While we make our bones with our interest in wet shaving through traditional European safety razors, sometimes you like to walk on the wild side and go for straight razors. We were surprised to find, though, that not all straight razors are created equal – the Japanese have their own variant, called kamisori (or simply “razor”), which have been around for some eight hundred years. You see, back in the old days, Buddhist monks would shave their beards with these things to show their adherence to their faith; now, we pick them up because of their novelty, their sense of history and their awesome shaving capability.
Not many companies make them anymore, but we chose to go through some of the best Japanese straight razors out there and tell you what we thought.
Straight Razor 101
Straight Razors are a whole other animal when you compare them to other razors out there. There is a lot to know about them before you go out to buy one, though. Today we are going to share some helpful things about straight razors before we tell you specifically about our picks for the best Japanese straight razor. We have a lot of information to share with you, so we’re going to jump right in!
A straight razor is comprised of the scales, the razor’s blade edge, the point, the spine, the shank and the tang. The blades will come in different sizes that will range from one inch all the way down to a petite 3/8 of an inch. The most common straight razor size is 5/8 of an inch, though.
The grind of the razor refers to the shape, thickness and how flexible the blade’s edge is. Straight razors come in a variety with some being thick, while some are so thin that they are even hollow. From what we’ve heard from experienced straight razor shavers, blades that are a quarter hollow are the most stable and easiest to use for new shavers.
The most common metals used for straight razors are carbon steel and stainless steel. Blades that are made of carbon steel are typically more flexible, but they are prone to rusting quickly if they are not cared for properly. Stainless steel blades are somewhat easier to care for and keep a cutting edge for longer too.
Shaving With a Straight Razor
Shaving with a straight razor is not the same as shaving with a DE safety razor or disposable razor at all. You will want to prepare your face really well to make sure that you don’t end up hacking away at your skin and looking like a cast member of Sweeney Todd. Take a hot shower and prep your skin because now is not the time to skimp on the skin prep. We also suggest that you skip the canned shaving cream when shaving with a straight razor. Skip right to the shaving soap or a nice cream that can be worked into a lather in a shave mug.
Straight razor shaving is not ideal if you have a thick amount of stubble hanging out on your face. You will just make it harder on yourself and can likely expect to cut yourself. A day or two’s worth of growth is just the right amount to start with.
Use your dominant hand to shave and begin by starting on the side of your face that you are holding the razor in. So, if you are a righty, you will start on the right and the same goes for the other hand. Carefully hold your skin taught and in the opposite direction that you will be moving the blade. Hold the razor flat against your skin and find an angle that you are most comfortable shaving at. You will still want to shave with the grain of you facial hair just as you do with other razors and may have to change directions if your hair changes. Be careful and take your time!
Feather SS Japanese Straight Razor, Black
Feather is one of the only companies to still make kamisori, so the majority of their options are represented here. Still, they’ve managed to successfully update such an old-fashioned design into something that feels contemporary, but also feels steeped in history. One of the things you notice about the SS blade (and kamisori in general) is that it’s mostly just a fold-out razor that doesn’t have the folding option; you just see a handle and a small, hatchet-like blade coming out of it.
Actually getting down to using the blade itself can take some doing, especially if you’re not used to straight razors. Still, I found myself really enjoying my experience with the SS – it fits great in my hand, and the shaving is surprisingly intuitive. The blade is sharp, but not too sharp, to the point where you can safely just try it on your face without fear of assassinating yourself. The resin grip is easy to hold on to, so you don’t have to worry about an obnoxious slip taking out your Adam’s apple.
Feather SS Japanese Straight Razor, Lime
This blade is just like the black SS variant, but this time there’s a cool key lime color to the handle. You can honestly get either one of these, and you’ll be fine; I just thought it was neat to point out the color varieties that you can get with such an ancient school of razor. What’s more, I love the spring-mounted blade head, which makes switching out the blade really fun (if not a little dangerous if you get your ninja training in order!). The handle is really resistant to heat, which is fantastic in the times you want that hot water close shave with your razor.
One of the things I want to point out at this level is that kamisori are pretty expensive; these blades run about $75-80, and that’s on the cheaper side of these blades. This is definitely a stripped-down, modern version of the Japanese straight razor, so it’s designed to be more consumer friendly. To that end, I really appreciate Feather’s attempts at modernizing such a classic, exotic design, to the level where it doesn’t feel too alienating.
Feather DX Folding Wood Handle Razor
While this might feel like a cheat, this particular Feather DX Japanese straight razor is a folding one – not super kosher for the kamisori, right? Well, you’d be surprised; this razor holds up all of the central tenets of the Japanese style razors, right down to the unique shape and angle of the blade. Kamisori are usually just standing, fixed blades, but this is a nice compromise between the Japanese blade itself and the more European folded style handle.
The handle itself is an awesome wood piece that is resin covered to prevent water damage, while the metal body has a unique finish that lets the blade just sing over your skin, giving you nary a nick while also taking down every feuding piece of facial hair that stands in your samurai’s way. It’s sharper than you could ever imagine, so be careful; still, if you want something a bit more portable that makes you feel less like you need to start duels with it, this one might be the middle ground you need.
Iwasaki 50mm Straight Razor from Japan Woodworker
Finally, we step away from the Feathers for a second to focus on the real traditional kamisori. This one, from Iwasaki, is a beautiful, traditionally-styled Japanese straight razor, hand forged by noted blademaker Sigeyoshi Iwasaki. (In short, this is the shaving equivalent of Hanzo steel.) They’re super rare, and will run you about $275 bucks. That’s a lot of chump change for something most people would consider a novelty!
Just look at it, though; that handcrafted wooden box, the stellar craftsmanship…you feel like you’re being transported to feudal Japan when you look at it. The blade itself is the sharpest you’ll ever feel, but also responds to your skin like it’s known you your whole life. It’s really a tremendous piece of history and metalwork – just be sure you can find it.
Feather DX Japanese Straight Handle Razor
Finally, we go back to Feather for the straight-handle version of the DX. This one is not unlike the SS razors as well, but the angle and approach is slightly different in the blade. The handle itself is a bit more stylized too, with a bit more of a curved-back approach to give you a better angle when shaving. If you’re looking for precision in your straight razor design (which you really should be, for your blood supply’s sake), the straight DX variant is a great investment for you. All in all, it and any of the other Feather Japanese razors are your best bet for a nice modern kamisori.
More Japanese Straight Razor Resources:
- Sharpologist’s Kamisori Primer
- Badger and Blade’s Thread on the Tosuke Japanese Razor
- Shaving101’s Review of the Feather Artist Club DX Razor