The origins of the barber can be traced way back before even the first formal historical records even existed. It’s basically the oldest profession in the book and primitive barbering began due to the belief that bad spirits could be eradicated by removing of as much facial fuzz as you possibly could.
There was a time when a barber was as likely to remove a tooth or limb as he was the hair on a man’s face. Without any formal education the barber surgeon would perform the role of surgeons and dentists for half the price.
Thankfully much has changed since then and now it’s far more likely that fashion and even charitable ventures (we are in Movember after all) influence how much hair sits on our faces.
So, inspired by Sweeney Todd and the lure of really cool looking barbershops, I signed up to the London School of Barbering for a two day course in wet shaving and beard grooming, in an attempt to master the art of the cut-throat razor.
The first thing I learnt was that the traditional wet shave isn’t something to be rushed. It’s an experience above everything else, and part of the job is making your clientele feel as comfortable as possible.
Day one started with some basics. The tools of the trade, seating positions, some important health and safety knowledge and most importantly how you should hold straight blade.
For the record there are two key straight blade positions that need to be mastered – the forehand and the backhand.
Your leading hand holds the blade and the other hand is always used to draw the skin tight on the face. The tighter the better, pulling the skin away from the direction you are cutting to avoid any unnecessary accidents. The idea is to move the blade in a rubbing motion at a 45 degree angle across the face, but never against the growth of the hair. As long as the client doesn’t scream, or in my case an oversized water balloon doesn’t burst – you’re doing well.
Once mastered, the rest comes down to preparation. It turns out that the physical shave is only a small part of the process and a great shave is only as good as the preparation that comes before it.
Here’s a speedy step by step guide to pre shave prep:
- Trim the facial hair to 0.5mm you don’t want to be working with much more than that.
- Cleanse the face by working a clean small sponge soaked in warm water over the shave area.
- Soak a small towel in cold water, fold in a neat s-shape and put in the microwave for 4mins on max heat (keep the ends dry as you need to grip those bits later).
- Work in a generous about of pre shave oil into the face.
- Wait for the microwave to finish and then remove the hot towel and wrap around the face leaving enough room for the customer to breathe through their nose).
- Remove the towel and add the shaving foam to the shave area.
Now take the blade in a forehand position and work your way across the face section by section starting at the cheek down to the neck, before repeating for the other side and then completing with the chin and finally the upper lip.
Once done it’s time to cleanse again, work in some additional pre shave oil, apply another hot towel and then using shaving gel instead of foam it’s time to pick off any parts you’ve missed. Finally, cleanse, drop on a cold towel before finishing the job with some post shaving balm.
As it turns out you get better with practice, and after some critiquing from Henry my London School of Barbering mentor, and six happy customers on day two of training, I managed to pick up legal certification as a qualified wet shave barber.
Sadly I won’t be turning my new found ability into a fulltime profession, but I will be offering my services to all my friends looking to smarten up that unruly Movember moustache.