A straight razor.
When it comes to personal grooming, few tools are as versatile or as useful as a straight razor. This tool can be used to get the closest shave possible and/or to cut hair to provide added volume and texture. Of course care must be taken to avoid cutting one’s own throat. There are few men still alive who know how to use a straight razor properly.
The first key to using a straight razor is maintaining its edge. Believe it or not, a slightly dull straight razor is more hazardous than one with a finely honed edge. Care must be taken not to roll the edge after it has been achieved using a leather strop.
There is a specific manner in which the razor should be held. The tips of the index and second fingers should be placed over the shank with the thumb underneath for grip. The ring finger and pinky should rest on the tang, a swooping piece coming off the handle. The blade should be held at approximately a thirty degree angle to the skin when shaving or to the hair when cutting hair.
When shaving, it is important to keep plenty of lubrication on the skin. This means using a high quality shaving soap or shaving cream and reapplying it as needed. If the skin becomes dry or sticky, the odds of getting a serious cut go up drastically.
One should use his free hand to pull the skin being shaved taut. This will provide the smoothest surface for the blade to pass over. Do not use multiple strokes on the same spot as one might with a safety razor. Instead, continue with the shave and come back after reapplying shaving cream. One should always go with the grain of the hair, never against it.
Using a straight razor as a barber’s implement is similar to shaving with one. The biggest difference is that there is no need for shaving cream unless shaving the head. For cutting, the hair should be pulled up from the head. The desired length should be established and the razor brought through the hair at an angle away from the scalp. This will give the hair a layered look that has some body and texture to it.
Knowing how to use a straight razor is a skill that is slowly dying out. It is, however, still the best way to get the closest possible shave and one of the best skills a barber can develop for cutting and styling hair.