what to look out for in your first straight razor ?
Let's look first at just what makes a straight razor what it is. A straight razor is, essentially, a very simple tool. The scales (sometimes called ‘the handle’ or ‘the sheaves’) aren’t even really necessary in terms of using the blade to shave with. Their only function is to protect the blade when the razor is not in use, and of course to provide a guard against the edge so you don't accidentally cut yourself when handling the razor.
Most vintage razors that you will see for sale have a blade made from high-carbon steel that has been strengthened and tempered in order that an extremely fine - and sharp - edge can be achieved. Some older razors are made of cast steel. Stainless steel, which is a relatively new invention, is now used in some modern razors and gives a longer-lasting edge but is more difficult to hone back to sharpness when the time comes.
The piece of steel that makes the blade of the razor is forged to shape and specially ground (the ‘hollow grind’) to optimum shape and profile. This was of course at one time done by hand but latterly by machine. Very few modern straight razors are hand-made and those that are made in this way are very expensive. When forged and ground, the blade is then finished by honing to a sharp edge. Again, this used to be done by hand but is now at least machine-assisted.
Straight Blades come in a variety of blade shapes, the most common tends to be the Round or Square point. your choice of point is down to personal preferences ( see pic )
An ideal starting point for anyone wishing to try a straight would probably be a 5/8" Hollow Ground with a round point. Anything bigger in depth or longer in length will be more difficult to get used too.
Properly looked after, a straight razor should only need honing perhaps twice yearly, though it will need stropping on a strop before each shave. This in effect gives a 'new edge' for each shave and is one of the reasons that straight razors achieve such good results once the shaving technique is learned.
So why do some razors cost more than others ?
Alot of this price is in the steel - the best quality Swedish carbon steel, Japanese steel and very high-grade Sheffield carbon steel is more expensive than regular carbon steel. Also the degree of work in making the blade affects the price - the more shaping and grinding that is done, the higher the cost.
However, you can liken razors to wristwatches in some respects - after all, the movement - the ‘heart’ - of even the very best wristwatch can only be made so well. There comes a point when it cannot, mechanically speaking, be made any better. The rest is ‘window-dressing’ - gold bracelets, diamond-studded bezels and so on.
It’s the same with razors. Deeply-engraved blades, gold-washed blades, gold-plated tangs, fancy patterning and the like all add to the cost, as do scales made of progressively more expensive materials.