What is the best shaving brush for you? There are many varieties of brushes, available from small “garage” artisans, Far-Eastern factories, and long-established European companies. Let’s try to make some sense of it all by discussing the different elements of a shaving brush then narrowing the field down to the best shaving brushes in different categories. Then I’ll go over how to use a shave brush most effectively. This is a major consolidation and update of several articles originally posted a number of years ago.
- Buying A Shave Brush
- Brush Hair Types
- Other Factors
- So What Is The Best Shave Brush?!
- How To Use A Shave Brush
Why Should You Use A Shave Brush?
Simply put, a shave brush is the best way to prepare stubble for shaving. And not just for a single reason–there are a number of ways in which using a shaving brush benefits the shaving process:
Whether you’re using cheap canned shave foam (just don’t…) or the most expensive shaving cream, it’s really water that does the “heavy lifting” for a shave, preparing the skin and the hair. But water alone is far too “volatile” to use by itself for most people (though admittedly some can shave in the shower with just water as long as there is a continuous flow available). Shave products (foams, gels, creams, etc.) exist to stabilize and hold water against the skin–and yes, provide even more lubrication and cushion with additional ingredients.
Using a shaving brush further mixes product with water making an even more effective lather for the razor blade edge to track on (and reducing the amount of air in the lather as well, preventing the skin from prematurely drying and possibly causing irritation). Plus the shaving brush usually needs less product to make a good lather: traditional shaving creams and soaps may cost more up-front but you use so little of it at once it will last far longer and the cost per shave can be quite low.
Cleaning And Exfoliation
Because a shave brush is most often used with a lathering shave soap or cream, using a brush can reduce (replace?) the need for a pre-shave routine of washing or cleansing the skin. Using a shave brush also produces a mild exfoliating effect on the skin: think of it as helping sweep away tiny bits of debris from around hair stubble. Shave brushes may also help lift out stubborn
When shave products are applied with just fingers, hairs tend to matte to the face, making them more difficult for the razor’s blade edge to get at. When used properly (more on this later), a shave brush lifts hair and surrounds it with lather, requiring less work from the razor blade edge(s).
A Better Shave Experience
Buying A Shave Brush
Not too many years ago the shave brush market was dominated by just a few manufacturers, mainly old-school British companies such as Simpson, Vulfix, and Edwin Jagger, plus a few established European brands like Shavemac, Plisson, Muhle, and Omega.
There has been some consolidation of the old-line brands (Simpson and Vulfix merged, for example) and a dramatic rise of “artisan” brands using “OEM” products from the Far-East. Thanks to the wider availability of hair-only knots (sourced from China but sold through western outlets like The Golden Nib) artisans need only “turn” their handles in quantity to establish a reputation. More recently some of those Asian OEM’s have started selling directly to the consumer.
The result is a much wider range of choices, at better prices, for the shaving consumer.
Unfortunately selecting a shaving brush can be confusing to the uninitiated. There are a bunch of variables, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.
Shaving brushes generally come in one of four
of bristle: boar hair, badger hair, horse hair or synthetic material.
Badger hair brushes have been historically regarded as the preferred material for shave brushes and can generally make a better lather more quickly. They also can retain more heat and water than brushes of other types. However there are several different grades of hair, and unfortunately there is no standardized grading process. But here are some general guidelines:
- The lowest grade of badger hair is generally referred to as “pure.” This grade is characterized by a dark color and thick, relatively stiff, coarse-looking hair. Some manufacturers will bleach the hair slightly to make it appear like a higher grade but the hair itself will still look coarse.
- The next grade is usually called “super,” best,” or “fine.” These mid-tier brushes are generally better constructed and the hair is finer-looking, softer, and lighter in color. These badger brushes retain water and heat noticeably better–sometimes dramatically better–than lower grades.
- The highest grade of badger hair is usually labeled “silvertip” (though Simpson and Edwin Jagger refer to these as “Super”). These brushes are typically made to the highest standard, often with hand-crafted workmanship, commanding the highest prices. Silvertip hair is often cream colored on top with darker bands of color below and very fine but still fairly flexible hairs. These brushes will retain even more water and heat than super badger brushes, but is a less dramatic improvement.
Then there’s the “two band vs. three band” debate. Generally this refers to two sub-grades within the mid-grade (super/fine/best) tier, though some apply it to the “silvertip” grade as well. Visually it refers to the colors seen on a brush’s hair knot as seen from the side: two-band have a lighter color on the upper part of the hair and a darker color on the lower part; while three band brushes have a light color on top, a darker “stripe” in the middle, and a lighter color on the bottom.
Very broadly-speaking, two-band hair is a bit thicker and stiffer while three-band hair is a bit thinner and more flexible–though both are still “soft” on the skin.
Some manufacturers bleach or color their brushes which confuses matters further.
Boar hair brushes–sometimes called “natural bristle” brushes–are the most commonly seen in mass market outlets such as drug stores and “mega-marts.” Most of these brushes are not very well constructed and tend to require more work to get a good lather from.
However that is not to say that all boar hair brushes are substandard. On the contrary, a well-made boar hair brush may provide years of service and can work quite well after a break-in period. Sometimes these brushes are dyed to look like badger hair brushes. Boar hair retains less water than badger hair but selecting a boar hair brush with a higher “loft” (see below) should help compensate for water retention.
Horse hair shave brushes have returned to the market after a being out of favor for 100 years due to an anthrax scare around World War 1. Horse hair brushes are generally made from the grooming castoffs of a horse’s mane or tail (or a mix of both). The performance is roughly that of a boar brush but it is considered the most “animal-friendly” variety.
Note that horse hair shave brushes can smell very “funky” for a while, much more-so than other animal hair brushes. More on “the funk” later.
Finally there are synthetic brushes. These can range from brushes with nylon bristles those with more specialized synthetic material. In the past their price and performance usually fall between those of boar and badger brushes. However some fairly significant improvements have taken place over the past couple of years and the higher-end synthetic materials are now much closer in performance to quality mid-tier and even “silvertip” badger brushes!
The type of hair in the brush is not the only important variable.
Brush dimensions are typically expressed in millimeters and are often divided into three sections: loft, knot, and over-all height.
- The loft is the length of the actual hair from the top of the handle to the tip of the hair.
- The knot is an indication of the amount of hair packed into the handle. The knot dimension can be a little ambiguous because hair can be packed tightly or loosely.
- Finally the length of the handle is factored in to determine the over-all height of the brush.
Generally, larger brushes tend to work better at lathering large areas more quickly (think legs or skull), while smaller brushes offer more control. Brush sizes cover a very wide range but I think its safe to say that the average loft is about 50 millimeters and the average knot is about 22 millimeters.
Brush size and shape are a little more ambiguous. The tips of the loft can be shaped into a fan-like shape (some are essentially flat) or into a bulb-like shape. Each style has their advocates but there’s no real agreement about it.
The second is the size and shape of the handle. Size and shape is yet another personal preference.
You should be able to find a brush with virtually any budget so set yourself a maximum price and stick to it. Bear in mind that many shavers who use shaving brushes eventually get another brush after they have used one for a while and have decided they have a preference for a particular aspect or type of brush.
Criteria For The Best Shaving Brush
Unlike just a few years ago, there are now many fine choices when it comes to purchasing a shave brush. With so many options, variables, and sources, how can the “best” shaving brush be determined? Like the other “best” lists on Sharpologist, I think we can use some (albeit somewhat arbitrary) parameters. Heaviest weighting first to narrow the field:
- Performance: how well the brush builds lather given the individual circumstances.
- Construction: materials properly waterproofed and manufactured; hairs/fibers don’t shed.
- Reputation and popularity: my experience and the experiences of others reported on blogs, forums, and shopping sites.
- Over-all value.
- Availability and length of time on the market: there are many fine artisans but they tend to come-and-go from the market so this list gives a little more weight to established sources.
- Available in different sizes: some brush lines have different loft or handle sizes to accommodate larger or smaller hands.
As with all products, caveat emptor and “your mileage my vary.” This list is not sponsored: I did not get paid to mention any of these products (however see below and the Disclosures page for more information on affiliate relationships. Alternate sources can usually be found with a simple search engine query). I plan to update this post as products change, enter, and leave the market.
So What Is The Best Shave Brush?!
Amazon, West Coast Shaving, APShaveCo, and OneBlade links are affiliate.
Here’s the thing: there are a lot of excellent shave brushes out there! The wet shaving niche’ is currently experiencing an “embarrassment of riches” with a huge variety of quality products (it makes me wonder if supply is outstripping demand and whether it can be sustained).
Other “best shaving brush” lists I’ve seen look at well-known brushes and don’t take into account the specific circumstances a consumer may be considering. This article takes a different approach (and will be updated regularly as products arrive and leave the market):
Best Low Cost Shave Brushes
There are a lot of low-cost shave brushes. Unfortunately most don’t perform well, are poorly constructed, and don’t last long. There are some exceptions, though. Here are a few good brushes that go for about US $10:
- Omega ’48 boar hair brush: popular, inexpensive, and widely available, this boar hair brush has been the inexpensive entry to old-school shaving for many.
- Omega ’49 boar hair brush: a classic among European barbers.
- Razorock Blondie: this Italian-made boar hair brush is not as well known as others and can be a bit of a “lather hog” until it’s broken in, but after a few weeks it performs admirably, especially for it’s price point. Razorock uses the Zenith knots from Italy in their boar brushes. Zenith may not be as well known as other brush makers but their boar brushes are excellent.
- Stirling Boar: widely considered to be an excellent starter brush for the value-minded.
If you can raise that budget a bit more, consider:
- Omega 11047 “Mighty Mixed Midget”–small brush has a mix of badger and boar hair and it works very well.
- WCS Pure Badger Tortoiseshell Torch Shaving Brush
- Yaqi synthetic fiber brushes (like this red 26mm Synthetic)
- Semogue 620 or 1305–after an extended break-in period (there are reports of them needing up to a year of regular use) they can perform as well as much more expensive brushes.
- PAA Solar Flare synthetic
The “Best Bang For The Buck” Shave Brushes
Besides the inexpensive brushes listed above, some badger brushes are known for “punching above their weight” or just being a great value for the money spent:
- Stirling “Finest” badger brush: another great deal from Stirling.
- Edwin Jagger Best Badger: popular and a better performer than what it’s price says it should be.
- WSP Monarch “High Mountain White”–HMW badger hair is supposedly the rarest, most luxurious type. The price of the WSP brush is a fraction of other HMW brushes.
Most Popular Shave Brushes
There are several brushes that are well-known for the sheer number of units sold, particularly on Amazon. Unfortunately, from a quality and value perspective, uneducated consumers are often selecting brushes of dubious quality. Setting those aside though, there are a number of shave brushes that are both popular and a reasonable choice for the shaver who is just looking for a middle-of-the-road, reliable brush:
- The Edwin Jagger Super Badger brush (with a matching stand) has an excellent history and reputation.
- Parker “Long Loft” Pure Badger Brush
- Parker Silvertip Badger Bristle Faux Horn Handle Shaving Brush
- The Vulfix 1000A has been around for a while and is popular.
Best Cruelty-Free Shave Brushes
As mentioned earlier, boars and badgers are killed for their pelts (and meat). If that is concern to you, consider horse hair or synthetic fiber materials in a shave brush. Here are some good choices (though not the only ones by any means!):
- Vie-Long’s model 12705 horse hair may not be as well-known as their model 04132 brush but I think it performs better.
- Cremo’s horse hair shave brush has the advantage of being much more widely available–you may find one at your local “megamart” that carries Cremo products.
- Taconic’s synthetic shave brush was recently covered on Sharpologist here.
- The Muhle synthetic brushes are of their own manufacturing and are considered excellent construction quality.
- Synthetic Tuxedo fiber brush: a check at your favorite vendor such as West Coast Shaving, Italian Barber, APShaveCo, or Maggard will find a number of good Tuxedo knot brushes.
- Synthetic Silksmoke fiber brush.
- Synthetic Cashmere fiber brush.
The Best Shave Brushes For Travel
Really you can take any brush with you when you travel–you just need to keep it in a container that can get some air flow (I use a prescription bottle with a few holes drilled into it). But there are brushes that lend themselves to travel more readily.
I have taken the Omega 11047 “Mighty Mixed Midget” listed earlier while traveling and it was quite successful. More recently I have taken my small OneBlade Tuxedo synthetic brush (synthetic brushes by their nature dry more quickly and are less susceptible to picking up weird things from the environment).
Then there are brushes specifically made for travel, housed in their own container. The Parker Travel Brush is a popular option. The Vulfix “Turnback” brush has a really nice upgraded badger hair knot.
The Best Large Shave Brushes
I’ll exclude the huge “novelty” sizes and will concentrate on brushes that have a large knot but are still usable.
- Kent BK12 (31mm) available in white or black
- Simpson Chubby 3 Best Badger (30mm)
- Thater (large sizes available at Maggard)
Shave Brushes With A “Pedigree”
Some shave brushes have a noteworthy history behind them.
- The Omega ’49 as listed earlier is a boar brush that has been popular among European barbers for many years.
- The Semogue “Owners Club” is a classic boar hair brush with a wooden handle but there is also a (more expensive version) with a resin handle.
- The Simpson Chubby 3 Super became notable after it became the brush-of-choice among “method” shavers years ago and it still has some gravitas among the old timers.
- The Shavemac “D01” silvertip badger knot has a reputation of being both super dense and super soft: use Shavemac’s “configurator” tool to build a semi-custom brush.
How To Use A Shave Brush
Here is your best opportunity to enjoy your shave. It takes (a little) longer to make a lather but it is worth the trouble.
The Lathering Process
There are some variations on how to make a good lather with different products, and it can take a little practice to get right, but the payoff can be a dramatically better shave. There are two general schools of thought on making traditional shaving lather, differentiated mostly on how water is integrated into the mix. The classic (sometimes called “frugal”) method of lather-making starts with minimal water on the brush, adding water until you get the lather consistency you are looking for. Another school of thought starts out with more water on the shaving brush which the excess is drained in a particular manner. Neither method is right nor wrong. Try both methods to see what works best for you. You may need to set some time aside time to experiment as you learn the “art” of lather-making. Don’t worry–once you get the hang of it you can cut that time way down.
The type of brush you are using can make a difference. Here is an example of lathering with different brushes:
Making shaving lather the “classic” way starts with soaking both the brush and the cream or soap in water (if you’re using a synthetic material brush you can just swish it in the water, you don’t have to soak it. Though soaking should let it retain heat longer). Here is a video on YouTube that may help show the process:
An alternative to the “classic” way of making lather is a method I call “perfect” lather. 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.
Here is a YouTube video on tips for a more enjoyable lather:
If You Are Having Trouble
It’s safe to say everyone has experienced trouble making traditional shaving lather at one time or another. Here are four shortcuts to making a better, more stable lather, more quickly.
Priming the brush with a shave soap then adding shave cream (often called “Superlather”) can be an effective (though perhaps a bit messy) way to get a stable lather. Loading a large, fairly wet shaving brush with shave soap (or even a gentle glycerin-based facial soap) will “trap” water and hold it where it needs to be. Then adding a shaving cream will fully hydrate the lather and also create a really slick cushion to work with. Here is a YouTube video of the “Superlather” process:
A trick similar to “Superlather” is “Uberlather.” Uberlather is the process of adding a few drops of pure glycerin to the shaving brush before lathering with cream or soap. The extra glycerin will create a more stable, longer-lasting lather. Glycerin can be found at your local mega-mart, drug store, or large grocery store, usually in either the skin care or first aid isle.
Sometimes lather is not very good because your local water has too many minerals or contaminants (e.g. “hard” water). If you have hard water try mixing in some distilled water. Just heat some up (not to boiling!) and pour it into your sink (with the stopper closed, of course).
Another tactic to try for hard water is a small amount of Citric acid. It can often be found with the canning supplies at large groceries and mega-marts. Again, you may need to experiment a little with the amount to add but start out with just a tiny bit–just a pinch of citric acid to a whole sink full of water. Using too much citric acid will change the pH of the water and you may not get any lather at all!
After You Are Finished
Most shavers rinse their brush after every use, though there are some who advocate leaving it loaded.
After you’re finished with your shave, rinse the brush thoroughly in warm water, gently “pumping” the water through the brush until it rinses clear.
Then–gently!–squeeze the water out of the brush and wipe it on a dry towel, “fluffing” the hair to break up any hair that might be clumped together.
Do not shake or “flick” the brush vigorously! Doing so may weaken the glue knot holding the hair into the handle over time: one day you may have a hairy projectile flying through the air!
Store your brush in a ventilated area–NOT in a closed cupboard.
There are some variables involved but all but the cheapest shave brushes should last you for several years of regular use. Some of the high-end brushes may last a lifetime but most will show a noticeable decline in performance after five-to-ten years.
Have I answered all your questions? If not, leave a comment below!
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Over to you. What do you think? Do you have any of these brushes? Any other recommendations? Leave a comment!