Frustrations of a straight razor newbie

#1
I recently purchased a 6/8" DOVO straight razor. I sent it from Detroit, USA to Billy in Scotland to have it honed and stropped. I didn't want to pester Billy with every question that comes to mind so I created this thread. As a newbie, I was expecting to get an easy shave with a blade that would cut through the thickest stubble with ease. However, I was disappointed. I am sure Billy did a top notch job honing and stropping the DOVO so I ruled out a dull blade. So it must be my technique. II know it takes a while to learn how to shave with a straight razor. I have been trying using a 30 degree angle between my face and the blade, but still not a close shave. Before using a straight razor, I have been using disposable, double-blade razors. I was under the impression that a straight razor would be just as sharp or sharper than the disposables. However, with a straight razor, I cannot reproduce the close shave that I get from a disposable. I would be grateful if you could share your thoughts and experiences.
 
#2
I recently purchased a 6/8" DOVO straight razor. I sent it from Detroit, USA to Billy in Scotland to have it honed and stropped. I didn't want to pester Billy with every question that comes to mind so I created this thread. As a newbie, I was expecting to get an easy shave with a blade that would cut through the thickest stubble with ease. However, I was disappointed. I am sure Billy did a top notch job honing and stropping the DOVO so I ruled out a dull blade. So it must be my technique. II know it takes a while to learn how to shave with a straight razor. I have been trying using a 30 degree angle between my face and the blade, but still not a close shave. Before using a straight razor, I have been using disposable, double-blade razors. I was under the impression that a straight razor would be just as sharp or sharper than the disposables. However, with a straight razor, I cannot reproduce the close shave that I get from a disposable. I would be grateful if you could share your thoughts and experiences.
1) stropping technique
2) lather consistency
3) angle and shaving technique

In that order.

The angle is too steep. 30 degrees is appropriate for safety razors not straights. You need a much closer angle than that.

Make sure you are skin stretching and understand the grain of your beard growth.

Your lather should be slicker than with a safety or disposable. Lather your face then dip your brush tips into warm water and work it into the lather on your face.

Did you strop after receiving the razor? It is very easy to roll the edge.

Buy a paddle strop to use whilst you are learning.

Practise stropping with a butter knife on your thigh (the ones with the straight blunt blade and imitation bone handle). Hold between finger and thumb at the neck imagine you are spreading the softest, lightest butter on your leg, flipping the blade on its spine to reverse the motion. When you can do this with minimal pressure but generate warmth on your thigh you know you are doing it right.
 
#3
1. I pester @Fergiebilly with everything straight razor related. I'm sure somewhere deep down (look deeper Billy) he enjoys it :p

2. I couldn't get a decent straight razor shave for at least the first 15 tries. I only did the flat parts of my cheeks for 2 weeks!

Start small like that. And only with the grain. Then add either WTG strokes on neck, or maybe try an across the grain on your cheek. Don't push it at first. Most of your shave will probably be completed with your old double blade cartridges for at least a few weeks.

It took me about a month to attempt to shave anything on my chin with a straight razor.

It took me about 3 months to be confident going against the grain in places (where necessary). That was the first time I got a "good" shave (of a similar quality to a DE or cartridge).

Don't give up! PM everyone if needed - no one here bites :oops:;)
 
#4
@seveneighth,
My DOVO was honed and stropped by Billy, so I have not stropped it yet. I am beginning to suspect that I could have damaged his work by my improper use of the razor. Maybe it needs to be stropped? I did buy a Kanayama #2196 which I assumed that it was a good introductory strop.

@Dansco, from what I gathered, it takes a lot of practice. The other day someone asked me what happened to your face? I said that I am learning how to shave with a straight razor. I know no one who uses a straight razor so it brings up and interesting but eccentric conversation.
 
#5
@seveneighth,
My DOVO was honed and stropped by Billy, so I have not stropped it yet. I am beginning to suspect that I could have damaged his work by my improper use of the razor. Maybe it needs to be stropped? I did buy a Kanayama #2196 which I assumed that it was a good introductory strop.

@Dansco, from what I gathered, it takes a lot of practice. The other day someone asked me what happened to your face? I said that I am learning how to shave with a straight razor. I know no one who uses a straight razor so it brings up and interesting but eccentric conversation.
It's unlikely you have damaged the edge on your face. But if you think about it you will dull it more quickly at too steep an angle because you are effectively scraping not cutting.

Try shaving with an angle of 2 spine widths.

You will need to strop between shaves. For this reason it is important to develop your stropping technique. Hanging strops are tricky. Cheap wide ones can easily cup and it takes a while to get the hang of the right amount of pressure and taughtness. You don't want an expensive one to start because you'll be sure to nick it.

On a 3" inch wide balsa or a leather paddle strop it's easier to keep the razor flat. Generally you can get away with thinner cheaper leather on a paddle. Look for one with smooth leather on one side or canvas or napped leather on the other.

I like getting smooth leather for my second side and napping it myself with ultra fine wire wool. That way I can get a very subtle finish. I make my own paste but the Dovo crayons are perfectly OK. Always finish on a plain leather strop though.
 
#7
@seveneighth,
My DOVO was honed and stropped by Billy, so I have not stropped it yet. I am beginning to suspect that I could have damaged his work by my improper use of the razor. Maybe it needs to be stropped? I did buy a Kanayama #2196 which I assumed that it was a good introductory strop.

@Dansco, from what I gathered, it takes a lot of practice. The other day someone asked me what happened to your face? I said that I am learning how to shave with a straight razor. I know no one who uses a straight razor so it brings up and interesting but eccentric conversation.
Stropping between shaves is part of the routine, most people I know do 20 to 40 laps on canvas followed by 40 laps on leather before a shave. After the shave same again but this time people tend to increase to 60 the number of laps on leather.

I personally do 40 on canvas followed by 100 on leather after my shave and don't do any before my shaves. It works for me.
SR blades aren't as sharp as razor blade and they don't need to be.

When I first started I felt my razor wasn't sharp enough and I thought my stropping was making the blade worse..... I bought a SR from Billy to see if that made a difference, it did a little but I also concluded that the razor I bought from Billy was a better razor.

Later on Billy advised me what finishing stone to get to refresh my blades and with the help of YouTube videos plus some trial an errors I now enjoy the best SR shaves of my life. I like my SR sharper that what you tend to get as a freshly honed blade so the last razor I bought from Billy got a "refresh" on my finishing stone after one shave..... I ended up with a blade that was scary sharp... I over did it but after about 40 shaves with it, the blade feels fine and it's my favourite razor.

The lather for SR shaving needs to be slick, cushioning comes second for me.

Take your time and you'll get there :)
 
#8
It's unlikely you have damaged the edge on your face. But if you think about it you will dull it more quickly at too steep an angle because you are effectively scraping not cutting.

Try shaving with an angle of 2 spine widths.

You will need to strop between shaves. For this reason it is important to develop your stropping technique. Hanging strops are tricky. Cheap wide ones can easily cup and it takes a while to get the hang of the right amount of pressure and taughtness. You don't want an expensive one to start because you'll be sure to nick it.

On a 3" inch wide balsa or a leather paddle strop it's easier to keep the razor flat. Generally you can get away with thinner cheaper leather on a paddle. Look for one with smooth leather on one side or canvas or napped leather on the other.

I like getting smooth leather for my second side and napping it myself with ultra fine wire wool. That way I can get a very subtle finish. I make my own paste but the Dovo crayons are perfectly OK. Always finish on a plain leather strop though.
+1 on this. You must learn how to strop and hanging ones will be slightly steeper learning curve. You can still learn on one though. The paddle is a good idea.

I got one from peters-eaters.co.uk. Peter is a nice guy. Gotta give him a call though, can't buy through the website. He'll send you some green chromium oxide paste too if you ask on the phone. One tip- as he makes them all to order ask if you can have leather on both sides, or even napped leather on one if he can source some. Mine came with a linen/canvas on the reverse and Billy advises you use CrO on leather as it's flatter. Obviously you can't put it on your only leather side. His basic one came to about £16.

This one from invisible edge is the business, but also quite a bit more expensive

https://www.theinvisibleedge.co.uk/strops/278-strop-it-supex-77-paddle-strop.html

The second even has interchangeable stropping surfaces with magnetic attachments.
 
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#9
Some great advice given here, I have the first IE paddle strop shown and it's very good indeed and I find it quite relaxing just sitting Stropping your blade and when you have the hang of stropping use your hanging strop, keep it taught and you shouldn't have any problems, I will strop 100 laps on the paddle because it's short and 70 on my hanging strop, just relax as you're doing it and you will soon find your rhythm.
As its been said already keep an eye on your blade angle when shaving, the spine of the blade shouldn't be too far from your skin, it takes time but you will get there. Keep at it :) P.
 
#10
9 times out of 10 the biggest damge caused to a newbies blade edge is stropping not shaving badly.
1:- a clean shave no nicks cuts or gushers is a good start
2:- your blade will get better after 2 or 3 shaves.
3:- your tech will improve shave after shave, to begin with concerntrate on cheeks and neck line, muscle memory is the biggest hurdle.
4:- enjoy the challenge watch loads of youtube vids and stretch the skin ,as this was my biggest improvement.

As for billys edge, nobody has ever said " billys blades they aint sharp enough" nope ,never heard that said. Dont give up your blade can be resharpened if need, but your stropping and shaving technique needs to improve first.
 
#13
I wouldn't worry about brands necessarily - local makers produce the best ones. One of the great things about paddle strops is that you don't need to pay for a long thick heavy piece of leather. Because the leather is mounted you can get away with cheaper thinner materials.

I agree with the recommendations above for sources. PetersEaters are very good. The IE one that I have has two napped sides, which is annoying. The Strop It one is a gimmick - and of course I have one! It's good but you need the sprung razor version.

Have a look for an eBay seller called billyji1. His strops are are excellent and inexpensive. He also happens a very fine honemeister (50 years+ experience) ... For when you are in the market for you next razor.
 
#16
9 times out of 10 the biggest damge caused to a newbies blade edge is stropping not shaving badly.
1:- a clean shave no nicks cuts or gushers is a good start
2:- your blade will get better after 2 or 3 shaves.
3:- your tech will improve shave after shave, to begin with concerntrate on cheeks and neck line, muscle memory is the biggest hurdle.
4:- enjoy the challenge watch loads of youtube vids and stretch the skin ,as this was my biggest improvement.

As for billys edge, nobody has ever said " billys blades they aint sharp enough" nope ,never heard that said. Dont give up your blade can be resharpened if need, but your stropping and shaving technique needs to improve first.
One thing I believe is that the edge on your razor - how you like it - is personal. Sure there is good honing :- correct bevel angle, straight even bevel, highly polished, minimal hone wear to the spine, no wobble. When it comes to the final mile - the stropping, I don't believe there is right or wrong or good or bad. I haven't found an edge that wasn't improved to my preference by my stropping.

This is why IMO stropping is the first and most important skill to master, because it makes the razor yours. At that point you will not be able to find another razor that is so comfortable and enjoyable to shave with. It will be your razor. Like a fountain pen nib adjusts to your handwriting over time.
 
#17
The Lads have Said it All Above..Nothing to Add..Except..It Does Need Stropped After Every Shave...Dont Worry about Knacking the Edge Whilst Stropping...I Will Do a 1st Refresh for Free Just Return Postage is All...That Razor Took a Superb Shaving Edge by the Way..Its a Learning Curve is All..I Couldnt Get a Shave from a Proper Shave Ready Razor Neither when I 1st Started..:cool:

Billy
 
#19
my strops, not an enthusiastic user finding it rather tedious, still a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do

denim - ok
linen - good - made my own from a towel
leather- cut and ruined
leather - tested with cromox but made a thick uneven mess so ruined - user error in combination with maybe not the best cromox
leather - cheap chinese that came with Titan razor - not bad - still using it after two years but looking for a new more fancy just to compare
 
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