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Synthetic Fibers – A Historical Perspective and how they Relate to Shaving Brushes (Part 10)

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This is the tenth and final article in a series on synthetic fibers and how they relate to shaving brushes, including a brief history of synthetic fibers, their development, stagnation, and resurrection in the market place.   In the previous article we have seen the development of fibers up to the current day.   Now the questions for this article are, how do the brushes stack up in real world testing today and what is the potential direction of synthetics in the future?
During the spring and summer of 2012, a test of synthetic brushes were made and the results submitted on this site.    The first article concerning this testing can be seen here.  From this data, we will concentrate on two key sets of questions and the discussion points that were generated by my teammates.
Question Set 1: Do you find significant changes in the new generation of synthetic brushes? How would you describe the changes you found? What advancements did you find, if any?

James SanSouci: They have an attractive design, soft tips, excellent performance, very good density, good backbone,  quick drying time, and they are economical in the use of soaps and creams.

Teiste Brito: The new synthetic fibers are truly an advance in this regard. When we talk about synthetic fibers, we should distinguish between the one made by Mühle and the other ones.   The ones made by Mühle (both the Silvertip and the Black) are truly the closest synthetic thing to natural badger hair and outperforms badger hair in many tasks.

Wim Bouman: The changes are substantial indeed. The Mühle silvertip fibers are a step up from the old synthetic hair, and so is the new artificial badger from Omega compared to the Syntex versions. Also the black fibers from Mühle are a big improvement in softness and backbone.

Mark Herro: They’re definitely softer than the previous generation, with the newest from Mühle and Edwin Jagger as stand-outs..  However I have noticed that unless you’re careful not to push down the bristles too hard, the brush’s “breech” opens much too quickly, spilling water.

Question Set 2: In what areas did you find new synthetic brushes most improved? Where do they need further improvement?

James SanSouci:  The areas that are most improved are in terms of design, soft tips, excellent performance, very good density, good backbone,  quick drying time, and they are economical in the use of soaps and creams.  Here are areas where further improvement is still needed. To provide the maximum levels of density preferred by shaving brush aficionados, new, finer fibers need development.  If finer fibers become available, brush lofts will need to be re-engineered and tested.

Teiste Brito:  I don’t know if they can improve these new silvertip fiber brushes, but for sure, these brushes behave and almost feel like real badger hair.   (Author’s Notation: Please see Teiste’s review of this class of synthetic brush here.)

Wim Bouman:  The new generation synthetics, the Omega Artificial badgers and the Mühle Silvertip Fibers and Black Fibers alike, have improved in performance and feel. I really did not achieve good lather with the earlier fibers and now these synthetics are amongst the most effective brushes in my den. Also the new fibers look better, they do not have that plastic look.

Mark Herro: Fibers have gotten “softer” and more resilient but work is still needed to make them more “face lather friendly” by modifying the softness of the fiber in the center of the brush. The action of the “breech” needs to be modified so that it doesn’t open so easily, giving the water and soap/cream a better chance of mixing properly.  Lathering with a “massaging” action (vs. “paintbrush” motions) is still more difficult compared to natural hair brushes but is better than the older generation.

So we have a new generation of synthetic brushes from an array of companies with names such as Mühle, Edwin Jagger, Omega, Franks Shaving, Men-ü, Artist Brushstrokes, along with others who have one or more offerings.   Over and above this is the availability of synthetic knots to place into custom made handles or into the restoration of vintage handles.

So what are the possibilities for synthetics now and in the future?  Many users now place synthetics into their own class, just like badger, boar and horse, and understand the differences between brands, knots, and handle types within the class. They also seem to be willing to see the pros and cons of all brushes as fair game in the selection process. This is the group of people who will continue to determine the future of synthetic development from the user standpoint. They will be driving this particular sector to improve and grow.

The technology is in place for a variety of brush lofts, knot construction, and even a variety of price points for the user to choose from.  Synthetics will take a greater place in future discussions simply due to the fact that they can be improved with each with new chemical and manufacturing fiber discovery.   One area that still needs to be addressed in my viewpoint is that more variety is needed in terms of knot / loft sizes, both in finished brushes and stand alone knots for the restoration of old brushes from more production sources.

There is a reason why every traditional shaver should be actively seeking improvement in synthetics. If the traditional shaving user community continues grows at the pace that it has the past few years, demand for natural hairs will become an issue.  This has been the case in the cosmetic brush industry, which has more overall sales volume than shaving brushes, and also competes for the same natural resources (animal hair).  Supply of natural fibers will more than likely not increase, and may likely decrease due to over harvesting in certain countries, disease, and perhaps even political restrictions based on an active animal rights movement.

In order to supply new traditional shavers, many of whom are adverse to using animal hair, but want a high quality shaving experience, the new generation of synthetics are able to achieve that today, and will be able to continue to do so in the future.   The brush manufacturers who are active in developing strong synthetic lines of brushes and knots, not just one synthetic offering, will continue to grow and develop far into the future.  Those producers that do not make this move, but remain totally entrenched totally in production using natural fibers only, or provide a single token choice of synthetic knot, will most likely suffer the shocks of loss of market share in the future.

I wish to thank the viewers for reading this series on synthetic brushes and I hope that you have not only enjoyed the series, but gained some information to help your knowledge on shaving brushes overall.

GD Carrington

GD Carrington

6 thoughts on “Synthetic Fibers – A Historical Perspective and how they Relate to Shaving Brushes (Part 10)”

  1. Having used the H.I.S, Muhle and OTC Frank & custom Frank synthetic brushes I am in agreement with Gary that the H.I.S. is the big winner for me. Granted I am not as discerning as Mark/Mantic in even noticing the center breech. I am thrilled with the low cost and high function of the H.I.S. If they make a better one I’ll suffer with that as well.

    1. Keep your eyes open because the synthetic fibered brushes have a great potential for future improvements as new fiber types come along.

  2. An excellent capstone to an excellent series Gary. Thank you very much for taking the time to educate us all. It made for great reading and was very informative.

  3. Gary, thank you for this outstanding series of articles on synthetic shaving brushes. It is both the most comprehensive and the most authoritative I have ever seen, and a genuine service to the shaving community.
    You have encompassed an overview of the history, developments and potential unlike any other author to date, and the Sharpologist deserves kudos for being the first website to recognize the developments and devote a series of feature articles to this topic.
    I believe that synths are the future and ought to be considered by all serious wet shavers. I have also had opportunities to test the NEXT generation of synthetic brushes from two manufacturers and want to let users know the best is yet to come!

    1. Thank you Jim for the kind comments. I appreciated the opportunity to provide this information to the traditional shaving community.
      Many of the terms used specifically for synthetic fibers such as “flagging” as the process to get the fibers to soften up at the ends, and how the fibers are structured to help retain water, I had not seen associated with synthetic fiber brushes until I started to do the research on the subject which grew into this series. So I really learned a lot about brushes and fibers as a result.
      I hope that this series serves as a tool to help users in selecting the brush that is right for them, whether it is natural, or synthetic.
      Good fortune to all.

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