The following factors should be taken into consideration when buying a shaving brush:
Of these, price is the biggest factor in determining which shaving brush you’ll purchase, followed by materials, size and shape. The selection of materials may not be determined by price but rather philosophy; some materials such as badger hair are sometimes farmed in inhumane conditions and require the death of the animal to be harvested. Some people won’t abide this.
When considering a shaving brush, the following factors are taken into account.
The knot refers to how much hair is packed into the shaving brush handle. It is the measure of the diameter of the brush, in millimeters, where the hairs exit the handle. This can get tricky because the hairs may be packed in loose or tight, or a measurement may be given below the handle’s exit. Higher grades of badger hair are finer so there will be a higher threadcount compared to a lower grade hair of the same knot size.
The loft is the length of the hairs protruding from the handle. Basically, it’s the length of the business end of the shaving brush. Shorter brushes are firmer and more suited to face lathering while a longer loft is better at bowl lathering. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule though. With good technique any shaving brush should be suitable for any lathering situation.
The handle is everything that is not bristle! It’s the bit you hold on to and, in turn, it holds on to the brush. Most handles are plastic but wood and more exotic materials are available from some manufacturers.
Overall height is how tall the entire shaving brush is, handle and bristles included.
There are three main types of bristle: Badger, boar and synthetic. Horse hair shaving brushes can be found but they are exceedingly rare.
A badger prior to becoming a brush
Badger hair is the most common, desirable and expensive material for a shaving brush. The fibers hold a lot of water and the bristles are soft and gentle on the face. The ability to hold water and retain warmth is a major factor for people choosing badger hair shaving brushes.
Some people consider badger hair brushes to be superior to all other materials but this isn’t necessarily true.
There is a downside to badger hair shaving brushes, though. Almost all badger hair comes from China, where badgers are farmed as food. The conditions on many of these farms is considered cruel by some people. If this is a concern for you, perhaps a more humane material like synthetic or horse hair can be considered.
Some people consider badger hair shaving brushes to be superior to all other materials but this isn't necessarily true. Tweet this!
Badger hair comes in different grades, which different manufacturers call different names. But there are three basic grades to look out for:
Pure Badger is the cheaper badger hair option. This grade is generally coarser than the higher grades and will have the hairs cut to shape the knot. Once the animal has had the finer/softer hairs removed for the higher-grade shaving brushes, the remaining hairs are used for Pure Badger shaving brushes. Most shavers start with a Pure Badger shaving brush and upgrade to Best or Super brushes once Razor Acquisition Disorder sets in.
Best Badger aka fine, finest. Despite it’s name, Best Badger hair isn’t considered the “best” but it is a damn good hair. Typically the knots are hand shaped to avoid cutting the hairs at the tips. The hair is harvested from various parts of the animal, such as the belly. Best Badger shaving brushes are a good compromise between price and quality.
The silver tips of a Super Badger shaving brush
Super Badger aka superfine, silvertip. These shaving brushes use the highest quality hairs which are hand selected and hand bundled by skilled professionals. The hairs, taken from the back of the animal, are finer and take more strands to fill out the brush. This makes them softer and more luxurious. Silvertip hair is taken only from the neck of the badger which is why it has the silver/white tippings.
Boar hair is firmer and is considered “scrubbier” by it’s users. This firmness pushes the beard hairs into a more upright position which allows the shaving foam to penetrate the beard further down towards the skin.
Boar bristle shaving brushes need to be “broken in” over time to make them softer. As they age, the hairs will start to split which makes the brush bloom and become less scrubby. Unfortunately, a boar bristle shaving brush won’t be as durable as a badger hair shaving brush.
Boar hair retains water but to the same degree as badger hair.
To offset their scratchy feel, some manufacturers offset some of the hairs in the brush. This means fewer hairs will be pushing into your face while the recessed hairs will still be holding the lather. A 90% shaving brush will have 90% of the hair at the full length with 10% slightly shorter.
Synthetic shaving brushes range in quality from very poor to superb. Badger, boar and horse hair shaving brushes tend to have an animal smell when they are new but this isn’t a problem for synthetic shaving brushes!
Synthetic shaving brushes have a poor reputation among traditional shavers. The early synthetic products were very poor shaving brushes indeed. With advanced technology and newer materials, modern synthetic shaving brushes are the equal to, or superior to, the finest badger shaving brushes.
Synthetic shaving brushes dry quicker than animal hair resulting in hygiene benefits for you and your shaving brush.
Synthetic shaving brushes are also cruelty free, non-allergenic, more durable, and shed fewer hairs than animal shaving brushes.
Synthetic shaving rushes are also cruelty free, non-allergenic, more durable, and shed fewer hairs than animal shaving brushes. Tweet this!
There are a few downsides though. They don’t retain water or heat anywhere near as well as the animal fibers. They also tend to have less give than animal-hair shaving brushes, which most shavers find annoying.
Horse shaving brushes are nearly as rare as horsefeathers. They declined in popularity in the early part of the 20th century due to anthrax concerns but are slowly starting to find their way to market again some hundred years later.
The hair is harvested from the beast’s mane and tail. Shaving brushes can either be pure horse hair or blended with other hair such as badger. Horse hair shaving brushes tend to perform better than boar bristle but aren’t quite as soft or plush as the higher grade badger hair shaving brushes.
Horse hair shaving brushes are considered “cruelty free” by many people because the animal isn’t killed or harmed when the hair is harvested.
A large and small badger shaving brush compared
The size of the shaving brush determines how well it performs and can also be a factor in its price.
It should be noted that a large shaving brush is not necessarily superior to a small shaving brush. In fact, a medium shaving brush is usually most desirable as smaller and larger shaving brushes require special attention to techniques to offset their knot lengths and volumes.
Larger shaving brushes can hold and distribute more lather quicker than a small shaving brush. A small shaving brush will afford you more control than a large shaving brush; they feel nimbler and more agile.
Generally speaking, you don’t want a handle any longer than ¾ the length of your thumb.
It should be noted that a large shaving brush is not necessarily superior to a small shaving brush. Tweet this!
Higher grades of badger hair are finer. Given identical knot sizes, there will be a higher hair count for a Super Badger shaving brush than a Pure Badger shaving brush. This means the Super Badger shaving brush will absorb more water, retain more lather, and feel softer on the face.
A shaving brush with a lower hair count or a lower ability to absorb water may compensate by having a longer loft. A longer loft will result in a more foppish shaving brush that may not push beard hairs upright as easily as a shaving brush with shorter bristles.
Shaving brushes made from coarser hair, such as boar, may have longer lofts to soften the scratchiness of the fibers.
And finally, a knot may be loosely packed which means there aren’t as many hairs in the shaving brush as you would expect from a densely packed brush. This can be a gotcha for some consumers who think they are getting a quality shaving brush based on the hair grade and knot size but the manufacturer has skimped on the materials.
Lofts tend to average about two inches (50mm) in length and knots tend to hover around the one inch mark (22mm).
Handles are quite uniform in shape. They are usually plastic and faux-ivory in color.
The design of the shape allows a shaving brush to sit upright unassisted, or hang from a shaving stand upside down. The upside down position can aid in the drying of the shaving brush if it wasn’t thoroughly dried after use. Take careful consideration of any handle that diverges from the basic, ubiquitous shaving brush handle shape.
Some exotic, natural materials are available, usually at a premium, but they may not fare well in the wet and warm environments that they are exposed to and kept in.