Stainless Vs. Carbon Steel Straight Razors – Pros and Cons
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Wet shaving is great, but only if you have the right tools in hand. To enjoy the shaving experience and get a clean shave as from professional barbers, one of the best tools to use is a straight razor. However, there are many options to pick from and lots of factors to consider, including price, grind (half hollow or full hollow). But before you get down to price, you need to decide whether you’d like carbon or stainless steel straight razors. The different types of blades have differences that’ll help you decide which to choose.
Needless to say, compared to barbers, a newbie or inexperienced person won’t pay attention to these differences. But since you are reading this piece, it’s safe to assume that you take wet shaving seriously and you’d like to get the best straight razor you can get your hands on.
Luckily for you, this piece compares the two-blade materials on different fronts.
It’s a no-brainer; your razor will come into contact with water when shaving. Consequently, it might start to rust if you don’t dry it properly or take care of it. The good thing about using a stainless steel straight razor blade is that it doesn’t rust quickly. A stainless steel razor is made from an alloy of nickel, molybdenum, chromium and other metals. Together, these metals react with oxygen in the air and water to form a special film on the blade’s surface to prevent it from rusting.
On the other hand, a carbon blade doesn’t contain other metals. It’s formed from pure steel and therefore can rust. Additionally, the rusting process can occur quite fast. How fast? Well, if you forget to dry the blade after shaving, it can start rusting after a couple of hours. This causes a change in appearance and will necessitate polishing before the next shaving session.
With that said, if you don’t want a blade that needs a lot of care and maintenance, then you should go with a stainless steel razor blade. Such blades don’t require serious drying after shaving. A simple shake to remove big water droplets should be enough. But if you don’t mind spending extra time to dry the blade, then any steel type will work just fine.
Honing and Stropping
When you decide to get a straight razor, you have to come to terms with the fact that there’s some maintenance required. This includes cleaning your straight razor, honing and stropping. Of the three, honing is often the most challenging for beginners.
As a golden rule of thumb, you should hone your straight razor blade after every 2 or 3 months. Of course, the exact frequency is dependent on how often you shave.
The first honing is done after receiving the straight razor. Sure, some brands market their straight razors as ‘Shave Ready’, but by the time you get them, they aren’t as sharp.
Now, stainless steel is highly tempered and, as such, is a little more difficult to hone and strop in comparison to a carbon steel razor.
Is this factor a big determinant of the blade type you choose? The way we see it, this isn’t a deal-breaker. Sure, you’ll spend a little more time honing a stainless steel blade, but eventually, you’ll get it sharp enough. If you don’t have the time to do it, you can procure professional honing services for your first honing.
On the flip side, stropping doesn’t have a big difference in both. With a carbon blade, you’ll complete about five strops on either side. While with a stainless steel blade, you’ll need between 10 and 15 strops. It sounds like a big difference in the number of strops, but time-wise, it only translates to an extra 30 seconds.
Note: you should strop your straight razor blade before every shaving session.
Some shavers think they can achieve a sharper edge with a stainless steel blade than a carbon blade. But this could not be further from the truth. Both blades can get real sharp to achieve a close and smooth shave.
That’s great, but we should mention there’s a difference in how long each blade type holds the sharpness (becomes dull). Stainless steel remains sharper for longer than carbon steel razors. This shouldn’t be a problem if you do the honing yourself (you can do it efficiently with a whetstone and a quick tutorial).
However, if you’ll be using honing services, you’ll spend a lot of money on a carbon steel blade. Therefore, if you choose a carbon steel blade, you must learn how to hone it properly.
If the straight razor blade isn’t labelled, how will you know the difference between the two blade types?
Usually, stainless steel is shiny and is available in different grades. The chromium used in making the alloy gives it a mirror finish. Therefore, brands don’t have to paint or add gloss to the blade. On the flip side, carbon steel razors are often dull – the finish isn’t shiny or glossy. Instead, it has a matte effect.
If you want to differentiate between stainless steel razors and carbon steel razors, then how it looks is a great way to tell.
At this point, you know enough differences to make an informed decision between the two. Which is better? Well, honestly, it boils down to personal preference. With proper sharpening, both will cut through your hair like butter.
Below are quick pros and cons summaries to help you decide faster.
Stainless steel blade
- Doesn’t rust quick
- Requires minimal maintenance and doesn’t need frequent sharpening
- It’s high tempered and remains sharper for longer
- It’s pricey
- It’s difficult to hone and takes a longer time
Carbon Steel Blade
- It costs less
- It’s soft tempered and needs less time for sharpening
- It gets dull fast
- It needs extra care and upkeep to keep it from rusting
Most manufacturers often declare whether their straight razor blade is stainless steel or carbon steel – and this is great. However, this only lets you know the type of steel used and nothing about the hardness.
The hardening process is quite important in the making of the blade. When a blade is hardened right, then it remains sharp for longer. However, without information on the hardening process, you’ll also know nothing about the quality.
Because of this, we advise against getting cheap razors. Often they are poorly made and are harder to sharpen. And even if you manage to sharpen it, the sharpness doesn’t last long.
Also it is important to keep these differences in mind if you want to pick up a good straight razor kit – the most important part is the straight razor, not all the “fillers” that are included.
If you need to ensure high quality for the best classic shaving result, then you should only purchase from popular straight razor brands like Dovo. Anything between $70 and $100 should be sharp enough and of good quality.
What is the best metal for a straight razor?
There are two steel types that are used to make straight razors – carbon steel and stainless steel. Stainless steel blades are shiny and flawless. They have a reputation for retaining sharpness for long, needing little TLC and being rust-resistant. On the flip side, carbon steel is dull, and easier to hone. Unfortunately, it needs extra care and upkeep to prevent rust and gets dull fast. The best metal for a straight razor depends on your needs and preferences.
Is stainless steel good for straight razors?
Stainless steel is a mix of chromium and iron. This makes it a good material for use in wet environments or where hygiene is super important such as with professional barbers. Its benefits are that it doesn’t rust and therefore needs less care and maintenance compared to carbon steel. Moreover, its shiny look is less likely to discolor or stain after a couple of years.
What type of straight razor should I buy?
When it comes to blade type, your choice depends on your preference. Do you know how to hone? Are you ready to care and maintain for a blade? The answers to these questions shall guide your decision. Aside from blade type, you’ll also consider the size; 5/8”, 6/8” and 8/8”. Generally, a 5/8” small blade is ideal for beginners and makes it easier to see its cutting edge as it cuts through facial hair and manoeuvres hard to cut spots.
What is the best straight razor for a beginner?
The best cut through straight razor for a beginner varies. However, a 5/8” point or round blade is perfect since you can see what you are doing. Also, it’s important that you get a razor from a reputable brand company to ensure you get a quality blade.