Shaving Brush 101

The shaving brush, along with a quality glycerin-based shaving soap, are the most important parts of a wet shaver's kit. Yes, probably even more important than the double-edged safety razor, the shaving brush and shaving soap (or cream) are essential to a good shave. Here's a quick rundown on shaving brushes if you are new to wet shaving and thinking about making a purchase.

There are three types of shaving brushes:

This is a nice, and inexpensive, Van Der Hagen boar hair starter brush kit. I'd rather go with the Tweezerman below, but this comes with the bowl and soap and the reviews are positive.

Boar, badger, and synthetic. All have bristles that, with varying degrees of efficiency, hold a load of water, heat and lather. All have some type of handle, usually wood, plastic or chrome. Some wet shavers keep their handles and replace the bristle knot when the old one wears out. Quality brushes should last for years.

  • Boar: $5 to $15. This type is common in supermarkets, drugstores, and is usually very cheap. Typically lower quality, but not all boar hair brushes are poorly made. Some prefer boar. They do reasonably well.
  • Badger: $15 on up. See the different grades of badger bristle hair below. It depends where on the badger's body it comes from. There is no clear standard. The best way to tell its quality is to actually hold it and feel it.
  • Synthetic: $3 on up. The synthetics have just come out in the past few years. Some combine some boar and badger hair. These brushes retain water as well as a badger. They are great if you want to avoid animal hair, just make sure it's not an animal/synth mix.

Which type of brush should I use?
Badger hair is generally considered the best of the bunch. They hold water better, help mix up a rich lather faster, and have a better feel. Now this is purely subjective and you may find boar hair is quite good enough, or you may not want to use animal products and go with a high-quality synthetic.

That said, try them out. The best thing to do is to feel the bristles. How does the handle feel? Give them a test shave. New wet shavers usually go thru several brushes until they find one they like. Many DE razor shavers have brush collections!

The badger and boar bristle smell:
The badger and boar brushes may smell a bit funky at first, but don't worry, the smell will go away. No such concerns with synthetics.

Badger shaving brush grades:
Badger hair brushes fall into three types. Each type gets hair from a different part of the badger. Most are 100% pure badger hair, but differ in where exactly on the badger's body the bristles come from.

  • Pure: This is the least expensive type, does not retain water that well, but probably better than boar. The least expensive badgers are $15 to $20.
  • Super: This type has a slightly lighter color with a dark band around the side. This brush should retain more water and heat and is typically made a little higher in quality than the pure.
  • Finest (or Silvertip): The Finest, silvertip head is a creamier color than the Super. Now this one may not be as soft as a super, but does everything a little better. These high quality brushes tend to be well made.

This is one of the more expensive silvertip badger brushes. This one is by Parker. Very high quality. Top of the shaving brush heap.

What are the benefits of using a shaving brush?
The bristles hold heat, water and lather and really help to get your face prepared for a shave. If you are simply using your fingers to apply shaving cream, then you are really just matting down your whiskers. Hundreds of bristles, on the other hand, gently exfoliate your skin--the circular brushing motion applies shaving cream evenly and softens your whiskers far more effectively than ten fingers.

Shaving brush care and maintenance:
After shaving rinse the brush with warm water. Make sure all of the lather is rinsed away. Then shake it to remove as much remaining water as possible. Then hang it by the handle bristles down on a stand to dry. Let it dry in a dry environment, so if you shave in the shower, it's probably a good idea to let it dry out on a shelf in the bathroom away from the shower. Leaving it in the shower or near the sink where the air is moist might prevent it from drying out fully.

A note on the shaving brush knot:
The knot of a shaving brush refers to the bristles themselves without a handle. You can buy a badger knot, for example, without a handle if you want to create your own brush or restore an existing one that has a handle you like.

How good are the synthetic shaving brushes?
While most prefer the badger, the synthetics do offer an animal-free alternative. These brushes hold water well, but typically do not have the feel of a badger. The Taylor of Old Bond Street synthetic brush, the Omega, and the Men-u are a good place to start your search for a good synthetic brush. These aren't cheap, the upper end is around $50 and up. The Body Shop also carries a synthetic for around $11, which is pretty good value for the money, but generally considered inferior to the Taylor, Omega and Men-u brushes. Again, test them out and see what works for you.

A good first brush?

This is the famous Tweezerman. It's a great badger brush and I use it daily.
Click here to check pricing at amazon...

It's best to actually go and give a few different brushes the "feel test" before you buy, but here are a few brands that might be a good place to start. You may have to buy a few before you hit on the right one for you, but it's worth it in the end.

  • Tweezerman: This is at the low-end of the badgers, but it does a reliable job and is considered by many to be better than any of the boar bristle offerings. Nice bang for your buck and a good place to start. (I own this one and it does the job just fine. Better than a few non-badgers I've tested. --Dave.)
  • Taylor of Old Bond Street Synthetic: As mentioned above, the Taylor is in the $50 plus range, but offers a nice alternative to animal bristles.
  • Parker Synthetic Shaving Brush: Another quality brush that does not use animal hair. The reviews on this brush are generally positive. I still don't think the synthetics can match a nice badger brush, but they are close. This one is about half the cost of the Taylor synthetic.Click here for more info and prices.

Final thoughts:
As with all things in the wet shaver's kit, experiment to find the right brush for you. Start with a less expensive model and move up from there if you aren't quite satisfied. Just like finding the right safety razor, or blade, or soap, it takes a little time but I find it fun and enjoyable. I hope you do too.

Please send an email if you have any comments. I'd love to hear from you.