Sunday, June 9, 2013

Choosing your shaving gear: The Brush

One of the most pleasurable aspects of traditional shaving is creating a warm lather using a soap or cream and a shaving brush. Although the razor often steals the spotlight, it is often the brush that makes the biggest difference to how enjoyable your shave is. Brushes arguably have the most diverse range of options out of all the wet-shaving essentials, with different densities of brush knot, different shapes of loft and handle, different types of fiber  both natural and synthetic, and various manufacturers.
A good entry level brush
Edwin Jagger, Best Badger

Badger hair is by far and away the most popular material, with every major manufacturer of brushes using it. Of all the types of fiber a shaving brush can be filled with, badger is the only one conventionally sorted into different grades, usually (from cheapest to most expensive): Pure, Best, Super and Silvertip. Grades are not standardized between manufacturers. Higher grades are softer and more absorbent. Some manufacturers will have their own special high grades, such as “two band” or even “three band”. All badger hair used in modern shaving brushes come from China, where badger hair is a food by-product.
Vulfix's boar bristle brush
Vulfix No.28 Boar Bristle

Boar, often referred to as “pure bristle” is generally cheaper than badger, and is a very stiff fiber  although it may soften with use. Boar is a very popular brush fiber in Italy, consequently some of the best boar brushes come from Italy. Boar tends to hold a little less water than badger but can still produce excellent lathers.
An ethically sourced option from Spanish firm Vie-Long
Vie-Long Horse Hair

Horse hair was once a very popular fiber  but fell out of favor due to an anthrax scare in the 1920’s. Horse hair is being rehabilitated as a fiber due to it’s reasonable value, better softness than the lower grades of badger. Horse, uniquely, is the only natural fiber option that is produced without killing the animal, so is popular as an ethical option.
A cheap and quick drying nylon brush, good for travelling
Vulfix No.1 Nylon

Synthetic brushes are the only vegan option available, and are also useful as travelling brushes due to their resistance to going a bit “musty” if stored damp. They also tend to dry very quickly. Originally nylon was the only option, but there have been new developments in synthetic fibers that apparently approach or in some cases match the better grades of badger for softness, absorbency and lathering performance.

As well as material, the shape of the brush, as well as how it is achieved is important. The two shapes commonly used are the bulb and the fan. Bulb brushes are denser in the center, and good for bowl lathering, as well as more precise application of lather to the face. Fan shaped brushes tend to spread out more on the face, and make for comfortable, if messy, face lathering. Fan shapes lend themselves to a more circular motion on the face than bulbs. Not all brushes will clearly fall into one category or the other, with some brushes occupying a shape between the two.

The method used by the brush manufacturer to achieve the shape of the loft is important. Cheaper brushes are more likely to be shaped by trimming the loft into shape, resulting in stiffer hair tips, and a more exfoliating brush. More expensive brushes are made by carefully tying the hairs into the knot so as to produce the desired shape, and are consequently softer.

For a beginner, the choice of shape might not be obvious, but for anyone who plans to lather directly on the face, a fan is suggested, and for wannabe bowl latherers, a bulb shape is preferable.
Although most wet-shavers aspire to own brushes in higher grades of hair, some people will actually prefer stiffer, more exfoliating brushes, which are also better for lathering harder soaps.

General points:

-Badger is the most popular choice
-Higher grades of badger are softer and usually filled a little denser
-Boar is relatively stiff and exfoliating
-Horse is softer than lower grades of badger, and usually a little cheaper
-Synthetic fibers vary, with newer ones performing comparably to natural fibers
-Synthetic is the only vegan option
-Horse and synthetic are the only vegetarian options
-Firmer brushes tend to perform better with solid soaps

Some specific models we recommend considering:

Good value entry level badger: Vulfix pure badger shaving brush -more exfoliating, good all-rounder

Good value best badger: Edwin Jagger- all rounder, favors creams a little

Horse hair: Vie-Long- soft, better at creams

Boar: Vulfix No.28- stiff, better at soaps

Basic synthetic: Vulfix No. 1- soft, better for creams

Good value higher quality: Simpsons Chubby 1- Good all-rounder

Available from and