While we’re big fans of the safety razor over here, there’s just something mysterious and manly about the straight razor. The element of danger is really fascinating, and it doesn’t hurt that straight razors give just about as close a shave as you could hope for. Still, for some that sense of exoticism is not enough; for those folks who want something a little more removed from Western influence, there is…the kamisori. While it’s a bit of a curiosity today, I can’t blame those who use them, as they’re a fascinating piece of Eastern culture and an effective shave in their own right. Read on to learn more about these crazy weapons-turned-shave-tools!
Caring for Your Straight Razor
If you are going to begin using a straight razor, it’s probably a good idea to know how to properly care for it and maintain it’s integrity. Straight razors aren’t like the disposable razors that you’ve been using and there may be a bit of a learning curve at first.
For the most part, straight razors are made of stainless steel with handles that the blades are attached to, which are made from a wide variety of materials with a list that seems almost endless. We have seen straight razor handles that are made out of wood, rubber, horn, ivory, bakelite, vegetable ivory and of course, metal.
There may be special inlays in the handle that are nice additions made of mother of pearl, silver, copper, ivory, wood and tortoiseshell. It can be difficult to determine what materials your straight razor is made out of at times, so we are providing general care instructions to ensure that you won’t damage the razor that you have.
Where to Keep Your Straight Razor
It is really best to keep your straight razor in a room that is well ventilated, somewhat dark and that has the a good balance of humidity – not too dry and bit too damp. Don’t laugh, but your underwear drawer may be a good place to keep it. Air circulation is key to the life of your straight razor and if not given the proper room to breathe, it will quickly deteriorate.
You also don’t want to store your razor in areas that are too hot because the celluloid that some razor handles contain is super flammable and has been known to combust at temps as low as 125 degrees. Water and other liquids are not your a friend to your straight razor either and should be kept away except when you are using it to shave your face. The blades are sensitive and can rust easy and the handle can be become damaged as well.
Caring for your straight razor blade can be tricky and there are even there are more rules to follow than have already been mentioned. You can use rubbing alcohol to clean your blade before and after you use it without worrying about any damage resulting from it. Once it is cleaned, use a bit of oil on the blade, but be careful not to get it on the handle.
Using metal polishes, bleach and other harsh chemicals is a big “no, no”. They are too hard on the metal and can cause a lot of damage and the left over residue isn’t good for your skin either.
Finding rust on your blade is an inevitable part of shaving with a straight razor. You are going to see rust and your razor will become dull at times. You can use a sharpening stone to correct these issues though and a leather strap will help to keep the edge of your razor keen.
The handle of your straight razor can be simple and should not include lacquers, waxes, oils, polishes, soaps or detergents. Make it easy on yourself and the handle by using distilled water to wipe it down and a drop or 2 of ammonia if it is particularly greasy. Rinse the handle quickly by using a damp cloth and then dry it. That’s all it takes.
Pros and Cons of the Kamisori
Kamisori are basically Japanese straight razors, with a fundamentally unique, static blade design that evokes the coolness of samurai swords, and was even used as far back as 800 years ago. These bad boys started out as an effective way for Buddhist monks would shave their heads in order to justify their faith; then, as the samurai fell more into fashion, people wanted to be more clean shaven, so their use expanded to Japanese samurai who wished to shave their beards in what happened to be the coolest way ever. In that way, one of the biggest pros to shaving with a kamisori is the novelty factor – you can guarantee no one else on your block is shaving with what’s basically a little ancient samurai sword.
Learning how to shave with the kamisori straight razor can be a bit of a challenge – It doesn’t quite have the angled handle of a traditional straight razor, and the blade shape can take a bit of getting used to. However, once you’re able to master it, it’s more than worth it. I remember the few times I’ve gotten to try out a kamisori were tremendous – you just have to get the angle just right, and that stubble just falls away under your mighty blade. It’s an awesome experience, so I highly recommend it.
One of the bigger cons to kamisori is that they can be hard to find and get hold of. Sure, there are plenty of places online that sell them, but the models are either very expensive or just few and far between. It’s definitely a niche item, so that’s something to keep in mind when looking at the possibility of shaving with a kamisori. It’s a novelty, but that also means there are fewer to go around. A lot of times, you also have to deal with specialty kamisori that are made by individual masters of the craft – these are the best ones to try, but they will definitely run you about $200 or more.
Another positive to the kamisori is its appearance – the design is very striking, since there’s not really any handle. All you hold is a thinner part of the kamisori itself, kind of like holding a particularly sharp table knife. Unlike traditional straight razors, there is an unequal ground to the kamisori; the blade is just angled to one side, making for a single blade instead of the double blade you’re used to on most razors. It makes for a rather unconventional shave, but it also makes for a very good shave once you master its essentials.
Who Would Want a Kamisori Straight Razor?
First off, all of the reasons we stated above should appeal to a prospective kamisori owner, particularly the point about loving Japanese culture. One of the biggest appeals of the razor itself is the fact that it evokes a dramatic and beautiful time in the world’s history, with a great deal of novelty in its appearance and craftsmanship. Most kamisori straight razors you’ll come across are made with a great deal of care and attention to detail, so having a piece of that exactitude and quality is something that is very appealing to many.
Also, people who love shaving with a traditional straight razor might want to try something new – it’s definitely a departure from most other ways to shave, and I think it’s certainly worth a shot to try something that’s a little less Sweeney Todd and a little more Toshiro Mifune. Each blade has its own stamping and engraving, making it unique (fun tip: be sure to shave with the engraved end away from your face, so the flatter side is facing your neck).
A Few Final Thoughts
All in all, though, the pros outweigh the cons – the kamisori is an extremely stylish blade, filled with history, and is a great find for an aficionado of Japanese culture or aesthetics. Once you own a kamisori, you have to take great care of it, and it’s almost as though you enter a strange sort of brotherhood that uses these things. When you get a kamisori, whether used or new, you have to ensure that you hone it properly, with the specific kind of stone that typically comes with those blades.
To sum up, whether you’re really into samurai movies or if you just want a different, more historical way to shave, the kamisori is the way to go. It’s a fascinating slice of Japanese culture (pun definitely intended) to get hold of, it’s super cool to handle, and it shaves like an absolute dream. I remember when I first got to experience the bliss that is a kamisori shave, and I felt like I was taken back 800 years in the past to a simpler time. If you get the right blade, you might have it last the rest of your life; it becomes a steadfast companion in your shaving journey, which I think is pretty awesome.