When you think of straight-razor shaving, your mind may conjure up an image of an old-timey barber giving a hot-towel shave, sharpening his solid metal blade on a leather strop. This romantic vision might even make you curious about using a straight razor at home. But the barbers we’ve talked to say that shaving with a straight razor has plenty of practical benefits too. For instance, straight razors give you complete control over a blade, while safety razors offer only partial control, and cartridge razors offer none at all. Master barber Angelo Ruscetta says that with a straight razor you can adjust the angle of the blade way more than with any other kind of razor to get a more aggressive shave or to go really light. Straight razors are also great for shaping and edging beards, he adds, because “you can see and control exactly where you’re cutting.” However, it does take time and patience to master the technique. So if you’re thinking about trying it yourself, you should heed the advice of master barber Julien Howard, who suggests this classic barber-school training exercise before putting the blade to your actual face: Inflate a balloon, cover it with shaving cream, and “shave” the cream off with the razor. “If you pop the balloon, you’re probably going to cut yourself,” he says. That’s your signal to keep practicing until no more balloons are harmed.
To find the best straight razors, we talked to Howard, Ruscetta, and four other barbers. Click through our table of contents to skip to the razors that interest you most — or read on for all of their recommendations.
Best overall shavette | Best (less-expensive) shavette | Best under-$20 shavette | Best made-in-Japan shavette with a straight handle | Best made-in-Japan shavette with a folding handle | Best overall traditional | Best large-blade traditional
What we’re looking for:
Traditional versus shavette: Thanks to modern health codes that prohibit barbers from using the same blade on multiple clients, professional barbers these days hardly ever use traditional straight razors with a fixed blade. If you’re getting a “straight-razor shave” at a barbershop today, your barber is probably using a “shavette,” which is basically a blade holder that accommodates a disposable, single-edge metal blade. According to the barbers we spoke with, shavettes offer the same quality of shave as a traditional straight razor and are lower maintenance, since the disposable blades don’t need to be sharpened. Using a shavette will also be less expensive because the upfront costs are much lower and refills are very cheap. So you can get your taste of nostalgia without the big cost, says Ruscetta. Though you won’t need to buy refill blades for a traditional straight razor, you will have to get it professionally sharpened (or buy the equipment to do it at home), and you’ll want to buy a leather strop as well.
This list is heavy on shavettes because those are the tools our experts use every day and because, as Ruscetta notes, shavettes are a better option for beginners who want to try straight-razor shaving. But for those who prefer a traditional straight razor, we’ve included a couple recommendations for those as well.
Regarding the maintenance of blades on a traditional straight razor, there is a lot to say. Ruscetta gave us some pointers: You should sharpen the blade about once per year, and he recommends sending it out to a specialist (most knife-sharpening services can also handle straight razors). If you want to do it yourself, he says to use a “combination Norton stone with 4,000 grit on one side and 8,000 grit on the other.” Ruscetta adds that while it might seem unnecessary, “stropping” with a leather strop before each shave is essential. “Every time you use the razor, you get microscopic bends in the razor,” but the strop “straightens out” those tiny bends, and you can really feel the difference when you shave, he explains. He says any standard strop should work; just make sure it’s at least an inch thick.
Weight and blade size-slash-shape: As with safety razors, a bit of heft to your straight razor can actually be helpful. Because a well-balanced and slightly heavy razor improves control and steadies the hand, a razor that’s too light can actually make it more likely that you’ll cut yourself. It is for this reason that Ralph Wilburn, senior barber at Fellow Barber’s Chelsea Market location, always recommends going with a metal razor, no matter the brand. “I like them made out of metal because they have a little weight. Some are fully plastic, which I personally think is too light” he says. “You need a certain amount of pressure, and the weight of the metal helps.” That said, at least one barber told us they prefer a lighter straight razor, so it may come down to personal preference.
Then there’s the size and shape of the blade to consider. Straight razor blades come in different sizes (sometimes referred to as thicknesses), measured vertically from the cutting edge to the spine of the blade. A typical blade is five-eighths of an inch, but they can range smaller or larger — always in eighths of an inch. The shape (or grind) refers to the blade’s actual thickness as well as the way it is formed out of metal. Grinds vary from “full wedge,” which is the thickest and which in cross-section looks a lot like a doorstop or a carrot, all the way down to an “extra hollow,” which is extremely thin and looks more like a tulip in cross section. Thin blades are more flexible (imagine a piece of very thin wire versus a very thick piece) and give a closer shave but may have trouble cutting through thick beards. Thicker blades are better for beginners because they are heavier and more forgiving of less-than-perfect technique. Blade thickness is less relevant for shavette-style straight razors that can take a variety of different blades, but it’s very important to consider when buying a traditional straight razor.
Straight handle versus folding handle: Both traditional straight razors and shavettes are available with two different handle styles, straight or folding. Some of the barbers we spoke to say that using a straight handle gives them more control. Others prefer a folding handle because it keeps the sharp blade covered when not in use, protecting both the blade and your hands (especially important if you keep your razor in a drawer). But ultimately our experts agree that choosing a straight or folding handle comes down to personal preference.
Blades included: If you’re buying a shavette razor, you’ll need blades to go with it. But if you’re lucky, your new shavette will come with a few free blades to get you started. We’ve noted which ones include blades below.
Best overall shavette straight razor
Shavette | 1.06 ounces | Folding handle | Blades not included
It should come as no surprise that barbers have strong opinions on razors. The ones we spoke to for this article didn’t overlap much in their rec