When I was a kid my dad taught me an important lesson. We were clearing weeds from a dirt portion of the yard, using shovels, and I was not making much headway. Seeing this he showed me what I was doing wrong: it was the angle of the shovel. Too high and I’d just knock down the weeds, too aggressive and I’d be digging holes all day. But by holding the shovel so it scraped flush along the ground I could chop the weed off with ease.
Blade angle is perhaps the skill that takes the most practice. Cartridge razors don’t have this problem, as the cartridge allows the blade to sit at a consistent angle all the time. Whether that is the optimal angle for the shaver or not, it’s one size fits all.
But a double-edge (DE) razor is different. Take a look:
Looking at the head you can see three parts. Starting at the bottom is a scalloped comb/safety bar, a thin razor edge, and a cap piece holding it in place. The safety bar and cap limit the amount of razor blade that’s exposed, thus the term “safety razor.” Its up to the shaver to make sure what is exposed is properly applied to skin.
Here’s a different view:
On the left you can see the blade, just a millimeter or two exposed. When shaving if you hold the razor with too much of the cap against the skin the blade lifts up, either shaving the hair too high or missing it altogether. Similarly, holding it so too much of the safety bar is on the skin will result in the razor either dragging against the skin, or being lifted away.
Like the shovel, you want the blade to move parallel with the skin, connecting with the hair as perpendicularly as possible. The less contact with the skin, the less irritation.
This is, of course, easier said than done. Aside from being hard to see the blade angle while in the process of shaving, your face isn’t flat. DE razors require constant attention to the contours of your skin to maintain optimal shaving.
There are two good ways I’ve found to compensate for this. One, learn the angle of the handle when it is shaving well, and try to maintain that for each part of your face (shaving small areas at a time). Second, pay attention to the feel of the razor against the stubble. If it’s pulling or tough, you might be dragging the razor due to too steep of an angle. No sensation at all, check to make sure you aren’t too shallow (though a good blade, angle, and lather will greatly minimize the feel of shaving).
I’ve been working on it for months, and I’m still learning. But it’s part of the fun, part of the skill, and something I’m working to get better at.