The Myth of the "Beginner" Straight Razor

“Which straight razor would you recommend for a beginner?”

Our recommendation is to start with a quality straight razor which is guaranteed shave-ready...

This is perhaps the most frequently asked question we receive, and one we address by saying: there’s no such thing as a “beginner razor”.
This answer reflects the goal set for all of our customers: we want to help you find the last razor you will ever need. Our recommendation is to start with a quality straight razor which is guaranteed shave-ready that will last a lifetime. All other considerations including point shape, size, and length, and on and on for 10,000 forum pages are secondary. A straight razor is a lifetime investment, so go with your gut and get the one that looks and feels right to you. That razor is the only one with which you will enjoy practicing your shaving skills and take pride in using day after day. Because straight shaving is a skill you will need to practice, you should choose the straight razor that you’ll be excited about using! Making the investment for a quality razor as someone who is new to straight shaving is safer, shortens the learning curve, and saves you money in the long term. After that, it’s just about enjoying your shave.

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Buying quality assures that your razor will be sharper, and therefore safer to use. A sharp blade cuts through hair smoothly, predictably, and reliably with little effort. A dull blade might pull, tug, snag, or require additional pressure to cut hair. Imagine applying more pressure to your face with a dull blade, snagging on tough hair. You push a little harder and the razor suddenly snaps free… Hopefully it’s traveling in a safe direction when you overcorrect out of reflex. Need we say more?

The Learning Curve

Straight shaving can seem awfully complicated. One way to learn a new, complicated skill more effectively is to break it down into smaller, simpler, more manageable tasks. Crawl, then walk, then run.

Buying a quality razor from a reputable manufacturer allows you to feel what “shave-ready” really means from the start. It also spares you the uncertainty of manufacturer defect and leaves fewer variables to consider when a shave doesn’t go well. For example, if your razor is sharp but you’re still experiencing pulling/irritation, then we know you should look at your shave prep: has the hair had enough time with moisture to soften? Is your shave lather too dry? If your razor was shave-ready but suddenly isn’t, you might have damaged the edge with improper stropping or hitting it on the faucet.

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These are all problems that can be figured out. To fix manufacturing defects like faulty grinds and bevel angles, which are hard to notice much less fix, you’ll need special tools and skills. Improper heat treatment or a ruined temper is practically invisible until you attempt to hone the razor, and cannot be repaired at all. Buying quality allows you to focus on the things you can control, like prep and shaving technique.

Save Money

Buying a quality razor from a reputable manufacturer allows you to feel what “shave-ready” really means from the start

Simply put, quality razors are easier to use, they shave better, the edges are sharper and last longer thanks to proper heat treatment and handling, and they last forever. They cost more upfront, however. The price tag can be hard to swallow, but what you are paying for is craftsmanship and materials. Cutting corners on production costs to make a razor more affordable typically result in something that won’t shave at all.

If you are the type of person who likes to “test the waters” by trying the cheapest version of something before investing in a more quality option, understand that your experience with a cheaply-made razor will not be comparable to one made by skilled craftspeople. Sooner rather than later you’ll have to pay for it to be sharpened, or replaced with a better razor because it couldn’t be sharpened to begin with. In the long run, the more expensive razor will require less maintenance, be easier to fix when something goes wrong, and will last longer than a cheaper alternative.

Story time: I learned to drive in a beat-up manual transmission vehicle that was barely road-worthy and had all kinds of problems. But (and this is the important part) it was cheap! A “perfect first car”, according to my dad. And since I didn’t have anything to compare it to… well, I honestly thought I was just a bad driver. It wasn’t until years later, when I had the opportunity to drive a stick shift in decent condition, that I realized it might not have been my fault driving that clunker was such a pain. Learning to drive on a broken-down piece of junk had also taught me a lot of bad habits which then had to be unlearned when I was finally able to upgrade. All this to say: it would have spared us all a lot of time, money, and inconvenience if we’d been willing to spend a little more on the front end.

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Final Thoughts

We may be straight razor enthusiasts to our core, but we can appreciate why they might not be for everyone. If you find yourself disinterested, don’t fret or throw the razor in the trash! You can always keep it tucked away in a drawer or proudly on display as a work of functional art until you feel the urge to try again. If you are secure in your decision to move on, consider gifting it to a friend or selling it online! A quality straight razor holds value and will be snatched up by straight shavers more eager than yourself.

Now, if you find you’ve caught the razor bug and you want to upgrade to something custom, go for it! Your old razor will be ready for you in the event you want to revisit it, or you can pass it on to another budding enthusiast when the time is right.

RE: Gillette "We Believe"

We have received calls and messages from customers this week asking what our stance is on Gillette’s recent “The Best Men Can Be” campaign. Some asked how we felt about this ad that  “attacks men.”

We watched the video. We read what Gillette had to say about it. Here’s what we think about it:

In case you aren’t in the know… On January 13th, Gillette published a video ad titled “We Believe.” In the accompanying web page titled “The Best Men Can Be,” they acknowledge their role in shaping modern culture and their responsibility as an industry leader to promote “positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man.”

It’s time we acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture. And as a company that encourages men to be their best, we have a responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man. With that in mind, we have spent the last few months taking a hard look at our past and coming communication and reflecting on the types of men and behaviors we want to celebrate. We’re inviting all men along this journey with us – to strive to be better, to make us better, and to help each other be better.

We feel that Gillette’s message was delivered as respectfully as was possible given the format, and don’t find anything particularly objectionable about it. We certainly don’t see anything that could be construed as “attacking men” or “anti-man.” It very explicitly urges men to stand up to--and for--each other by calling out harmful behaviors. The amount of backlash Gillette has received demonstrates that the underlying issue--a pervasive culture of toxic masculinity--is very present and real.

We want to commend Gillette for trying to do the right thing. Not only are they owning past transgressions, they are being proactive in affecting positive change in our industry. Sure, it’s an ad to sell razors, but their position on these issues matters-- they have a huge audience and money to spend on messaging!

It isn’t often that we get to say this, but we agree with Gillette! We all have a lot of work to do, and we at Portland Razor Company are committed to building a community of which we are proud to be a part.  

Yes, Barbers & Stylists Can Use Real Straight Razors

You may have heard that conventional straight razor use is illegal in professional barbershops and salons, or that they are somehow unsafe for you or your clients, or that only single-use blades are permitted. This is a MYTH perpetuated by decades of misinformation, and we’d like to set the record straight.

A Portland Razor Co. Deluxe strop hangs from a vintage barber chair strop hook.

A Portland Razor Co. Deluxe strop hangs from a vintage barber chair strop hook.

State Board has the answer

Each state’s health authority lays out specific requirements for clean and safe practices in barbershops. We have checked rules & regs in many states including OR, CA, WA, CO, UT, PA, FL, TN, NY, NJ… In fact, the only state we have confirmed explicitly prohibits use of conventional straight razors is Rhode Island!

Now, obviously we are not lawyers, we are just advocates for a better world with a more sustainable culture. As such, give your local health authority a call. We have phoned different states and most often the response to, "Are reusable straight razors illegal to use in the shop?" is, "Who told you that? Of course it's fine to use those..."

Nevertheless, you may carry this myth with you as a barber or stylist. I think we create barriers like this because we are afraid of what the answer will be. The answer might restrict us further or reveal an answer for which we weren't prepared to digest. We are taught that striking out on our own is to pursue a freedom we couldn't find in a "regular" job, so we avoid rules and avoid authority so that we don't have to be on the hook for knowing the answer. I completely understand this and I could dedicate a full series of posts to the fear and doubt we are taught to expect in daring to be different. Maybe I will get around to that post at some point, but not today. In the meantime, call the board! They have the answers!

AND before we get too far off track, I want to show you the rules as they are written today in Oregon!

Portland Razor Co.  “Barber Special” Straight Razor  in High-Level Barbicide.

Portland Razor Co. “Barber Special” Straight Razor in High-Level Barbicide.

Oregon's rules & Our Sanitization Process

The Oregon Health Licensing Office names razors specifically in its definition of sharp implements:

817-005-0005 Definitions. (30) ”Sharp edged or pointed, non-electrical tools and implements” means those items which may on occasion pierce or cut the skin and draw blood, including razors, cuticle nippers, cuticle pushers, nail clippers, tweezers, comedone extractors, shears, and metal nail files.

Oregon also makes an important distinction between grades of disinfectant:

(20) “High-level disinfectant” means a chemical agent, which has demonstrated tuberculocidal activity and is registered with the EPA.

Finally, they give instructions for proper sanitation:

817-010-0068 Disinfecting Non-Electrical Tools and Implements (3) For all tools and implements with sharp edges or points completely immerse in a high-level disinfectant used according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

In short, conventional straight razors are perfectly safe for you to use as long as they are properly sanitized between each client. We developed the following process to meet these requirements and guarantee that our razors are sharp and safe for each client. Every step should be performed before each use:

  1. Carefully rinse and dry the entire straight razor with a clean towel.
  2. Strop the razor.
  3. Immerse the razor and scales (closed) in an approved high-level disinfectant such as Barbicide Plus* for manufacturer’s recommended duration.
  4. Rinse and dry the razor with a clean towel, and place in a sealed, clean container for storage prior to use.
  5. Upon completion of the shave, repeat steps 1-4 to prepare for the next client.
  6. Because a strop is porous and cannot be sanitized, NEVER strop the razor without then completing the entire sanitation process. The same is true if the razor comes in contact with any other unsanitary surface.
  7. NEVER use the razor on multiple clients. For the safety of your clients, sanitize the razor before using it on your next client.

where did this myth come from?

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This brings us to an important point which may explain why conventional straight razors fell out of fashion in the first place. As our understanding of blood-born disease and sanitary practices expanded, health authorities updated code to keep clients and pracitioners safe in the 1980s and 1990s. Unfortunately, straight razor manufacturers had been on the decline since the early 1900s with the introduction of disposable razors to the market and never updated the straight razor's materials to withstand the disinfectants required by the new rules:

  1. Vintage Blades made of high carbon steel do not hold an edge in high-level disinfectant.
  2. Vintage Scales made of organic materials such as bone or horn or low-quality plastics also do not fare well in the high-level.

In this way, conventional razors were made impractical through legislation while still leaving the door open if improvements were made to the materials. When developing our Professional Line, we approached these rules and regulations to guide our material choices and were able to hatch a straight razor that was classic, non-disposable, and fully sanitizable!

If you have any doubts of the legality of using a conventional straight razor in your shop, we urge you to take a quick look through your local health authority's documentation. It is all available online and should clear things up!


P.S. If you feel your barber would benefit by implementing conventional straight razors in their practice, we hope you will share this article with them!

*All Portland Razor Co Professional Razors are made with non-reactive scales and are stable in Barbicide Plus.

It's time for a good old-fashioned rant : 1 minute on an american-made soap box

Portland Razor Co. received an email from Gold Dollar this morning asking if we would like them to manufacture our straight razors for us. I followed the link they had sent and found it odd that I recognized the photos (having never looked into buying a gold dollar myself). Look familiar? They stole photos I took for our manufacturing page and are using them to market their own razors!! To Gold Dollar's credit: someone over there knows their way around photoshop and did an excellent job replacing our logo with theirs!

gold dollar straight razor stolen photos

A few thoughts on this:

  1. I'm pretty sure this isn't how they make their razors, but it IS how we make our razors!
  2. Gold Dollar claiming images of our straight razor manufacturing process as their own is intentionally misleading and co-opts the authenticity of us smaller makers who take time and care in our process. It says, "this wasn't made in a black box overseas. Look! This was made by a real person. You can trust us as much as you trust small batch manufacturers!" But the truth is, you can't!
  3. I've seen much discussion and many many examples in the past year of larger faceless corporations ripping off independent artists on Instagram. This is a massive problem in the age of the Internet and it is a fact of life that it is hard to take the bad with the good. While sometimes legal action can play out in favor of the independent artists, there is a great deal of power which lies with you, our audience and customers, to choose to support us: the originals, the artists and makers who work hard to produce quality work and push our own limits every day. I hope you see the benefit of supporting small, honest companies such as our own. I want to re-enforce that your support and contributions never ever go underappreciated.
  4. We've been meaning to update our manufacturing page, so this gives us a pretty good reason.
  5. And OF COURSE, all of our razors will always and forever be American Made.
stolen gold dollar straight razor photo with photo shop skills

Aaanyways, looking forward to meeting Scott's hand twin in China some day! Happy Wednesday everyone!

P.S. we won't hold it against you if you share this with people you know who also care about the integrity and quality of the goods they purchase with their hard-earned money! ;)