The technique for shaving with a safety razor is different than using a cartridge, but the payoff is a better shave with fewer shaving-related complexion problems.  This guide explains the basics of getting a great DE shave while avoiding nicks and cuts.

This video from Executive shaving Co. does a great job explaining the proper technique for shaving with a safety razor, and it’s helpful to see proper technique in action.  But here is a summary of proper technique for those who prefer to read rather than watch.

Preparation

If you are using a badger brush, your first step should be to put the bristles in a bowl of warm water to let them soften up.  By the time you have prepared your face to shave your brush will be ready to go.

Your goal when preparing to shave is to soften your facial hair and to get your skin soft and pliable.  This will make shaving much easier and reduce any possible irritation.  The best possible way to prepare your skin is to take a warm shower prior to shaving.  5-10 minutes in a warm shower will soften your face and beard considerably and prepare your skin for a great shave.

But taking a shower prior to shaving may not always be an option, so there are other equally-effective ways to prepare your skin.  The first is to take a hot, damp towel and lay it over your face for 5-10 minutes.  This method is effective, but I don’t find it to be practical – it’s very tough to accomplish anything else while you have a hot towel wrapped around your face.  When I don’t have time to shower I will splash my face in warm water and go about the rest of my morning routine.  The key is to splash your face again every couple of minutes so it stays wet.  Do this a few times and your face will be ready by the time you have brushed your teeth, flossed and applied deodorant.

The final preparation step is to apply a pre-shave oil.  Take one or two pumps and rub it into your face.  It’s that simple.

Working a lather

Take your brush and shake most of the water out.  Then use your finger or brush to scoop out about a teaspoon of shaving cream.  Use your brush to work the cream around in the bowl using a circular motion.  You won’t need a lot of pressure – too much can crush the bristles of the brush.

The process is similar for hard soaps. Using a damp brush work the hard soap in circular motions to load soap onto the brush. Then move the brush to a bowl to work up a lather.

After about 30-40 seconds you should have a good lather in the bowl (more time might be required for hard soaps.). It will look like the foam that comes from a can, only thicker and stiffer.  If you see a lot of bubbles you probably used a little too much water and you can add more shaving cream.  If it still looks dense and pasty just add a few drops of water and work the brush a little more.

Use your brush and work the lather into your face with circular strokes.  I suggest spending a little extra time on this step to make sure the shaving cream reaches all the way down to your skin and covers all of the hairs completely.  If you have never used a brush before you will notice that the bristles help a lot by getting the shaving cream all the way down to your skin.

The first pass

Before you shave for the first time its a good idea to understand the direction of your beard growth.  The hair on your cheeks probably grow in a different direction than on your neck, and each man’s face is a little different.  The best way to learn your growth patterns is to feel your face when you have a five-o’clock shadow.  Rub your fingers north-to-south, then east-to-west and all of the other directions.  Your hair is growing in the direction of the least resistance.

Your first pass should always go “with the grain” meaning in the same direction of the hair growth.  Starting on your cheek position the blade at a 30 degree angle and use a short and light stroke (about two inches in length).  Do not apply pressure to the blade like you do with a cartridge razor.  Instead allow the weight of the razor to do the work for you.  Your goal should always be “hair reduction” not “hair elimination” on the first pass.  Continue until you have made a first pass across your entire face, changing direction as needed to stay with the grain.  Try to avoid re-shaving any areas that are not protected with shaving cream.

The second (and third) pass

After your first pass use your brush to re-lather and complete a second pass.  This time, go across the grain.  For example, if you went north-to-south on your cheek with pass one, go east-to-west for pass two.  You’ll notice less resistance on the second pass since you have already considerably reduced the amount of hair.

After the second pass re-lather and shave a third time.  This time go against the grain of the hair for a very close shave.

Finishing up

Once you are done shaving rinse your face completely in cold water.  This will help tighten your skin and it feels a lot nicer than hot water on a freshly-shaven face.  Be sure to rinse all of the remaining soap.  Use a clean towel and pat your face dry (rubbing can lead to irritation).  Finally, apply a light after-shave balm to restore some moisture to your face.

Before you consider your shave complete you should make sure your gear is ready to be put away.  Rinse your badger brush well and shake out the excess water.  Then hang the brush with the bristles pointing down so it will dry properly.  Rinse your razor in warm water to remove any residual soap and either shake off the remaining water or drag the blade backwards against your towel to dry it off.

When to replace your blade

The simple answer to when you should replace your blade is when you start to feel some tugging and your shave is no longer enjoyable.  For many men this will be after 3-5 shaves.  Some people go much longer, while others (like myself) replace the blade after every two shaves.

A brand new blade will have some burrs from the manufacturing process that will be removed during your first shave.  The blade is actually sharper after these burrs are removed so many men will find that the second and third shave with a new blade feels better than the first.

Conclusion

Shaving with a safety razor involves more care and attention than using a cartridge.  But the payoff is a much better shave and a better complexion.  If you pay attention to your technique and take care of your equipment you will be able to achieve excellent results by using a safety razor.