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Thread: The Synthetic Brush Shootout

  1. #21
    Senior Member GreenRipper's Avatar
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    As I began reading reviews of synthetic knots I found very few that did more than look at a single knot. Of the two exceptions, one compared a newer Plisson-style knot to an actual Plisson and the second was a review of a large number of synthetic brushes. It was in that review that I first read about the Sunrise knot, the eventual winner of that reviewer's panel. So how does the Sunrise knot perform in my reviewer's eyes?

    My initial impressions of the Sunrise were that the knot's attributes would lie somewhere between the Cashmere and the Game Changer. As I spent the better part of a week getting to know this knot (and taking a day to compare it to the Whipped Dog) I found my suspicions confirmed. The Sunrise's tips aren't nearly as soft as the plush fibers of the APShaveCo knots they are a degree softer then those of the Game Changer or Ubersoft 2. In terms of backbone moderation is once again the operative term as the Sunrise is more substantial than that of the Cashmere but less assertive than all of the other brushes I've already reviewed.

    The shave day experience of the Sunrise was pleasant but somehow this knot simply failed to distinguish itself to me. The tips were as soft as any knot outside the Cashmere or Tuxedo and certainly left me nothing about which to complain. The moderate backbone of the Sunrise means that it can't be considered "floppy" but it lacks the assertive feel of the Ubersoft 2. The Sunrise is applies lather pleasantly when used in a circular motion and is comparable to a lather pillow when painter's strokes are used to smooth that lather out.

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    Lather, the topic that lies at the heart of shave brushes. At this point I'm having trouble distinguishing one session's lather from another. Simply put, my skill with the synthetic knots is improving and my lather is becoming more and more consistent from brush to brush. I can make no complaints about the lather I generated with the Sunrise and more often than not I was able to generate enough lather for three passes with only two sets of laps on the MWF.

    Conclusion

    Due to life being a little overly busy I spent the better part of a week with the Sunrise knot and have only had more time with the Whipped Dog knot than this one. At this point, I can sympathize with the complaints of those wet shavers who complain about the seeming perfection and soullessness of synthetic brushes for this is a reasonable comparison to my feelings about this knot. I could have bought a Sunrise and used it for years without complaint or incident but, in light of having other brushes for comparison, I find the knot to lack that certain something. It lathers well and feels good against the face but simply isn't the brush for me...but that isn't to say that it isn't the brush for you or one of your friends.

    Next Up: The Whipped Dog Synthetic Knot
    Last edited by GreenRipper; 02-28-2017 at 02:33 AM.

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  3. #22
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    Default Whipped Dog Synthetic

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    At long last we're nearing the end of my reviews but to introduce our last brush I'm going back to the beginning.

    One of the inspirations for this series was the lack of consistency I found in all the other reviews I had taken the time to read or watch. At the time I wasn't sure how one could accurately compare a 22mm knot to a 30mm knot, something I'm still suspicious of. In addition I've found that the shape of the handle has a huge influence on how I feel about a brush. I don't have particularly large hands but short, stout handles simply don't feel right in my paws and the fact that I prefer a mug to a bowl gives me a bias towards tall handles that help me keep my fingers out of the lather. In response to these issues I quickly decided to go with a standard size for my panel and mount them in identical handles.

    It is during this process that I finally wandered over to Whipped Dog (whippeddog.com). For those unfamiliar with the site, Larry Andreassen has devoted his business to helping out the shaver on a budget. His approach occasionally causes some discussion here at SRP but I have to admit that I think that Larry's intentions are pure and he does offer some decent deals. In this case Whipped Dog became my source for my tall handles I've been using for these reviews and provided me yet one more knot for my panel.

    My Whipped Dog synthetic brush (permanently mounted by Larry) arrived along with two extra handles and allowed me to put my old AoS "genuine badger" brush back into semi-retirement. While I waited for the other knots to arrive I went back to school and took the time to reassess how I build a lather, this time using a synthetic knot. For a number of weeks the Whipped Dog knot did its job, morning after morning, with no complaints or complications. The fact of the matter is that this brush was my first experience with a synthetic and that experience lasted far more than the few short days that the rest of these knots received to make their case. So, does familiarity breed fondness or contempt?

    As I previously stated, the Whipped Dog was the brush I used when I decided to refine my lather building technique. Because of this fact the lather I built with this brush has tended to be the standard I've used to judge each of these brushes and, unsurprisingly, the Whipped Dog has behaved pretty much as expected. After weeks of using different brushes I had a bit more trouble dialing in my lather but my results were what I've come to expect but with perhaps a bit less quantity than I seem to remember. The fact of the matter is that my technique has been evolving over the last several weeks and my standard isn't as consistent as I might like to think.

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    What was surprising was how the Whipped Dog felt against my face after leaving it to languish on my sink for weeks.

    If there is one attribute that seems to distinguish synthetic knots from all others it is the softness of their tips. Yet when I returned to the Whipped Dog synthetic knot I realized that its tips aren't as soft as the rest of its kin. No, in fact I might even go so far as to say that the Whipped Dog actually exhibits a little "scritch". The operative word there is "might" because while there is a bit of a prickle to the Whipped Dog's tips I don't want to oversell the point. This isn't a knot that is going to a lot to exfoliate or provide that scratchy feeling that many are looking for but it will provide a bit of prickle for those who prefer stiff tips to those that I've described as plush. Possibly odder still is the fact that the Whipped Dog knot accomplishes this feat without a lot of backbone, being far closer in feel to the Sunrise than the Game Changer.

    I should note that I was so surprised by the newly discovered scritch of the Whipped Dog that I originally figured that I had to be imagining things. I went went back to the Sunrise knot and confirmed that it wasn't some odd hypersensitivity issue and then followed that up by giving the Whipped Dog a shampoo to assure myself that the knot hadn't become contaminated in some way over the intervening weeks. In both cases the scritch remained and it wasn't due to having an off day. I haven't ruled out the fact that the knot became contaminated and permanently affected by a cleaning chemical of some sort but that is unlikely as I completely remove my shave kit prior to cleaning.

    Conclusion

    I originally theorized that the Whipped Dog and the Sunrise knots might share a common origin, based upon their similar appearances and amount of backbone. As it turns out the Whipped Dog is nearly unique when compared to the rest of the knots in the panel. For weeks I blithely used the Whipped Dog knot, never really noting its attributes beyond the fact that it did a satisfactory job in helping me to build a lather and apply it to my face. Yet after a hiatus I returned to find what I now feel to be a substantially different brush. In my opinion my Whipped Dog brush is far more interesting than the one I left sitting on the sink weeks ago but that doesn't make it one of my favorites due to the sensitive nature of my skin. Of the whole panel the knot I started with is my least favorite but the singular attribute that lowers its stature with me is just the one that will bring interest in others.

    Next Up: Final Thoughts
    Last edited by GreenRipper; 03-02-2017 at 05:18 PM.

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  5. #23
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    Default Making a Case for Synthetics

    As with so many things on the internet, if you go looking for reviews about synthetic knots you are sure to find an argument. The fact of the matter is that there are wet shavers who love synthetics and some who hate them and far too many simply want to shout down those who disagree with them.

    Let's face it, there has to be a legitimate reason why so many men want high-end badger brushes and I doubt that it is merely because a shavemac, Thater or vintage Simpson is a mere status symbol. I have no doubt that all of these brushes provide a level of comfort that their proponents have come to expect and cheaper brushes are unlikely to provide. That said, I'm forced to bring up the price of these paragons of what all brushes seemingly aspire to be. They ain't cheap, my friends. I happily support those who can afford this level of BAD and maybe one day someone will give me some one-on-one time with their shavemac and make me a convert.

    Okay, that's out of the way and I hope everyone can respect the fact that I'm not trying to spark a brush holy war as I extol the virtues of synthetic knots because the fact of the matter is that synthetics have some traits of their own to pontificate about.

    Price: Every knot in this series retails for less than $20, making each and every one a legitimate choice for the wet shaver on a budget.

    Shedding (or Lack Thereof): Natural brushes have a tendency to shed a number of their hairs when used for the first several times, synthetics shed very few, if any, of their fibers.

    Funk: Badger knots can be infamous for the funk that they may have when new. Synthetics have little to no odor and after their first use quickly take on the scent of your favorite soap or cream.

    Consistency: Synthetic knots are, by definition, unnatural. What this means to us is that while natural knots will vary based upon individual animals and the environment they lived in the synthetics should be consistent from knot to knot.

    If the sythetic knots have a glaring deficiency it would be the fact that simply don't hold onto water, and thus lather, as well as the natural brushes. This isn't a major issue for most wet shavers but it does mean that building a lather with synthetic knots is a different experience, and requires slightly different technique. Over the months that I've been using my synthetic brushes I've learned to compensate for this trait and the only issue I have is that I simply don't generate the volume of lather that I did with my cheap, natural brushes. There is also an upside to this trait, synthetics tend to be a favorite option as a travel brush. Fibers that shed water and dry quickly are a natural choice for anyone who doesn't want to resort to a can of gunk while traveling.

    The complaints of "soullessness" in regard to the synthetics? I don't doubt that there are many wet shavers who truly feel this way, after all I have that exact feeling about one or two brushes in this panel. Some of these knots will remain in my collection and be pulled out on a regular basis because I truly love the experience they provide, others will lapse into disuse. I suspect that most of these detractions relate to individual knots as opposed to synthetics in general but I have no need to convert others, my efforts are primarily intended to help those who haven't found a knot they love.

    The bottom line is that if I'm suggesting a brush to a new wet shaver I'm probably going to point them in the direction of a synthetic. The price point is nearly ideal at the entry level and, as I've witnessed, there are a wide-range of options to experiment with. That these brushes whip up a good lather with relative ease is a plus for those new to the hobby and the fact that these knots don't hold onto water should be less of a problem for those who have never used a badger brush. Last but not least is the issue of scritch, a trait most of the synthetics lack. While many shavers like some scritch in their brush this is also the trait that can quickly turn off those who don't share this desire. Far too many of the budget level, natural brushes include a fair amount of scritch but the synthetics trend toward softer fibers, a trait that I feel is less likely to offend those new to wet shaving.

    Synthetics are not the knots for every wet shaver, like so many other things in our hobby YMMV. Yet with their faults they exhibit a remarkable number of virtues that should be experienced by those who haven't yet found their perfect brush.

    Up Next: By the Numbers

    P.S. I had originally intended to sum this up with one long post but it's been a busy week and I've suffered from a bit of writer's block.
    Last edited by GreenRipper; 03-10-2017 at 02:48 PM.

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  7. #24
    Senior Member GreenRipper's Avatar
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    Default By the Numbers

    The lack of any type of standard measurement may be one of the greatest hindrances to finding the "perfect" knot. Imagine being able to easily compare different knots, the amount of backbone, stiffness of tips and amount of "scritch". A world where the only options aren't reviews by idiots who don't knot half as much as they think they do (yep, that's me folks) or spending your money and taking your chances. Of course this state of affairs does help to spread and prolong the dysfunction known as BAD within our community.

    To be fair, shavemac has begun giving us some idea of how their knots compare to each other but this is hardly useful to those of us who are looking outside the shavemac brand for knots. This is definitely a step in the right direction but far less than many of us are hoping for.

    Before anyone gets to thinking that I'm volunteering to start some ambitious database of brushes you can forget it, my bankroll isn't up to that type of project. Of course, if anyone is wanting to donate a bunch of knots then I might be amenable...

    As a result of this review I now own a grand total of six respectable, synthetic knots. This minuscule collection can't be considered as being comprehensive by any stretch of the imagination but its what I have and where we'll start. I give you my ridiculously small sampling of synthetic knots and how they rank by trait:

    Tip Softness

    1 - Cashmere
    2 - Tuxedo
    3 - Sunrise
    4 - Ubersoft 2
    5 - Game Changer
    6 - Whipped Dog

    Backbone (greatest to least)

    1 - Ubersoft 2
    2 - Tuxedo
    3 - Game Changer
    4 - Whipped Dog
    5 - Sunrise
    6 - Cashmere

    Scritch

    Whipped Dog

    I mentioned before that I hesitate to use the term "scritch" here but the Whipped Dog knot does exhibit evidence of the trait so it is the lone entry.

    I had played with the idea of trying to quantify some of these traits a bit, perhaps by utilizing a kitchen scale to better judge how much pressure it required to cause the knots to splay. Unfortunately my few trails resulted in less than stellar results and I abandoned the effort for the time being.

    Next Up: Final Thoughts
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  9. #25
    Senior Member GreenRipper's Avatar
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    At long last I'm finally coming to the end of my review. Along the way I've learned quite a bit about brushes, lather and my own preferences. When I started all of this I had hoped to find a brush to add to my daily shave routine, what I've found is a little more complicated.

    Before I get to that though I'm going to pass along a little warning. If you've skipped to the end just to see my results then please do yourself a favor and go back and read the individual reviews. I say this not because you've missed a great literary work but because choosing a knot based on what I prefer is probably not the best strategy for finding the best synthetic knot for you. I have attempted to keep each of my reviews relatively positive and highlight the best traits of each of these knots. Keep that in mind while you read the reviews and hopefully my work will lead you to a great synthetic brush of your own.

    There is no doubt that this little exercise has changed the way I look at my brushes and my lather. I find now that I generally take a little more time every morning to build my lather, putting in the work to build the best lather I can. This doesn't mean that every morning is met with wonderful foam but it does mean that, on average, I enjoy better lather now then I did before all of this started. I'll also admit that while I like Mitchell's Wool Fat I've been very happy to use some other soaps and even add a few new pucks to my small collection.

    Of course all of this was supposed to be about the brushes.

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    When I started this I was hoping to find my "perfect" knot but I quickly discovered that I what I really crave is variety. Luckily for me the world of synthetic brushes seems to have a large number of options. In my own small collection I have six brushes with rather different personalities. From the ultra plush tips of the Cashmere to the assertive backbone of the Ubersoft 2 I found several knots to put both lather and a smile on my face.

    Ranking the Knots

    #6 - Whipped Dog
    When I first used this knot its soft tips made me happy but that was after having used budget badger brushes and before experiencing the even softer tips of the other synthetic knots. As I mentioned before, I tend toward sensitive skin and I'm now aware that scritch simply isn't my thing. As such the Whipped Dog is destined to languished, unused, in a drawer until it eventually finds a loving home with someone who can appreciate its qualities more than I.

    #5 - Game Changer
    This is the knot that I had high hopes for but which was simply out performed by its peers. I still have no complaints about this knot but it simply didn't grab my attention like those that ranked higher. The fact of the matter is that the little workhorse feels like a compromise to me, failing to distinguish itself with either ultra soft tips, scritch or assertive backbone. I could have started wet shaving with the Game Changer ten years ago and still be extremely happy using it today. Unfortunately for this unlucky knot I've found other options that I simply like better.

    #4 - Sunrise
    The Sunrise is a knot that has benefited from my own mistakes. Originally I had this knot at #5 but since my temporary mounting has been somewhat more permanent than originally intended this brush has gotten a bit more use in recent days. For me the Sunrise suffers from what I'm calling "soulless synthetic syndrome." This knot, like the Game Changer, simply doesn't distinguish itself and is over shadowed by the other knots in my panel. Yet over the last several weeks two of my top three have been unavailable and the Sunrise has stepped in to do duty in my mug and make a case for itself to be posted at #4. I suspect that this knot will find a permanent home at my mother's house, awaiting my visits to be pulled out of the bathroom cabinet and put to use.

    #3 - Ubersoft 2
    The Ubersoft 2 has earned itself a place in my regular rotation with its assertive backbone and relatively soft tips. Backbone is where this knot shines and it provides a wonderful massage as I apply lather. Recently I acquired a puck of Fine's Snake Bite and I find my hand reaching for the Ubersoft 2 every time I break out this soap. I'll admit, there is something about the icy cool of the Snake Bite that simply demands that it be applied with a firm hand wielding an equally firm brush. If variety is what I'm actually seeking then the Ubersoft 2 seems to have earned the position representing synthetic knots with substantial backbone.

    #2 - Cashmere
    If you are looking for ultra plush tips then you may love the Cashmere as much, or even more, than I do. I can't say that the Cashmere, with its lack of backbone, is going to be my go-to brush on a daily basis but I can certainly see it becoming my favorite on Saturdays when I decide to luxuriate in the shaving experience. I didn't think that I would care for a knot that many might critique as being "floppy" but the lather it produced and the way it feels on my face make the Cashmere a winner for me.

    #1 - Tuxedo
    When I first got this knot I was immediately attracted to its stunning looks. While I found myself hoping that the Tuxedo would perform well I suspected that the Game Changer would me more to my liking. What I learned is that first impressions are important but you can't really get to know a knot until the soap and water arrive at the party. With a touch less plushness to its tips than the Cashmere and a bit more backbone than the Game Changer the Tuxedo comes close to being my perfect synthetic knot. The Cashmere and Ubersoft 2 will find soaps and situations where their particular talents are called for but, for now, the Tuxedo will be the mainstay of my daily shave routine.

    In the end I could recommend any of these knots to a wet shaver looking to try a synthetic knot. While the Sunrise, Game Changer and Whipped Dog knots are unlikely to spend any substantial time as part of my shave routine I am positive that these knots could fulfill a need in the rotation of others. Just because none of these knots are perfect for me it doesn't mean that they can't bring a new level of enjoyment to your daily shave.

    As for those knots that I have chosen to make part of my rotation, the Cashmere and Tuxedo have temporarily left my possession to find a permanent home in a pair of custom handles from Brush Craft (also known as SRP's Trimmy72). Those handles are being turned this weekend and I look forward to having two beautiful new brushes to add to my shave routine. In fact, Trimmy sent along a sneak peek which I'd like to share:

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    I've been promised more pictures, which I hope to share later today.

    Last but not least I'd like to thank all of you here at SRP who've been reading my reviews and posting your encouraging responses. This all started as a personal search for a new brush and grew into a shared experience. I've enjoyed this project immensely and there is a part of me that would love to continue this work with even more knots (the dissenting vote coming from my bank account). I finish with a continued dissatisfaction that I am unable to do more to quantify these brushes' attributes but some tasks are more difficult that others. I leave this work with the sincere hope that my efforts help at least one SRP member to find a brush they can love.

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    Thank you for taking the time to put this all together. Having used all of these knots except the Cashmere, it was enjoyable to read your impressions. Interestingly, your final picks end up the same as mine, (minus the Cashmere) with the Tuxedo and Ubersoft two being the most appreciated.

    Great thread. As commented by a poster above, this would be an excellent review for someone unfamiliar with these knot, but is still a quite enjoyable read for those who are.
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    Trimmy72 has passed along a few pictures of the handles he has turned for me with the knots set at a number of different lofts. I thought I'd share one as part of the wrap up to show the treatment two of my winning knots are getting. I'm also sending along the Brush Craft pics because, as I've proven here, my photography skills could use quite a bit of improvement.

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  13. #28
    Member Marverel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PickledNorthern View Post
    Interestingly, your final picks end up the same as mine
    Yeah, what he said.

    Tuxedo and Cashmere are #1 and #2 in my Den. I haven't used an Ubersoft or a Sunrise knot, but I own a Game Changer as well as a Whipped Dog. The latter used to be my go-to-brush for quite a while, but as you stated: that was before this new generation of excellent synthetic brushes emerged. Now it's pretty much retired.

    Here's a picture of my two favorites:

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  14. #29
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    Quite the journey you took here.

    I'm sure others will profit from your efforts.
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    Every day without fail one should consider himself as dead-Tsunetomo

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    Senior Member GreenRipper's Avatar
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    After a rather long and busy week I'm finally getting a chance to reply to my own thread. Funny how some weeks it seems like you have all the time in the world to play on SRP and others you get a chance to browse but not post.

    Quote Originally Posted by thebigspendur View Post
    Quite the journey you took here.

    I'm sure others will profit from your efforts.
    I sure hope so or I'll feel like all that work was mostly to keep myself busy.

    I find it interesting that there is some commonality between PickledNorthern, Marverel and myself, at least insofar as the synthetic knots we have chosen. I loved the soft tips of the Cashmere and Tuxedo and appreciated the backbone of the Tuxedo and the Ubersoft. That resulted in a slightly mixed collection but it makes a little more sense when I see others pick two out of my three but they pair by attribute. Interesting...

    Any other guys out there who make regular use of a synthetic who wants to chime in? I know more than a few SRP members utilize a synthetic knot that didn't make it into my top picks, or even to my panel at all. I would love to hear which knots you're using and why!

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