The Three Pass Shave – How It Works

The Three Pass Shave How It Works

A common question from new and experienced shavers a like is “Which is better, a safety razor or a straight razor?” Both of these have their own advantages and disadvantages, so the answer is not so clear-cut. Each person’s skin, lifestyle and time constraints are different, so the answer will be different from individual to individual. By considering certain key points, you can make sure you select the best type for you.

Despite the type of blade you go for, the end goal is usually the same-get a clean, professional shave. To get to this level of shaving, most traditional shavers prefer the three shave pass as it gets the stubborn hairs and stubbles slashed off completely.

Before we delve into the ABCs of the three pass shaving, there are some things you have to look into. For the best experience in classic shave products make sure you get a good pre-shave oil, classic shaving cream, shaving brush, mixing mug, straight blade or safety razor, and aftershave. Combining all of these products will enrich your overall shaving experience and give you the closest, most comfortable shave of your life.

What you will need

  • Water
  • Straight Razor or safety razor
  • Pre-Shave Cream/Gel
  • Brush
  • Shaving Cream/Soap
  • After-Shave cream/balm/Lotion/Gel
  • Alum Block
  • Towel
  • Styptic Pencil
  • Cologne

The three shave pass involves passing the blade on your hair in three main ways, with the grain, across the grain, and against the grain. These techniques are abbreviated as WTG, XTG, and ATG. To achieve the best results using the three motions above, you need to know the mapping of your hair. Most people have their hair growing downwards or as the cardinal points would put it, north to south. If your hair grows in several other directions, you might need some additional passes to capture every hair.

With the grain

Assuming that your beard grows in the North to South direction, shaving with the grain means moving your blade from North to south or down your face. During this process, the blade should lie at an angle of 30 degrees from the skin. Make shorter strokes at the beginning and speed up a little when the blade feels a part of you. For newbies, it’s better to stick to shorter strokes for a while.

Across the grain

Shaving across the grain involves moving the blade from east to west or vice-versa. This technique normally targets the stubbles that remain after the WTG pass. The razor/blade should be held at an angle of 15 degrees from the skin for effective results.

Against the grain

When shaving against the grain, the blade/razor moves from south to north or up your face. This method targets all the hairs and stubbles that went unpicked by the first two passes. Since ATG is meant to clip off all the remaining stubbles, the blade usually lies almost on the skin at an angle of 5 degrees.

Individuals with kinky hair and sensitive skins rarely go through with this technique. However, if all you want is a smooth stubble-free skin, shaving against the grain is mandatory.

Be prepared

The three pass technique can also encompass doing some touch ups. This majorly involves shaving those regions that WTG, XTG, and ATG missed. These areas include the hollow curves on the throat and the chin/jawline.

Some folks prefer the two pass shave-mainly with the grain and across the grain. The third option, against the grain, normally offers a clean slate shaving which can cause irritation if you have sensitive skin. However, if you love the feeling of your skin being totally smooth, the three shave pass would be your best technique.

Before shaving, some preparations need to be done to ensure you get the best quality shave. Some of these preparations include:

  • Moisten your beards by washing your face with soap or taking a warm shower
  • Put all your shaving essential before you
  • Soak your brush in water for a few minutes
  • Apply pre-shave cream and do not wash it off
  • Spread shaving soap on your face with the help of the brush
  • Perform the three shave passes in the order WTG, XTG, ATG
  • Clean your face with water and dry it with a dry towel
  • Treat any cuts you sustained using a styptic pencil
  • Apply your aftershave
  • Apply some cologne too if you like

Pointers to remember

When shaving, it’s essential that your skin is taut enough to make it easier to clip off the hair without the blade tugging of cutting your skin. Use the other arm that is not holding the blade to stretch your skin. Additionally, when shaving your right side, use the left hand to shave and vice-versa. The neck and chin are usually some of the most challenging areas to shave; hence, you need to take your time and pass the blade gently several times.

The three pass shave, two pass and other standard ways of shaving have been known to provide the best results but that not mean they are all we have. The shaving arena is much about an individual’s preference, and thus you are free to experiment shaving in any direction (and using any technique) that you feel comfortable with.

As a side note, never move the razor horizontally on your face. You’ll end up cutting yourself so many times. Also, to make the shaving ritual an enjoyable activity, the angle between the blade and the skin should always be smaller.

Whatever the razor you are using, make sure you clean it thoroughly to remove stuck hairs and shaving creams and store it well.

Wrap up

No matter the shaving tool you use, adopting a three shave pass is the most effective way to achieve a clean, close shave. When done well, the three pass technique prevents one from applying too much pressure on the skin, hence no cuts and less skin irritation. Learn the ABCs of the three pass shaving, and you will always derive pleasure from your morning shaving ritual.

About the author


I use to watch my dad shave every morning before he went to work. When I was old enough to shave all I could think about was using an old school straight razor as my dad did. I want to share all I know on this blog about shaving and using razors. I love sharing and writing about this lost art.

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