Although useful for novices, learning about the different designs and types of straight razor is a fascinating subject for enthusiasts. Every straight razor design features various practical functions as well as its own unique aesthetic.
In the following guide, you’ll discover the different designs and types of straight razors. Overall, you’ll be able to learn the following:
- Parts Of A Straight Razor
- Straight Razor Grinds
- Razor Blade Points
- Straight Razor Sizes
- Straight Razor Scales
Use the links above to jump ahead or scroll down to read it at all.
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The Parts Of A Straight Razor
We’ve been using open razors since at least the 4th millennium BC when the bronze versions were popular among the Ancient Egyptians. However, it wasn’t until the late 17th Century that the straight razor as we know it was invented in Sheffield, England.
Let’s begin with the anatomy of a straight razor and its components. The parts of a straight razor may seem simple given that on the surface it consists of just a blade and handle. However, it’s important to know what you’re using and why it’s built in a particular way.
The above diagram provides a detailed glimpse of a typical straight razor with a conventional hollow grind and square point. We’ll talk about grinds and points later but concentrate on the individual components:
- Pivot Pin: Rivet that holds the scales together over the blade.
- Scales: The conventional term for the razor’s handle.
- Tang: Upward metal end to stabilise the blade with a finger.
- Shank: Supporting bar between the blade and the pivot pin.
- Jimps: Sometimes called “fluting”, they provide grip on the underside of the shank.
- Shoulder: A curved piece between the shank and spine.
- Spine: The top side of the blade.
- Point: The blade’s flat end, which can feature various designs.
- Face: The blade’s side, which can feature embellishments and decorations.
- Toe: The blade’s endpoint.
- Edge: The blade’s cutting edge.
- Heel: The area where the blade and shank meet, which protects the thumb.
- Stabiliser: Thickened areas between the shoulder and heel.
Different Straight Razor Grinds
You may notice that straight razor blades can have a different thickness. Usually the face is slightly concave but sometimes it can be perfectly flat. This is known as the grind. When steel is forged, it’s hardened and tempered into flat plates called blanks. They often have only the basic features of a straight razor and need to be ground for the finishing touches.
The most common variety of grinding method, hollows can still come in varying degrees. By more metal being removed from the blade’s face, hollows are much lighter. As the blade is generally thinner, it is relatively flexible meaning that it’s more forgiving on the skin.
Furthermore, the thinness allows the user to easily feel any feedback when encountering resistance on the hairs being cut. This way, you can easily tell whether a blade is sharp enough or not. However, extra hollow or “singing” grinds are extremely fragile and can easily be over-honed causing them to break.
Finally, some hollow grinds can occasionally feature a belly, a ridge which acts as a stabiliser, across the blade. This provides support against flexing by providing extra resistance. In fact, many hollow grinds develop an almost imperceptible belly through honing.
Flat faces are often referred to as wedges and are the old-fashioned grind of a blade. These are often harder to master as they’re much heavier and provide less tactile feedback in the hand from the skin. This particular grind is rare to find in new models and antiques are highly sought after by collectors. Some argue that they are better than hollow grinds for cutting thick hair.
Finally, wedges are far more durable than hollows and great for removing very thick or long hair growth. However, they’re toughness makes them less manageable for daily use and hard to hone properly.
Framebacks & Faux Framebacks
An interesting novelty that many swear by, Framebacks are unique pieces and can be hard to find. Many argue that their build offers a better shave and are much easier to maintain.
Traditionally, a frameback consists of a solid piece of metal, which forms the tang, shank and spine.
A second sheet of metal is locked in with a screw to make the blade. It can be honed like a normal straight razor but easily replaced if it begins to wear, which was handy for barbers.
As they were particularly popular in France and Sweden, the faux frameback was created to mimic this design.
Different Razor Points
Another element that tends to vary between razors are the points and notches at the end of the blade. Many of these finishes tend to fulfill an aesthetic role but some do have practical uses. The different points or notches are as follows:
Simply click on the one above that interests you the most to jump straight to it. Otherwise, keep scrolling to read about them all.
Square & Spike Points
Square points are not uncommon but not as prevalent as Dutch ones. Squares are named thus as blade abruptly stops with a straight edge. Similarly, spikes have a straight point but the edge is slightly longer than the spine.
These points aren’t particularly friendly to beginners as they aren’t forgiving mishaps, which can nick the skin. However, they offer an extra level of precision so that the user can shave small areas. Sometimes the spine’s tip is slightly bevelled to provide a little protection.
Sometimes called “round points”, the Dutch features a rounded finish to protect the user from any accidents. Lacking any sharp ends, they’re great razors for starting out as you exchange precision for an easier shave.
With their slightly curved nose, French points offer a compromise between Spike and Dutch points. Although mostly aesthetic, users will benefit from the precision of a square point but have some protection like a rounded point.
A much more aesthetic style of point, the Spanish notch features a small rounded tip off the spine, which curves into an concave end. Like the French point, this provides added precision and allows the use to see where they’re shaving. Meanwhile, the inward curve offer only slight protection from nicks.
Similar to the Spanish, the barber’s notch features a small concave curve in the blade’s point. Being the most common of the two and often added through customisation, the barber’s notch is designed to make opening the razor easier. This little addition was particularly convenient for barbers who would be flicking open several razors throughtout the day.
What Are the Different Blade Sizes?
Usually, straight razors are only measured by their width, which is the distance between the spine and edge. Even in Europe, straight razors are sized by factors of an inch in increments of an eighth. This can range anywhere between 3/8″ and 1″.
Overall, the most common sizes are 5/8″ and 6/8″. However, you may be able to find 7/8″ and 1″ cleavers if you desire. Generally, people tend to find 6/8″ the ideal size whilst 5/8 can be slightly too small and 7/8″ is too cumbersome.
Straight razor handles or “scales” can come in a variety of different materials. The most common today tends to be plastic or resin. However, you can also find many wooden options too.
Particularly hard materials such as metal tend not to fare as well as scales but do exist. In order for the pivot pin to work properly, you require a little flexibility in order to achieve the proper tension. Traditionally, horn was the material of choice but it’s much rarer today.
Regardless of the material, the scales fulfill an important function by ensuring that the blade is perfectly balanced. A high-quality straight razor should have a centre of balance on the pivot pin when opened. That is not to say that scales should weigh the same as a blade given that the tang will play a vital role as a counterweight.
As a general rule, you can expect any of the following materials:
If you ever get a wooden handle, take great care when it comes into contact with water. Although most are usually treated, wood tends to warp and splinter when in prolonged contact with water. Conversely, ivory is very delicate and can break very easily. That said, if you drop your razor on the bathroom floor, the chances are that the blade will break as well.
Now that you have learned all about straight razors and their designs, check out our recommendations of the best on the market. If you’re already properly equipped, you can head back to our main shaving page to discover all the other related topics we cover.
Jump in with our first guides to lathering with more of our resources! We recommend the following further reading:
I have a request from a customer for a “half hollow” grind. I have made straight blades of hollow grind but I am unfamiliar with the term half hollow. Can you enlighten me?
Thanks for reaching out. A half hollow grind is something of a halfway point between full hollow and wedge grinds. These are somewhat chunkier and slightly thicker at the centre compared to your usual hollow grinds. If you refer to the grinds section above, you’ll see that there’s a basic diagram that should give you a better idea on what this should look like.
If you have any more questions, don’t hesitate to reach out!
Delighted that it was helpful!
I’m new to straight razor shaving. I’m having difficulty honing my DOVO to the sharpness I’d like. It’s sharp enough to shave with, but I have to make many, many passes to achieve it, and even then it’s not really as close a shave as with my cartridge razor except for a few areas. I use a Norton 8000 grit water stone for honing and up to 100 back and forth stroppings so I’m frustrated in my limited progress. Any advice or suggestions for particularly helpful youtube videos?
Also, altho I’ve seen many discussions on blade width, I can’t find any information on LENGTH, the actual length of the cutting edge. My blade sometimes seems too long; like I’d have better control with a shorter blade. All faces are different so it seems reasonable that different edge lengths would be available. “One size fits all” doesn’t make sense in this regard.
Yes, I’ve been there too! If you’re struggling to get a good cutting edge, it sounds like you need to drop down to a lower grit and start from the bottom. 4,000 might just be low enough to sort it out before moving back on to an 8,000 and then maybe a 12,000 (or coticule) before stropping.
Does this make sense? We recommend a good Norton stone in our sharpening guide, which also covers some honing techniques, which may help.
If you do continue to struggle getting it sharp, it might be worth taking to a professional who can make a quality cutting edge for you to easily maintain. This is highly recommended if the razor is new and hadn’t been honed when you bought it. If it was shave ready when you first got it, it’s likely that it was already honed. However, if it was already tugging, it’s worth getting professional honed before you continue to use it.
You also pose a good question with regards to the blade length. I’ve seen a few different ones but it appears to be relatively standard overall. Straight razors do seem quite long and cumbersome at first – especially when working around contours. However, I can assure you that you will get used to it in time!
A longer blade length is arguably better because the added leverage means that you need to apply much less force when making a pass or touching up any contours. You’ll also be able to cover more ground with each stroke whereas a shorter blade will have you doing more passes.
I hope that this helps. Don’t hesitate to respond if you have any more questions.
Thank you for getting back to me. I do take your point that part of my relative lack of success may be resolved with additional practice. I’ve been documenting my efforts and I’ve completed 26 straight razor shaves so far. Presumably by 100 I’ll be doing much better. I hope. I do have a Norton 4000/8000 waterstone that I use for honing. I don’t understand why I would need to go to the 4000, but I can try that. How would I know when I’m “done” on the 4000? I also am considering purchasing a 12000 grit stone because it’s like I’m stuck on a sharpness level with the 8000. I’ve honed for as long as 1/2 hour at a time, observing the stone slowly develop a gray soup from the metal particles, so I know the blade should be getting sharper; it just doesn’t appear to be. I also don’t understand how a blade could become “over-sharpened”, and how would I know if that happened?
I live near Portland, Oregon. Do you know of anyone in this area that you judge to be worth contacting? Some hands-on instruction from an expert would help enormously.
It really all depends if your razor was honed to be shave ready when you first received it or not. If it was, it might just be a question of practice and perfecting your technique. However, if it wasn’t shave ready, you can hone it all you like with a higher grit but it won’t do all that much as you need to set the cutting edge first with a rougher one first.
As for over-honing, some will argue that this doesn’t exist. However, I have experienced it with some vintage razors when I received them. This happens when the cutting edge is honed so thin that it’s almost like cardboard. As a result, it tends to bend a bit and sometimes doesn’t stay sharp enough for an entire shave.
Funnily enough, I was just writing about Danner boots that are historically based in Portland. However, that’s not quite relevant! I don’t personally know anywhere but you could try the Portland Razor Co store and factory. They do tours and you can book a proper shop visit. If you contact them, they might be able to help you.
Otherwise, the Portland Shave Shop advertises a full honing service for $20. You could always have it done by them and ask if you can watch or could be coached on how to do it. You’ll probably end up being better than me!
If you do try either and it works out, feel free to give us a mention, we’d appreciate the support! ;)
OK, the part about honing a razor to an excessive thinness such that it bends makes sense; that would be “over-honing” indeed. Before I purchase the 12000 grit stone I’ll try reconditioning the blade starting with 1000 grit then 4000 then 8000.
Danner boots. Decades ago I owned a pair of “Elk Hunters” that I loved for their beauty and ruggedness. Used to be that loggers and mountaineers swore by them. They were built right in their Portland shop. Twenty years ago I went to their new location to look for boots for construction work. Made in China. So disappointing.
I will check out the Portland Shave Shop if my efforts don’t succeed–and maybe even if they do. Thank you again for your helpful information and encouragement.
Ok, let us know how you get on!
Yes, Danner, like a lot of shoe and boot brands in the USA, have a large portion of their production undertaken overseas now. However, Danner does still have a USA-made collection that’s just as good as you’ll remember. It costs a little extra than their regular line but it’s certainly worth checking out.
I’d recommend heading to the shave shop however it works out. While we tried our best to create these in-depth guides, nothing beats face-to-face coaching!
All the best,
Try using a piece of aluminum plate or sheet as a hone. The fine aluminum oxide layer on the surface acts as an abrasive. Effective and cheap. It’s what i use.
Great advice! Thanks, Robert!
I assume you are the one who took your time to create this excellent page insofar as its content and design? I am ‘very’ new at collecting straight razors and have come across over 100 of these at an estate sale that i could not pass up.
However, several of them have brand and model names that do not appear anywhere in a Google search. Could I please send you a list of these for review to give me some feedback on where I can find out some historical info. on them?
Thanks in advance.,
No, that would be me but don’t worry about it!
I tend to use Google as my main resource for research too but feel free to send the list as a comment here. Otherwise, you can ask around in forums as they’re quite active.
what are your thoughts on straight razors using a disposable safety blade?
These are shavettes. We cover them in detail here!
Hello very useful site.
I saw the description of the hollow.
I have a big question.
Which are the top brands for 8/8 straight razors?
I find just Max Sprecher….. Others brands seemed to me very strange in form and aesthetics.
I discarded the normal and poor brands like Boker or Dovo!!! Very low quality and no chose at all! Jenes was another but no menu to make orders not razors of example to see No informations at all! REally a a poor market.
Should I buy a razor of 100,00 € by Dovo for paying 400,00€ and more for honing? A start stone costs 79,00€ or 100,00€ for the first grit 1000 . We have to use 3000 grit , 10000 or 8000 grit and after 20.000 grit for a perfect sharpness! Cost? 400,00€/600,00€ and probably we will damage the blade at the hand of the process! With a just sharperd razor we can use just a 1000 grit and a 3000 grit but after a lot of time! I have read a lot of review about this problem!!! Look Boker site and others site!
People received razor ” ready shave” but really not ready shave!!!!! A razor not sharpened it means pression on the razor with deep cut and going to hospital!!! or a razor that just not cut properly the hairs!! leaving just bumps on your face in the best options! There is no more dangerous thing of a razor don’t sharpened because we will obliged to press and cut the skin! But the first rule is not to press. Pass not press! If don’t work you have to sharp! I know well this and I challenge everyone to tell is not so!!!
Thanks for the kind words.
Firstly, if you’re a beginner, there’s already a learning curve to stropping, basic care, and using the razor. I would refrain from learning to hone so soon. Instead, buy a good quality razor on a reasonable budget and if it’s not shave-ready, get it sharpened by a professional first.
Similarly, 8/8 “cleavers” can be challenging for a beginner. I would recommend a more classic size like 6/8. However, if you’re adamant about getting a cleaver, a custom brand like Max Sprecher would be a good option. Since he specialises in made-to-order, you can ask for the razor to have a more conventional design.
All the best,
When I was just a lad, I had a local Barber who gave me my “first shave”. He told me about his razor and informed be of the number of Teeth, it had to the inch. That was to make it ‘saw’ through the beard, and hold an edge longer. It was some large number, but I forget the amount. On the order of three hundred. I’ve never seen this information displayed elsewhere, but was curious if it really existed.
Hey there Victor,
That’s very interesting! I’ve just done some research myself and couldn’t find any information regarding “teeth” on the razor. I suppose at a microscopic level, a sharp razor will have “teeth” right at the edge. However, it would seem to reason that “teeth” vs. a true flat edge will cause more pulling of hair while shaving.
Great article! It includes very usefull information that you need time to collect on the web! Enlighting. I have only one question with regards to blade material, are carbon steel blades subject to rust as for Japanese knives?
Hey there Alessandro,
We’re glad you found this resource helpful! To answer your question – yes, carbon steel blades can rust if not cared for properly.