The Shaving Brush Guide – Frequently Asked Questions About This Must-have Wet Shaving Tool
Looking for a top shaving brush? This article will help save you the frustration of trying to choose the best one, only to be disappointed by its performance, material, shape or size. Getting the right information on all the available ones to choose from can certainly be a bit of a challenge as there are different varieties made in different categories.
Different people have different choices depending on their tastes and preferences. These could differ depending on the size, shape, or material used for it, or even the creativity employed using these elements in assembling it. Without much further ado, let us get to the details.
This essential tool for achieving a good shave was invented in the 1700s in France and was something every man owned until relatively recently. Because of shaving foam in cans and other disposable products, the use of a brush quickly become yesteryear’s art. Fortunately men worldwide have start paying far more attention to how they treat their skin these days.
There are five main reasons to use this tool:
- It helps to create a rich and warm lather
- It helps to lift the facial hairs up from the skin
- It gives the skin a gentle exfoliation
- You will need less shaving cream or soap to create a good lather
- No harmful gases or by-products from a pressurized container
What Are the Different Parts of a Shaving Brush?
The dimensions of a shave brush can be divided into three sections; the knot, the loft, and the overall height.
- The knot is the amount of hair contained in it – which can either be loosely or tightly packed
- The loft is the length of the hairs in the knot
- The height is the length of the whole brush – from the bottom of the handle to the tip of the hairs. In order to determine the overall height of it, the length of the handle is the determinant factor.
The handle can either be made of resin, acrylic, wood or metal. However, some more creative artisans sometimes come up with other materials to make it unique or to fit a particular preference for specific people.
Size and Shape
Size and shape, being the primary criteria, contain other factors which might be much more complex.
To start with, the shape of the handle could be a matter to consider. Some people prefer wide and short handles, others long and slender ones.
However, in the case where you are torn on the best one to buy, your pick should not have a longer handle than the size between your palm and the pad of your thumb.
On the other hand, loft tips are in different shapes; some are fan-like, while others are bulb-like; this is a personal choice that you will refine over time.
Sizes can vary a lot but the average loft is usually about 50 millimeters long and the average knot is around 20 millimeters in diameter.
The brush is made using different types of bristles. The four most common are boar hair, horse hair, badger hair, and synthetic fiber. In some instances you will come across mixed types of bristles; badger-horse hair and horse-synthetic hair are two common examples. Just to let you know, boar and badger hair is obtained from carcasses of animals that are used for both meat and their hair. This is unlike the harvest of horse hair which does not harm the animal.
Shaving brushes are available in different types, please note that this article relates only to what kind of bristle or hair and grades of hair that is being used, not to the form or function it. Shaving brushes mainly use either boar bristle, badger hair or synthetic hair. There are also versions with horsehair, but this is rarer. This site and articles are mainly about products from German Mühle, since our experience with this quality manufacturer is very good.
Boar (AKA hog, AKA pig) hair is relatively stiff in use but not in price. This is the most common type of choice and it is usually found in well-stocked grocery and drug stores. After some time, a boar bristle gets split ends, and you will find that it becomes softer and easier to make a lather. To get the best results with a brush made from boar hair, leave it in hot water for some time, such as while showering. When the bristles have become completely saturated with water the hair (bristle) will be noticeably softer. A boar bristle brush need not be sub-standard and is perfectly suitable for those who want to get started with classic shaving at a reasonable price.
As said earlier, you do not have to harm the horse to obtain its hair. This is an important factor for many of us. Horse hair alternatives have received many positive reviews in that they are soft and not scratchy like other types made from some other bristles. Although they don’t hold quite as much water as high-quality badger options, they are more than adequate for the job. Horse hair are usually quite reasonable priced for their performance and construction quality. The downside here is availability: they are not found as easily as other alternatives. And they smell – horse hair needs at least 2 or 3 times washing with pet shampoo, rinse and dry before being put to use.
The preferred type of hair used in shaving brushes is from a badger. This is because the hair has an excellent absorption capacity and additionally is very soft. There are distinct differences between different quality levels of badger bristles, but please note that there is not a formal or universal classification. If an unethical producer wants to say their product is filled with Silvertip Badger, then there is nothing stopping them. Is also fairly common to bleach budget hair to give it a look of a higher grade, but the texture, performance, and feel of the hair remain unchanged. We therefore only recommend products from reputable manufacturers such as Mühle, Parker and Edwin Jagger and therefore will use their classification.
Standard Badger/ Pure Badger/ Fine Badger/ Best Badger
Standard/ Pure/ Fine/ Best Badger is made of hair that grows on most parts of the badger, such as the tail and the back. This is the cheapest type of badger hair and is characterized by the dark color of the hair. The hairs are being inserted in your brush as one bundle and are then being trimmed to a round end. Brushes in this category can be machine made unless otherwise noted. After the trimming the hairs get blunt ends, you will feel that they are rougher against the skin than a finer grade badger. That being said, the hairs are far softer and will create nicer bubbles in the foam than pig bristles. A brush in this category are highly recommended to start your wet shaving experience.
The Rolls Royce of shaving brushes. The hair come from the neck on the badger, where each hair is a little thinner than the rest of the coat. Thus there needs to be more hair to replenish the knot of the brush, giving even finer bubbles and thicker foam. Hairs in Silvertip Badger is not trimmed to get the recognizable form but inserted one by one by hand to the correct length. The soft tip of the hair is preserved, making Silvertip Badger softest against the skin while further down the hair is stiffer to rapidly whip up foam. Silvertip is slightly more expensive but makes the best lather with the most comfort.
Additionally, there are options made of synthetic material that imitates badger. Previously, the synthetic versions were noticeably poorer in performance than their biological brothers, but current technology and production methods makes today’s synthetic alternative the equal of Badger versions.
Silvertip Fibre has gotten plenty good reviews by experienced shaving enthusiasts and is perceived by many as good as the best Silvertip Badger.
There is also Black Fibre that corresponds to Pure Badger in use and price range.
Synthetic Fiber vs. Natural Hair
There are some very distinct pros – and cons to synthetic hair vs their natural counterpart.
Synthetic Fiber Pros
- Strength – Synthetic fiber is a lot stronger than natural hair
- Maintenance – Synthetic fiber involves more or less zero maintenance
- Consistency – If you have two brushes with the same knot, handle and loft, there is almost no variance on synthetic brushes whereas on natural hair there will be some slight variance even with the same hair grade
- Temperature range – Synthetic fiber will withstand hotter (though not extremely hot or boiling) water that would damage natural hair
- Drying – Synthetic fiber will dry much faster than natural hair
Synthetic Fiber Cons
- Water retention – Synthetic fibers do not retain water like natural hair, so you must modify your lather procedure to accommodate this lack of retained water
- Heat retention – Synthetic fibers will lose heat faster than natural hair (a bit like down vs. synthetic fibers in clothing), so if you like warm lather throughout the shave – a natural hair bristle may be more your preference
- Feel at the tip – Good synthetic fibers are soft at the tip but they do not “feel” the same as natural badger hair brush
- Backbone variation – Synthetic fibers have one consistent backbone feel whereas you can vary the backbone in a natural brush by the amount of time you let the brush soak in water
Synthetic alternatives are therefore no longer something you just buy to avoid using animal products, but a good alternative for a Badger shaving brush!
You may want a dedicated brush for your travels. Some larger versions – while perfectly suited for home use – may cause minor packing issues. A travel alternative will have a considerably shorter handle with a smaller loft. This helps in ease of packing, and there are numerous special choices on the market in which the container protecting the knot transforms to become the handle.
A good brush can last for years with proper care and maintenance. Be careful when you rinse it after use and make sure you get all the soap residue out. Rinse from the top down with warm water and squeeze the knot gently to circulate water through all the hair. Once you have got rid of all the foam, shake it well until no more water comes out and then put it away. If you hang it upside down in a rack it will dry faster, this is also a convenient way to store it. It almost never drips water from it, if it is shaken well.
If you are going to travel it’s smart to carry a container suitable for the job. The container should have a hole in the bottom so that the moisture being released from the hair can escape.
NOTE: Do not boil the brush after you’ve bought it. This will damage the hair and handle, which comes factory sterilized anyway. The hair or bristle will smell a bit in the beginning, but this disappears after a bit of use. There is usually no need for special detergents for cleaning the hair since it constantly being cleaned by the shaving soap. It is common that they all lose a few hairs at the start, and all shaving brushes expand or “bloom” over time.