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James Smythe

Straight Razor Shaving

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So I recently started to pick up straight razor shaving and was wondering if anyone else here might be taking the ol' knife to the face instead of cartridge razors.

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If you want to do it PC, you should not use the modern safety razor, but one that has a blade that goes all the way up to the handle and is not scalloped on the sides to hold your finger tips.

You should also probably put EMS on your speed dial. (That's one reason the surgeon was charged with doing all the shaving on this ship - he was used to handling sharp, slippery knives.)

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Is there a picture of this style? Also I don't think I have the necessary skill to try the kind of razor I think you are describing. I will stick with my folding straight with its little monkey tail for now. I am interested though in what PC razors looked like.

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I have a replica of one. I put a photo of an actual period straight razor in one of my Surgeon's Journals which you can see at the top of this page from Brigand's Grove. Don Dunkelburger found the real one he is holding in that photo at Brigand's Grove and bought it. Then sold his replica to me. (The one he purchased is much larger than mine is, but since period tools like this were hand made, they would have varied widely in size and style.)

Below is a photo from the 2012 Put-in-Bay Pirate Fest of Lob the monkey sitting on my shaving bowl staring at my replica razor. (Photo by Michael Colosimo.)

lob_in_for_a_shave_mike.jpg

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I have one that I've used occasionally... I can get it sharp, but without a strop, I can't get it that “extra” sharp... so it kinda drags when I shave with it......

It is really intimidating the first few times you shave with a straight razor.....but I haven't cut myself yet.

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Hmmmm... I wouldn't mind trying one of those out... might have to start looking.

Very basic look at my current set up. My hone, strop and other oddities excluded.

558341_638520947953_1905219951_n.jpg

Edited by James Smythe

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There are many good threads like this about shaving, but I don't see anything about shaving cream. Was it used in period, and if so, where did they get it? Wikipedia's article on shaving cream says that hard shaving soap was used before 20th century shaving creams, but it only dates that back to the beginning of the 19th century. The last mention of that was shaving cream in ancient Sumer, 3,000 B.C., which was made of wood alkali and animal fat. Was shaving soap already around in GAoP? And how do you use it? Mix it with water in a shaving basin and then brush on?

Other threads seem to suggest that most men didn't shave themselves, but went to a barber once or twice a week. That's sixpence a pop, according to Elena's source from Foot Guards, so a seaman who shaved once or twice a week would end up spending from 26 to 52 shillings a year on shaving. An ordinary seaman only earns 228 shillings a year, so that's somewhere between 11 and 22 percent of your annual salary going to shaving. This makes me wonder if shaving might be something of a luxury of the middle class in our period.

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Well, the surgeon did the shaving on a ship as a part of his duties if there wasn't a barber, so the cost was nil to the sailors when the ship had a surgeon. (Although the sailors each gave him half-a-crown out of their share at the end of the voyage according to James Yonge. (The Journal of James Yonge [1647-1721] Plymouth Surgeon, p. 58)

As for shaving cream, this is all I have in my notes.

"Soap

Soap was used to soften the beard before shaving. It was made by pouring water into a large tub with holes in the bottom. In the but were a layer of twigs over which was put a cloth (muslin). Then the tub was filled with ash, which would leach out the alkaline salts and make ‘lye’. The ‘lye’ was reduced until and egg would float on it, animal fat was added and it was boiled for hours (stand up-wind as it stinks!). Salt was added together with a ‘bouquet garni’ of herbs. When the salt had settled, the soap was put into moulds (blocks, sea shells, etc.), or tied in to balls with a pudding bag cloths and left for 3-4 weeks to harden. ‘Soap wort bark’ when boiled also made a form of soap." (Rory W. McCreadie, The Barber Surgeon’s Mate of the 16th and 17th Century, p. 41)

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Cool. That explains a lot, like why English sailors are often portrayed clean shaven in period sources. Although some pictures show sailors so young they might not need to shave yet.

A crown, I think, was 5 shillings, so if each sailor paid half a crown, that would be two and a half shillings, or 30 pence - the value of five shaves on land. Not bad for a voyage that might last a year or more!

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Not to mention healing all your cuts, bruises and whatnot.

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