Carbon steel quality? Full or half hollow? Finding the best straight razor takes a lot of consideration when you have to invest so much time and money to the experience. But the payoff is a massive upgrade to your shave, trust us on that one.
We’ve been through the experience of crappy knockoffs right through to the finest German steel and want to share with you the results of our research so you can jump right in without disappointment.
A traditional straight razor tends to be expensive because of its high quality balance and finely-honed steel for a pristine close shave.
They are also quite difficult to use – not only in knowing how to shave with a single edge straight razor when so many of us are used to multi-blade cartridge razors – but also learning how to sharpen a straight razor. The straight edge razor has quite a fearsome reputation, hence its unfortunate other name of “cut throat” razor.
That’s why we often recommend disposable blade straight razors – known as shavettes – as part of this guide as they use replacement blades instead of having to strop every time you want a close shave.
But first let’s take a look at the traditional straight razor.
The Best Straight Razor
Based in Solingen, Germany, an area renowned for its steel technology, Dovo are one of the best manufacturers of razors in the world. They are the parent company by the renowned Merkur that produce some of the best safety razors in the world, but the carbon steel blade of a Dovo straight edge razor is perhaps the best route to a perfect close shave. They are also relatively easy to use and arrive with the blade factory-sharpened, though not necessarily fully shave-ready.
The Dovo Bismarck is the ultimate Dovo straight razor with hand-filled 24K gold lettering on the carbon steel blade and handle. This blade feels more like royalty than a “cut throat”, especially when combined with one very luxurious handle. You can choose between this wooden design or the even more luxurious faux mother of peal.
Meanwhile the graceful round point is more forgiving for avoiding nicks.
While the price puts it in the premium range above Dovo’s other straight razors, it certainly isn’t the most expensive razor.What’s more is experience suggests that this premium line of Dovo razors faces a higher level of quality control and so you are unlikely to receive an imperfect blade.
Meanwhile the beautiful design, great shave and strop experience and the reliable quality control mean you are sure to be impressed with your investment.
There’s a true antique elegance to the Dovo Pearl with its imitation mother of pearl handle. But don’t let its beauty fool you into thinking this is either too expert for beginners nor more style than substance for experts.
The 5/8″ blade is perfect for beginners while also being slightly stiffer for coarser beards. It’s full-hollow and so delivers the same premium shaving experience of the Bismark.
But we can’t possibly move on without drawing attention to the immense visual decoration of the Dovo Pearl. The gold tang extends into a series of gold dashes along the spine that means the more ethical and sustainable imitation mother of pearl definitely doesn’t resemble celluloid.
This piece of straight razor excellence is available from Truefitt & Hill – who hold a royal warrant as hairdressers to His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh.
The Art of Shaving is often criticized by wet shavers for selling out to Proctor and Gamble and forming a more artisanal advertising path for Gillette multi-blade razors. Razors straight away feel much more commercial with this brand stamped on the blade. However, their best straight razors are second to none.
That’s because Art of Shaving straight razors are made by Thiers Issard, the most popular being a staight razor with a stainless steel handle that gives it a lot of extra weight. We cover more about Thiers Issard next, but the availability and great brand reputation of Art of Shaving makes this collaboration a sure winner.
While a stainless steel handle looks great it does add some additional weight compared to a delicate wooden handle of a more traditional straight razor.
But the Art of Shaving has more recently brought out some exceptional new designs with Thiers Issard. Some of our favourites are:
While the handle is stainless steel the blade itself is made from high quality carbon steel – and Thiers Issard make some of the best straight razors in the world so there is no doubt about quality despite the more commercial brand name stamped on the single edge blade. Don’t be misled by a stainless steel handle as this blade still requires you to look after it.
The Dovo No.41 Inox is the straight razor Dovo itself personally recommends to beginners. It has a forgiving round point but a full hollow 5/8 blade and is made of stainless steel which requires slightly less care than carbon steel.
But that’s not to say this is a poorer quality razor. In fact the olivewood handle version is stunning and would perfectly match the olivewood handle of the OneBlade x Thater shaving brush.
Dovo Straight Razor Prima Silver Steel
The first thing you’ll notice about the Dovo straight razor is its sheer beauty. The ebony wood handle and gold branding on the blade reminds you of the appeal of straight razors as an ancient, finely-crafted implement fit for royalty.
In terms of performance you won’t find much better. A thin single edge and lightweight build means it is beautiful to shave with and easy to maintain.
Dovo is obviously not the best budget straight razor at over $100, but it is the one last razor you will ever need to buy. Combine it with the best shaving soap, luxurious aftershave and a Simpsons shaving brush and you’ll have one of the best shaving kits in the world.
Along with Dovo, Thiers Issard is perceived as one of the leading manufacturers of the best straight razors in the world since 1884.
Pierre Thiers himself came from a long line of master blade makers. Nevertheless, the firm is also known for its renowned cutlery including the celebrated Sabatier kitchen knives. Both new and vintage Thiers Issard razors are highly sought after by shaving enthusiasts and this model is no exception.
A superior quality straight razor, the 889 Red Stamina Bison is both a pleasure to look at and use. Expertly made, it is well-balanced and easy to strop and shave with. The wooden handle offers a good weight for the large blade.
The full hollow-ground C135 carbon steel blade has a round nose that means the single edge blade is very thin and sharp but still quite forgiving thanks to the round point. Handmade in France, it comes pre-honed so it`s shave-ready.
The Naked Armor straight razor kits are beautiful. After a lot of research into Naked Armor’s manufacturers one prominent theory is that they are rebranded Titan straight razors. Titan razors are made in Asia and constitute more of a budget straight razor but their performance is still good. In fact, Naked Armor use high quality Japanese steel.
Bearing in mind the best straight razors cost hundreds of dollars a Titan will deliver an excellent shave for a good price and many shaving enthusiasts find they use them more regularly than their premium razors because they don’t need to worry about damaging them.
What Naked Armor offer is a universal standard of good quality for a reasonable price and they clearly care about their products.
Boker may not have the same kind of blade reputation as Dovo, but as a fellow Solingen manufacturer their straight razors are a top choice that may actually beat Dovo. The Edelweiss line has been produced since the 1920s and is handmade in Germany.
Many shavers find the straight edge of a Boker superior to Dovo. The Boker Edelweiss features a 6/8 size blade with a round point and is fully hollow in blade profile. This is perfect for experts and beginners alike. What really stands out about this one is the feedback. Boker say they rely on a blade “sounding” right in order to establish the correct sharpness and shape. That ring in the factory translates to a wonderful sense of how well you are shaving, allowing you to alter your angle for the perfect shave.
The Edelweiss comes shave ready but as usual a quick leather strop beforehand is recommended before use.
Boker also offer a version with a Spanish Point – which is somewhat flatter and creates more of a right-angle – and a recent special edition with luxurious gold decoration.
Titan straight razors can be a good budget option. They are made in Asia and often labelled by grooming brands as their own.
It’s not the highest quality razor but for the price it is certainly usable as a less expensive option.
Many straight razor shaving enthusiasts actually use a Titan as a regular part of their rotation because it doesn’t matter if one gets worn out or damaged unlike an expensive Dovo or Thiers Issard.
One aspect that stands out about Titan is the delicate wood handle which is always a good way to tell the best straight razors from lower quality imitations. A bulky handle is a tell-tale sign of a cheap import which is likely to match the blade quality, which ultimately affects your whole shave.
If you’ve done any browsing for a straight razor on Amazon, you will almost certainly recognize this popular brand. However, be careful in your choice. A.P. Donovan might sound like a respectable traditional name for barber tools. You’ll then read on their sales page about high quality Japanese steel, and to top it off you get an elegant wooden display box. A.P. Donovan also offer some great starter sets with brush and strop included.
However, the word on some insightful shaving forums is that A.P. Donovan razors are just rebranded Titans. If you look hard enough you can find some Titan razors that very closely resemble them – or you can just look at this example we found.
Now as we’ve said Titan are not a bad razor by any means. But with A.P. Donovan you are paying a price that’s closer to Dovo standard. We can’t prove the link to Titan, but a lot of reviews seem to agree that A.P. Donovan provide a very good razor but the price seems high for what it seems. It’s a great starter and would make a wonderful gift, but not for a straight razor afficionado.
Aust is a lesser-known Solingen manufacturer in the same locality and quality as Dovo. We say “manufacturer” but Aust is actually a single craftsman who works to exacting standards. Apparently he personally hand-hones each razor on Naniwa waterstones and finishes on a horse-hide bench strop.
The razor blade blanks come straight from a Solingen factory (there does seem to be a consensus that most Solingen blades come from a single factory – which we presume includes Dovo) with Aust’s logo already stamped. He then works to perfect them with careful honing and impeccable lazer-cut scales.
Ralf Aust is an icon of artisanal craft and efficiency. The fact that around the world shaving enthusiasts talk about his work produced in his one-man workshop is legendary in the very sense of the word – a cherished maker more artist and wizard than blade manufacturer.
Maggard – the Canadian razor shop – visited his workshop and revealed this incredible insight into his world.
Revisor are an amazing story that hold all the signs of a classic family brand. Their website appears dated – with no ecommerce order facility but a form to fill in to enquire. It also carries the stark but understandable truth that while in 1950 there more than 600 razor manufacturers in Solingen and at the time of writing (the site says Revisor will celebrate its anniversary in 2009) there were five.
You would be forgiven for thinking they had gone out of business – and you wouldn’t be that wrong. Revisor started in 1919 but went out of business in 1990. But more recently the trademark was revived and it does seem some retailers have their incredible blades available.
You can also find older versions of their work restored and buying vintage examples is certainly a popular alternative that some say is the only way to experience shaving with a straight.
Shavette Straight Razors – Best Straight Razor For Beginners
The best beginner straight razor is clearly the shavette.
A shavette straight razor is the convenient cousin of the straight razor thanks to its blades. While straight razor shaving requires lots of care and attention to maintain the blade every time you shave, a shavette usually uses a simple double edge blade from a traditional double edge razor in a blade holder.
Shavette is actually a brand name from premium shaving manufacturer Dovo that is now used for all replaceable blade straight razors.
The shavette straight razor features a similar design to a straight razor but tends to be lighter as it doesn’t hold a full blade. Instead the handle supports a small blade holder mechanism for clasping disposable blades.
You can buy shavette blades readymade or simply (and with attention to safety) snap one double edge razor blade in half for some models. They are designed to do this and the holes used to hold the blade to a safety razor also fit a shavette.
These were originally made for barbers to offer razor haircuts. Today barbers also use them for shaving for hygiene reasons since the blades can be changed between customers. But what about straight razor shaving at home?
Straight Razor vs Shavette
Many see this has a gentle entry to straight edge razor shaving by taking out the care of the big straight razor and replacing it with more of the lightweight disposable experience we are used to. However, many experienced shavers warn that this is a totally different experience to straight razor shaving and the two are not comparable.
A straight razor is much heavier and the profile of the blade is different and more forgiving than using a DE razor blade. With DE blades you are still left with the sharp corner, whereas a straight razor often features a round point to avoid cuts, although alternative blades are available.
The Proguard blades used by the Feather DX and Kai razors actually have more protective corners. You also don’t have control over the blade profile – like the full hollow shape of the Thiers Issard – but for most people not having to think about this can be a relief.
Ultimately the question of straight razor vs shavette is all about cost and convenience. With a shavette straight you don’t need to worry about carbon steel quality, a razor blade’s grind profile or how to strop a straight razor. Instead you can just buy the right disposable blades, put one in the blade holder and get to work.
It feels great, plus you get the benefits of a straight razor in terms of accuracy – you can create very intricate facial hair styles.
And while it may not the case with a luxury Feather SS, a shavette straight edge razor tends to me much less expensive than a high quality traditional straight.
However the DX costs about 2-3 times as much, and the only real difference is in the material used to construct the scales – meaning the handle.
So if you’re looking for a professional quality shavette shave for a good value and aren’t concerned about an elaborate handle then this could be for you.
- Best all-round value
- Suitable for use with Kai`s refill blades, such as the Titan Mild or Titan Mild Protouch MG.
- Head is completely removeable for easy cleaning.
The Feather DX is undoubtedly the closest thing to a straight razor without all the time-consuming maintenance.
Feather razors are made in Japan by Jatai, the world leaders in the manufacture of modern, top end shaving razors and blades such as the popular Feather AS-D2 safety razor.
The blade holder has enough heft to it that you can shave properly using just the blade weight. Strangely the blade clasp has nothing to grip the holes in the blade so the the blade is held by friction alone. However, quality Japanese engineering should ensure this is perfectly safe.
This is undoubtedly one of the best straight razors for a close shave if you’re experienced. If you’re not but want to upgrade your shave with something close to a traditional straight then you may want to consider a less expensive option like the Kai Captain.
The Feather SS is very similar to the Feather DX but it is half the price. In general the SS is probably better for beginners as the clasp has a wider bevel to it in order to help protect the skin.
The SS is also lighter than the DX. In general it is aimed more at professional barbers, hence the Artist Club, because it is made with materials designed to withstand high heat and disinfectant chemicals better. It too uses injector style replacement blades.
The Dovo shavette is actually among the cheaper varieties despite Dovo’s elite reputation. This is also the “original” brand that coined the term Shavette. This could well be the best straight razor for beginners.
Overall it is cheap and practical as an all-rounder but doesn’t have any exceptional qualities.
The blades are held firmly in place by a plastic insert that act as a clamp. It is also very lightweight and so shaving requires more manual force than other heavier models. Some people prefer this weight and find it more mobile.
The Dovo comes with different sizes of inserts in order to take different blades. If you insert a short blade into a longer holder then you can easily forget about the parts that are not being shaved. This can be avoided by using longer blades. As shown in the image you can switch between standard double edge razor blades snapped in half and dedicated shavette blades.
Despite being a relatively new brand Parker have shot to success with high quality traditional shaving products. The Parker SR1 is one beautiful stainless steel straight edge razor with replaceable blades.
One of Parker’s consistent qualities is good pricing. While many of their products are made in India and other regions known for cheap mass production they do maintain a good level of quality control. Not to mention that they do design their own products. The Parker Variant is a recent adjustable razor edition that has proved extremely successful.
Similarly the Parker SR1 straight razor is one great design for a good price. Unlike many shavette designs, the Parker SR1 features a rounded clasp to reduce the chances of nicks from the blade – similar to a round point straight razor. The razor is made entirely of stainless steel which gives it a solid weight. It is no suprise that the SR1 is one of the top choices of many barbers around the world.
Nice and simple as a less expensive option, at less than $20 this stainless steel construction comes with a wooden handle and Wilkinson Sword blades to snap in half.
The wood handle is a bit cheap and light but still a nice upgrade on plastic for the price. The clasp mechanism is solid, although the pivot fastening on the scales does come loose after about a year or so.
Japanese Straight Razors – The Kamisori
As we regularly mention Japan’s Seki is one of the world’s top razor regions alongisde Solingen in Germany and Sheffield in the UK. Japanese straight razors are a work of art in themselves and function slightly differently to a western straight razor.
Shaving in Japan is a highly respected ritual and so a Kamisori is made with great care to provide the best experience.
Kamisori straight razors tend to feature long handles for optimum control. They also tend to have a smaller blade so you can reach difficult areas. Again the Japanese straight razor is about very careful, meticulous shaving and taking your time.
Feather SS Japanese Straight Razor
Perhaps the most famous mass-market kamisori is actually made by Feather. This one is actually a kind of shavette just like the regular Feather SS as it uses disposable blades but the handle style means it is very much a Kamisori Japanese straight razor.
The Feather DX’s cousin the Feather SS has rounded edges around the blade clasp in order to limit the angle of the blade – kind of like a traditional safety razor. This safety feature makes it ideal for beginners, although at a cost of some maneuverability.
The Feather SS is comparably priced to the Kai Captain, but the shape of the blade holder does not have the same manoeuvrability as the DX and the Kai.
Osami Mizuike Kamisori
An Osami Mizuike kamisori is the real deal. Mizuike is a fourth generation craftsman in the Banshu region of southwest Hyogo Prefecture. Within the region, the city of Ono is famed as an area that spearheaded its own unique development of the cutlery industry, producing everyday items such as razors, scissors, knives and scythes for agricultural use. He continues to create cutlery using tools that have survived from 120 years ago, and that includes high quality Japanese straight razors that are hard to find outside Japan.
How We Chose
Straight razor shaving is an art in itself. The practices of both making and using straight razor blades goes back thousands of years.
So why is it that every guide you read on the internet gives you the same medicore selection? Most websites promoting products online earn a commission on sales if they link to Amazon – and so do we. But the thing with straight razors is some of the finest German makers aren’t on Amazon. They have a big reputation among enthusiasts which means they don’t advertise much but that leaves people like you unable to discover them.
On the other hand, branding your own product and selling it on Amazon has become a popular venture. Find something cheap and effective and build a brand on it. It is often these more basic products that make their way into “best of” shopping guides.
Meanwhile a writer hired to fill a review site with content is just going to pick the top-rated items they see on Amazon. We’ve seen “expert” guides that actually list the same products in the same article where the only difference is the logo on them!
For us the idea of promoting only the products that make us money is unethical. While we hope you may well choose to buy a Dovo on Amazon (which is one of the few high quality traditional makers on there, alongside Thiers Issard) we’ll also give you some of the other amazing razors we’ve found.
Buying Guide – What Makes The Best Straight Razor?
Different steels will result in different blades. Stainless steel is popular for more mass-produced blades and generally requires less care but carbon steel offers a superior quality blade.
You’ll notice straight razors come with a variety of blade shapes. In reality, there are loads of very technical aspects to the anatomy of a straight razor.
The end of the razor – the nose or point – tends to be the most significant factor. A more rounded nose avoids a point that could prove dangerous while a straight point offers more precision but requires skilled hands.
This can get a little technical, but the grind of a straight razor is all to do with the profile of the blade. The best straight razors are hollow-ground which means the cross-section of the blade is like two concave curves converging. That means the cutting edge is incrdeibly fine and flexible.
There are different levels of hollow grind and a flatter or less hollow grind won’t be as sharp. More hollow blades are lighter and more forgiving thanks to their flexibility, although the most hollow blades can also be fragile.
It can be confusing to see all the measurements involved in straight razors but it’s actually quite simple.
The blade width refers to space between the spine (the back blunt edge of the razor) and the cutting edge. The width is expressed in 1/8 increments, so an 8/8 blade is 1 inch wide, and a 4/8 blade is a half inch wide. Overall, the most common sizes are 5/8″ and 6/8″.
In practice there isn’t much difference between them but smaller blades tend to be easier to use. You can imagine how a wider blade makes it more difficult to see where you’re shaving. A larger blade can also be a bit clumsy in places like under the nose and will obviously be heavier.
Handle or Scales
The handle of a straight razor is called the scales. Most today are plastic or resin but you can also find wood, horn and stainless steel. This is all largely a matter of personal preference but do consider weight and balance when choosing the material of your scales.
Do keep in mind that wooden scales do require some care. If they stay wet for long periods of time then they can warp. Make sure to try them off after every use. If they do start to warp you can try using mineral oil to revive them.
Straight Razor vs Safety Razor
Safety razors will always be more convenient than straights. That’s exactly why they were invented 100 years ago as an attempt to fix a blade in a tool that let you simply change blades rather than sharpening and stropping a straight razor all the time. However that was also the first instance of our modern throwaway culture when it comes to shaving.
Overall this safety razor vs straight razor comparison should make it clear that safety razors have a pretty compelling case over straight razors. However, the look and feel or a straight razor is something some of us simply cannot get away from.
- Closest shave guaranteed
- Zero-waste – the most eco-friendly razor
- Ancient and awesome
- Requires regular stropping and sharpening
- Much easier to cut yourself
- Takes a lot of practice
- Much easier – doesn’t require sharpening and stropping
- Cheaper razors
- Safer (Duh)
- Not as close a shave
- Old blades need disposal
- Not as badass
James Bond Skyfall Razor Scene
Their are certainly advantages to shaving like this besides the lack of waste. For instance, many simply can’t get over the medidative feeling of dragging a sharp blade across your skin. Remember that scene in Skyfall when James Bond says “sometimes the old ways are best”? Straight razor sales went through the roof that year.
That single scene encapsulated so much of the appeal of wet shaving – a calm and careful process that has been honoured for centuries.
How to Shave With a Straight Razor
How to shave with a straight razor takes years to learn. A basic shave can be completed no problem at all. But a true barber-level shave takes hundreds of learned strokes taking account of the shape of the face.
For a straight razor, after a visual check to verify no obvious issues, give it a good stropping.
This usually consists of around 30 laps on linen and 60 laps on leather (these are not hard and fast numbers as personal preference and stropping technique plays a big role here).
Essentially the technique for shaving starts with the grip. The shape of a razor is made to make this as easy and natural as possible.
You should start at the top and work your way round, rather like shaving with a safety razor. Many shavers find the best step is best if you tip your head away from the blade to stretch the skin on that side of the face.
Bring your other hand over the head and use it to hold the skin tight.
You should then gently glide the blade in small downward strokes no more than an inch long. The process looks and feels like you are scooping up little bits of the shaving soap lather and then wiping it on a towel.
This is the basic technique that allows you to start shaving. But learning the full technique will take a lot more research and practice.