I think I’ve stumbled on a way to consistently (or at least more consistently) get the right amount of water in a shave brush every time, no matter what cream or soap you’re using.
Tinkering With The Problem
Shavers, especially those new to using old-school products, can struggle with getting the right amount of water in a shave brush for that perfect lather. There can be a frustrating amount of variables: the type of hair in the brush, the size of the knot, the ingredient make-up of the shave cream or soap to be lathered, and the mineral content of the water are just to name a few.
I’ve been tinkering with the problem over the past few months and I think I’ve come with a method of getting (or rather, keeping) the correct amount of water in a shaving brush for a better lather. It seems to work with just about any kind of brush and cream or soap.
Step 1: Thoroughly Soak The Brush Knot
This process starts with soaking the shave brush in water. Most shavers do this anyway, but if you’re one of those people who just hold a brush under running water go ahead and plop it in a sink full of warm water. How long you soak partly depends on the type of hair your brush has: badger and synthetic may not need much time, while boar or horse hair may require a bit more. You’ll have to experiment a bit to find the time best for you and the brush you are using. Start with a one minute soak and adjust accordingly.
Step 2: Give The Brush A “That’s Perfect” Sign
Here’s the part that trips up a lot of people, particularly beginners: after soaking the brush most shavers have learned to drain most of the water out of the brush. The concept is there but the execution is sometimes flawed, or at least inconsistent. A common suggestion is to let the brush drain then give it a couple shakes or a “flick of the wrist” to remove the excess water.
Aye, but here’s the rub: “flicking the wrist” forces too much water out of the innermost portion of the brush (the “breach”) where water and shave cream/soap mix most effectively for the best lather (ever wonder why your lather seems to get better later in the shave? The lather has been percolating in the breach).
So after soaking grab the brush by its handle, hold it inverted with one hand (hair down, handle up) and with your other hand circle the hair with your thumb and forefinger like you’re signaling “that’s perfect,” and gently give it a squeeze. Where you do this on the brush depends on the type of brush: most brushes should be squeezed nearer the tips; badger brushes or other brushes with a relatively long “loft” may need to be squeezed a bit further down down toward the handle (but no more than the middle of the loft). I find one finger’s width down from the tips seems to be the sweet spot for many of my brushes.
After you squeeze the brush tips will be closed. Resist the temptation to shake the brush to “bloom” the hair.
Step 3: Load The Brush Inverted
I’ve advocated this next bit by itself for the past ten years. After the “perfect squeeze” return the brush to the upright position (handle down, tips up). If you’re loading the brush from a squeeze tube of shave cream, plop an almond-sized amount slightly into the brush. If you’re loading from a tub of shave soap or cream, spin the brush into the tub (pressing down slightly) in an upside down manner, to load the brush:
This keeps water in the breach and the soap/cream creates a kind of barrier so it doesn’t release water too soon while building the lather.
Step 4: Build The Lather
Now it’s time to build the lather. I suggest initially building lather in a bowl or mug, even if you’re normally a face latherer, because I think it’s easier to determine if there is still too much water: you can drain the “slop” out of the bowl and continue lathering. If you did get too much you can use the “perfect” squeeze a bit further down the brush loft the next time you try.
Once you get the hang of it you should be able to return to your preferred method of building lather.
Conclusion – Give It A Try!
I’ve been using this method for a while now and it seems to be working pretty well for me. The lather initially looks pretty foamy, like there’s too much water, but as I work it the lather starts mixing more and I can get to that yogurt/meringue consistency in no time.
Give it a try and report back here with your results!