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.
Clockwise from top left: Straight Point, Dutch Point, French Point & Barber Notches
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.
Different scale materials: plastic, resin, pearl, horn & bakelite
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: