How To Choose The Best Tools For The Classic Wet Shave - The Emporium Barber

How To Choose The Best Tools For The Classic Wet Shave

Men have been shaving their beards since the stone age. The tools were primitive and barbaric, involving hot embers, sharpened stones, and flint rock. Even the best shaves left men looking scruffy and feral with these primitive tools. 

It was only after the invention of the wet shave, and the development of the straight razor somewhere in Ancient Egypt that we really began to conquer the barbaric appearance of our former hominids.

Wet shaving is one of the most masculine things you can do, and deserves some consideration when sourcing the tools for the art. There are a few essential tools when it comes to wet shaving, which we will outline below along with some of the stand-out products we recommend for each. 

 how to choose the best tools for the classic wet shave

What Is Wet Shaving?

First of all, let’s take a look at what wet shaving actually is. Some evidence dates back to the stone age where men would slice away at their beards with sharpened flint, or singe off each other's whiskers with a flame or hot embers.

Over time, people began to learn how to forge steel, and sharpen it to create knives and tools. This lead to the development of the razor. In order for the razor to slide smoothly over the face, slicing the hairs flush with the skin, the surface needed to be wet. If not, the blades would scratch and tear at the skin while you shaved, and left undesirable rashes all over the face.

As the technology improved, people began incorporating soaps into the wet shave. This is because the lather produced by a soap made a layer of air and water (bubbles) across the face. This fine layer of air allowed the blade to slide extremely close to the skin of the face without actually touching the skin itself. This meant there was no irritation, and the hairs were cut as close to the source as possible.

This general concept has withstood the test of time, with improvements being made in the tools and shaving soaps rather than the process itself.

 



The Straight Razor

This is what most people think of when they hear the term wet shave. This is the straight edged, razor-sharp tool used as the murder weapon in movies like Sweeney Todd.

The razor sharp blades on the straight razor are perfect for slicing through those wire-like hairs on the face (they can be as strong as copper wire of the same diameter). With proper pre-treatment to soften and hydrate the hairs, the straight razor is able to slice cleanly through these hairs without any irritation or resistance to the skin below. There is really nothing more badass than shaving your face with a beautifully designed, open bladed precision grooming tool like the straight razor.

Although razor sharp, these tools really aren't as dangerous as they sound. The direction the blade travels down the skin on the face doesn’t tend to damage or cut the skin, it merely cleaves off the protruding hairs and leaves them flush with the rest of the skin.

It may take a little bit of time to feel confident with this tool, but once you are comfortable with the tool there really is nothing that will give a closer and more ritualistic shave in the morning. Most men who begin shaving with the straight razor refuse to go back to anything else.

 cutting with a straight razor

Maintaining A Straight Razor:

In order to maintain the razor sharp edge of the straight razor, some attention must be paid to the care and preparation of the blade before shaving:

It’s important to use a leather strop to sharpen the blade, which is basically just a thick piece of leather that the edge of the blade is rubbed against before shaving. There is a huge degree of difference between sharp and razor-sharp. Razors are incredibly thin, and if used to cut anything but hair, they will become damaged. This is because the edge of the blade is so thin, even a small amount of resistance on the blade can cause deformations. Using the strop is the best way to gently sharpen and maintain this incredibly thin edge of the blade.


Positives

Negatives

Most masculine way possible to shave the beard

Must be sharpened with a strop regularly

Delivers the closest shave possible

Higher chance of cuts to the face than a safety razor



The Safety Razor

The safety razor uses disposable, double edged razor blades held firmly in place by the safety razors head. They can then be used in the same way as a straight razor but without any of the guesswork needed to maintain the correct angle of the blade.

These devices are convenient, yet still offer the benefits of a proper wet shave. The disposable blade design means you don't have to sharpen the blades before every use, and the enclosed blade means you have fewer chances of nicking your face while you shave.

safety razor shave

 

Positives

Negatives

Convenient without losing any of the wet shaving benefits

Doesn’t have the masculine, traditional feel of a straight razor wet shave

Come in all kinds of beautiful designs to suit your preference, and make for a nice display item on your bathroom counter.

Having disposable blades means you can run out of blades and don’t have the option of sharpening them.

 

The Shaving Brush

The shaving brush is used to mix the shaving soap or cream with water to create a fine lather. The brush is then used to evenly distribute the lather to the face while maintaining the rich microfoam the lather is made from.

There are many different designs of shaving brushes, but the central concepts have remained virtually the same since their invention nearly 200 years ago.

Today, the preferred material for the brush is badger hair. This is because badger hair is rigid enough to mix up the soap or cream to create the lather, yet soft enough to avoid scratching the face while you spread it around your chops.

shaving brush lather

The brushes can be as simple as this white plastic brush by Bluebeards Revenge, or as elegant as this fine African Blackwood Brush by Muhle. There are even travel shaving brushes such as this one by Imperial for the man on the move.


 

Pre-Shave Oil

Pre-Shave oil is not essential for the wet shave process, but goes a long way in preventing the razor burn that some people experience after shaving. This usually happens when the razor comes in direct contact with the skin, and when the blade doesn’t slice cleanly through the hair. This causes the hair to pull and tear violently, which can irritate the follicles and skin directly.

oils pre shave

A good pre-shave oil will focus on softening and hydrating the hairs, and will likely consist of short chain fatty acids that soak up readily into the skin and surrounding the hair follicle. Oils of argan, jojoba, grapeseed, and rosehips are perfect for these types of oils as they quickly hydrate and nourish the roots of the hairs to allow a cleaner cut of the hair while you shave.

We recommend trying the Imperial Pre-Shave Oil if you are one of those people who find irritation and razorburn common after shaving.


Shaving Soap

The shaving soap is one of the core principles of the wet shaving process. In modern times, we also have shaving creams which will work just as well as a soap but has different characteristics. Soap is the preferred choice for those with normal to oily skin and is the most traditional option for you purists of the wet shaving world.

shaving microfoam lather bubbles

Most shaving soaps will come in a bowl or brush format. The bowls can be used as is, but the bricks must be added to a bowl, or mug in order to contain the lather and water. The whole idea of the soap is to soften the hairs on the face, and add a layer of water and air to the surface of the skin so that the blade can slide gracefully over the skin without scratching or irritating the cells below.

A good soap will incorporate some additional elements, like an anti-inflammatory agent to keep any irritations to the minimal, some oils, and perhaps a fragrance to add to the overall experience.

One of our favourite shaving soaps is Penhaligon’s Bayolea Shave Soap which comes with a wooden mixing bowl. The fragrance of this shaving soap is about as premium as it gets, and the bowl is a beautiful element for your bathroom counter or medicine cabinet.


 

Shaving Cream

Shaving Cream is an alternative to shaving soap, and is the better option for those with especially dry skin. The difference with a cream is that it comes already containing water directly in the formula. This means that it doesn’t take much water at all (if any) to begin creating a fine lather for the face.

shaving with shaving cream

Creams are an emulsification of oils and water which give them additional hydrating and healing properties over soap, and many don’t even require an aftershave to keep the skin protected and clean after the shave.

Choosing a good quality shave cream can be the difference between a perfect shave, and a red, irritated, and unhappy face. Shaving creams in a can foam quicker, but come with irritating alcohols and solvents (necessary for the aerosol and autofoaming agents). These tend to redden the skin, and can promote raazor burn on the face. A high quality shaving cream on the other hand do the exact opposite, helping to fight the appearance of redness and irritation on the face rather than promote it. 


Try the Go 247 Shaving Cream for that extra hydrating experience for those with especially dry skin.


 

After Shave

Aftershave is used to close the pores on the face, protect the freshly cleaned skin which has had its oil and sebum stripped away with the hair. These products often contain astringents like alcohol or botanical extracts of witch hazel or oak. This acts to tighten the skin, reduce any redness or irritation, and promotes a healthier looking skin tone.

We really enjoy this Shave Tonic by Baxter of California for its versatility and soothing qualities. It can be used as both a pre-shave treatment, and aftershave. The botanical extracts of camphor, spearmint, rosemary, and aloe vera make is a potent antiseptic, and anti inflammatory aid for the skin. This keeps the skin clean, free from acne and blemishes, and protected from redness and irritation following a close shave.

 

Well there you have it... the tools of the trade needed for your very own wet shave. We encourage you to find your own blend of tools and products, and to try different kinds before settling on one that you choose as your go-to. This is because with so many products on the market, there is a perfect product for everybody. Depending on the fragrance, format, price-range, and qualities of the product you can really customise your shaving experience.

Whether you enjoy the traditional practice of straight razor wet shaving, or the more convenient yet still traditional safety razors, there are plenty of versions for each at all different price points and options. 

Check out our selection of shaving essentials for more. 


Trent Pridmore
Trent Pridmore

Author



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