Unlike cartridge razor shaving, moving to classic wet shaving typically requires more steps and a greater focus on some of the detailed nuances that accompany the process. The shaving brush is simply one step in that process. Choosing the right shaving brush is not as critical as some would argue. Yes, there are differences in the quality of both lather and experience you will receive between brushes, but if you’re looking to start out, begin with something that provides a good bang for the buck. For instance, starting with a less expensive brush from our <$10 collection of shave brushes is likely the best place to begin. Once you have your head around the process, you can then graduate to something more expensive later down the road. The relative prices of shaving brushes varies greatly, as you move between various components and various brands. That is why it is critical to be aware of what pieces doth a good shave brush make.
In this article we will discuss the following:
- Reasons to use a wet shave brush
- Differences in shave brush knot types: boar hair vs. badger hair vs. synthetic
- Materials for your shaving brush handle
- Choosing a loft height and knot size
- Building your own brush and/or replacing a worn brush knot
- Do I really need a wet shave brush?
- How to choose the best wet shaving brush for my taste?
Reasons to Use a Shaving Brush
While some may argue the need for quality shaving brush is a bit overemphasized and overrated, there are more reasons to include a good shaving brush in your regular shave routine, including:
- A shave brush can more quickly create a quality, thick lather particularly if you are using an artisan shave soap.
- A quality shave brush helps to lift the hair follicles away from the skin and soften them in preparation for your shave.
- The right shave brush helps to exfoliate the skin and can be extremely refreshing, particularly if you are using a quality, great smelling shaving cream or soap. Exfoliation can also help you avoid razor bumps.
While it can take a bit longer to prepare your face to wet shave, you will also find that you will experience a much better shaving experience than you are probably accustomed. Using a wet shaving brush is a great warm-up routine for an even better shave and a better shave is a warm-up routine for a better day.
Shaving Brush Bristles: Boar vs. Badger vs. Horse vs. Synthetic
Numerous materials have and continue to be used in creating various shave brush knots. Each has its own pros and cons, depending on the application and your own personal preference. The issue that most beginning wet shavers experience is a lack of understanding of what they want because you may not know what you don’t know. Because your shave brush knot will be the single most important aspect of shave brush, we will take some time to discuss the various pros and cons of differing knot types and sizes.
The Pros — Synthetic brushes score major points on the affordability index. As mentioned previously, you can typically pick up a quality synthetic brush for $10 or less. But don’t be fooled, just because a brush costs less does not necessarily mean it is vastly different in its quality. Some synthetic shave brushes do a great job of both creating and applying a quality lather to the face. One of the biggest pluses of synthetic brushes applies to those with strong allergies, particularly to animals. Because synthetic brushes are man-made they are typically hypoallergenic, meaning they affect those with allergies much less than a natural brush made from animal hair.
The Cons — While synthetic brushes are great budget brushes, they also can fail miserably in several areas. First, less expensive synthetic brushes typically do not lather as well or as quickly causing you to waste more soap or cream just to get a good lather going. The reason for this is because synthetic hair does not hold water as well as animal hair and it thus takes longer to build up a good rich lather you can quickly apply. Additionally, you can also fall into the trap of “you get what you pay for.” Synthetic brushes, depending on the knot manufacturer may not last as long as a well-built animal hair brush.
The Pros — Boar brushes are among the most highly-durable and include are better at retaining water. This, in turn, contributes to a faster, richer lather. Unlike synthetic fiber brushes, boar brushes are thicker and typically last much longer.
The Cons — Because they come from real animal hair, they last longer and lather quickly boar brushes are typically more expensive than synthetic hair brushes. From a utility perspective, boar brushes can also be much more coarse than synthetic brushes. For some this coarseness can cause skin irritation and be all-around less comfortable than their synthetic counterparts.
The Pros — When it comes to wet shaving, badger hair is considered the pinnacle of the wet shave brush world. Like the boar hair brush, badger hair retains water and lathers quickly, but unlike the boar brush, badger hair provides a must softer texture which is easier on the skin. It’s as if a synthetic brush and boar brush had a baby. You get all the benefits of a boar and synthetic shaving brush rolled into one.
As the pinnacle of the wet shaving brush world, badger hair come in varying grades of quality. As the price increases so does the quality. You will typically find badger hair brushes increasing in quality via the following descriptions: pure badger, best badger, super badger and silver tip. We may go into the various nuances of the different types of badger hair brushes at a later date. If you’re just starting out a pure badger brush is likely just fine for a beginning wet shaver.
The Cons — Because the features of the badger hair brush are highly desired, badger hair brushes tend to be the most expensive brushes available. Prices can go as high as $1,200, but you can typically get a good badger brush for as little as $30 to $50 for both the knot and the handle.
The Pros — Horse hair brushes are much less common. The hair in a horse hair brush is softer than boar hair, but not quite as soft as the badger hair brush. They do a decent job on building a lather. When you can find them, they vary greatly in price, but are typically less expensive than badger hair or even boar hair.
The Cons — Horse hair is tougher to find and the price can run as much as badger, but the quality is not quite as high.
Shaving Brush Handles
The shave brush handle is more often a question of form over function. Other than its ability to hold the chosen shave brush knot in place, the shaving brush handle is more of a matter of personal preference in terms of both material and shape. Materials that make up a shave brush can include, but are not necessarily limited to: wood, metal, plastics/synthetics and even animal horn and turtle shell. The possibilities are literally endless. Recent fads for handles have included 3D printing customizing that include large variations in style and design.
Handle sizes can also vary widely. The size of your handle is wholly dependent on the size of your chosen knot. Knot size is the tail that wags the handle-dog–so to speak. Some brush handles and knots are large and wide, while others are more narrow. Although the size of your handle depends on the knot, it is good to think about what is most important in choosing a fat brush over a smaller brush. Large brushes can feel good in the hand, but unless you have a lot of surface area on the face or want to lather quickly without much effort, I personally like a somewhat smaller brush.
With a smaller brush, I can spend a few more seconds applying the lather. It feels a bit better and I don’t feel overwhelmed by a brush that is half the size of my face. Smaller brushes are also less hoggish when it comes to my soap or cream. That is, they tend to waste less soap when I’m lathering up. Being more efficient in my lather means I waste less coin over the long haul in my soap cost. That’s my personal preference.
Loft Height & Knot Size
As previously discussed, your handle size will ultimately be determined by the size of the knot you choose. Sure, some handles will be thicker and more weighty depending on the materials (metal vs. wood), but the size of your knot choice will be the most critical element in choosing the right shaving brush.
Knot size refers to the size of the knot itself, while the loft size is the length of brushes on your face. The larger the knot, the more cream or soap will load into your brush’s hair fibers. If you want a soap hog, get a larger knot with a higher loft.
The loft size impacts the following:
- Your ability to build a good lather quickly
- The experience in applying the lather to your face.
Longer lofts will lather cream in a bowl or soap in a tin much more rapidly, but when you apply them to the face, they tend to cover more surface area and make a quick mess of things. This is one of the reasons most wet shavers tend to steer toward lofts and knots that are more middle-of-the road, but again, this depends on preference.
Average knot sizes are about 20 mm while the average loft size is about 50 mm. If you’re just starting out, it’s typically best to stick to something average, middle-of-the-road and manageable.
Everything related to knot sizes is really driven by personal preference. Getting to a shave brush that works best for you will require some level of experimentation. Remember, when starting out, you don’t yet know what you don’t know.
Replacing Your Brush Knots
As you graduate to varying degrees of proficiency as an expert wet shaver, you will likely get to the point where you find your perfect handle+knot combination that work for you. As many other wet shavers do, you will want to replace your worn-out badger or synthetic knot from time-to-time (likely every six months to a year). When you get to this point, you can simply purchase and replace the knot and keep the high quality handle you originally purchased in your up-front investment into wet shaving.
This method will save you money over the long term and will ensure consistency in your regular shave routine.
Do I Really Need a Wet Shave Brush?
If we take a look at the shaving brush critically, it is actually not wholly necessary as part of your morning shave. If you get a cheap, quality cream, you can lather it on without even using a shave brush. For the beginning wet shaver that is not quite sure if he wants to get into the wild world of wet shaving, experimenting without a brush can help save you a little money if you simply would like to experiment first.
In short, a shave brush is not an absolute necessity when shaving with either a cartridge, straight or safety razor. A pure minimalist, does not need the brush as a component of the daily shave routine. But, as any die-hard wet shaver will tell you: the brush can be make-it-or-break-it aspect of achieving your highest quality wet shave.
How to Choose a Shave Brush
For the novice wet shaver just starting on his journey, I would suggest buying a shave brush that costs between $5 and $10. It’s a nominal amount that won’t break the bank and will give you the basic experience that will allow you to graduate to the next level of shaving brushes once you become accustomed to the process somewhat. Because wet shaving is not necessarily for everyone, keeping your initial investment low helps to mitigate the switching cost if you want to go back to your electric shaver.
When it comes time to choose a quality brush, part of the decision will be based on personal preference of the look and feel and the rest will either be 1) based on your own historical experience of brushes or 2) what others may have written. Before investing $200 or more in a Cadillac shave brush, experiment with some less expensive brushes first before graduating completely.
While you will want the brush to look good on the bathroom counter, the real test is how the brush feels. I typically like to tell shavers to focus on function over form. Some of my favorite brushes have been plastic/synthetic handled brushes with a good quality badger knot shoved inside at a price of $40 or less.
Get started today and don’t let your decision break the bank, buy your shaving brushes online with us. Let us know what questions you may have as you begin the wonderful process of wet shaving.