The way straight razor afficionados talk, you should be able to get a glass-smooth shave. I have seen claims of the closest shave possible!
I've always thought they were full of it.
I've been using the ol' straight-edge for some 15 years, and can now do the 4 S's in about 20 minutes. Others have covered most of the important points:
1.Shower first to soften and wet the whiskers.
2.Learn to sharpen and strop the razor properly.
3.Lock the door.
4.Invest in at least one styptic pencil.
5.Be calm, firm, and smooth.
I have a few more points:
1.Set the angle of the blade on the skin. (I find about 30-40degrees works best.)
2.MAKE SURE you keep that angle where the edge meets the skin. (It's easy to think you have the same angle under the chin when actually it's much lower 'cause you forgot to change your hand position when you slipped off the jaw, or wandered down your neck. Don't ask me how I know that.)
3.Stay away from Stainless Steel. It's great for preventing rust, but lousy for taking/keeping an edge.
As to the whole "older is better" thing...
I can't speak to the new, custom made razors out there. Perhaps they're worth the big bucks; I don't know. However, when my father finally gave me his father's razor, I was amazed. My grandfather must have picked this thing up in England sometime around 1886 (that's right, 1886)when he was in University, and yes, it was made in Germany.
Before that the best I had found was a Zenith Prince (not made any more) which served me for years, and is still my travel razor. (Yah, I'm not risking my granddad's razor.)
And that's all I have to say about that.
The only caveate I'd add, and not from personal experience but from several folks who use them..., when you find a good English or German made razor in an antique shop or such, take a very close look at the edge with a magnifying glass. Some very nice razors were put aside because somebody damaged the edge by causing a small nick or chip, and the razor was put up to be corrected later, and never had it done. Even a very small nick or chip in the edge can be very bad for your face, and they can be tough to see with the naked eye. The damage can scratch or cut the face, and can pull instead of cut the whiskers. In some cases they can be overcome by diligent sharpening by a cutler who knows how to do it, and in other cases the razor was ruined.
It's not what you know, it's what you can prove
Well...Maybe not ruined...
They can always be re-tasked, since they'll still cut patching material like a hot knife through butter.
There is a fairly large community of straight razor users with several online forums. I recommend badgerandblade.com
There are several members of that forum who are also vendors. Google "whipped dog razors" Larry sells kits for beginners for a very reasonable price. Kits will include a honed "vintage" razor and a strop to keep it shave ready. He also runs a honing service.
The advice to go slow and lock out interruptions is right on. It takes time to learn what you are doing, and you may be nervous til you get the hang of it. Once you are proficient it takes no longer than shaving with a modern razor.
Finally a topic I have some experience with. Been using a straight razor for 30 years. Laughing Bear has it right and I would say that rule #5 is almost as important as sharpening. I started with my great grandfathers razor and soon moved to a different one to keep his original and clean. Now I use 3 in rotation, 2 Pearlducks ( SatinEdge and GoldenEdge) and a German blade from an antique store from 1880's) Best to have more than one in rotation so you are not over stropping the edges.
Stretching the skin keeps you from catching a fold (this is probably the most common reason for nicks)
Also make sure to use "hot" water for the soap lather.
As far as closeness of shave, I have never had as close a save with a multi bladed safety razor as I can get with the straight razor. But you do have to shave in at least 3 different directions to get all of the stubble.(back to taking your time)
Normally takes 2-3 days to get the average 5 o'clock shadow built back up.
ah! the good ole days,I used one(grandfather's) for many a shave but,,now that I retired from public work,sorry to say I haven't shaved in 3 years now LOL
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