight to line-up your beard if you decide to grow it out!
Clean, effective performance
Straight razors are cleaner, perform better, and have lasting value compared to other shaving methods. And they should, given the higher cost of starting out. Yes, it takes time to learn the necessary skills, but we don't see that as a drawback. Taking good care of a blade and learning to use it well is a point of pride for many people! It reflects a strong sense of personal responsibility and dedication, something we all can benefit from.
"Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) in the United States: Facts and Figures." EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 30 Dec. 2014.
Clarke, Arthur C. "Solid and Hazard Waste." Solid and Hazard Waste. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Dec. 2014.
Tischler, John H. "Going Green By Shaving Straight Four Alternatives To Disposable Plastic Razors Cartridges." Green Options. Vintage Shaving Shoppe LLC, 2011. Web. 30 Dec. 2014.
"Waste Removal Costs | Average Price to Remove Waste." Waste Removal Costs | Average Price to Remove Waste. Home Advisor Inc., current. Web. 30 Dec. 2014.