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Thread: A Brush Primer

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    Forum mogwai thebigspendur's Avatar
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    Default A Brush Primer



    We are about to take a trip to Brush land and we will explore the issues that most affect us as end users of these indispensible items. This isnít intended to be a complete discourse on brushes rather the essentials. Hopefully you will all add to it and it will become more complete. So whether youíre a brush novice, a brush stockpiler or just have a fetish thereís something for everyone.

    Brushes have been used a very long time. I donít know how long however Napoleon had a huge Plissonís with a massive Sterling Silver handle. It was only during the early 20th Century that Professional Barbers stopped using a common mug of soap and brush for fears about disease. Most used the Lather king machine to dispense lather for shaving and haircut trimming and it was applied by the barberís hands.

    There have been a number of critters that have been utilized as media for shave brushes. Horse was very common and popular in the 19th Century and very early 20th however it was realized the cleaning procedure did not kill Anthrax Spores and Horse Brushes went by the wayside. Recently, some have been introduced again. Boar has also been used extensively right up to the present. Interestingly for just about every kind of brush out there except shaving brushes boar is considered top of the line. This includes hair brushes, paint brushes, and artistsí brushes as examples. Some have experimented with Camel and Iím sure others have been used however they never caught on. Badger has pretty much always been considered the premium hair for shave brushes for reasons we will discover later. They have also used blends of animal hairs as well as a variety of synthetic materials and blends of synthetic and natural. I remember my father had a nylon brush back in the 1950s and it was terrible not having a single redeeming quality save price. More recently they have much improved the synthetics and many favor them for a variety of reasons.

    So when you go into the store and want a Boar brush or a Horse or a Synthetic and they only seem to have a tiny selection of sizes and handles, why is that? Well you go to buy a new car and you want the De Luxe Model because itís cheaper but itís missing some options you want and you canít buy them in that model so you have to upgrade to the Luxury model and pay much more and get a bunch of options you donít want. The sad fact is these various brush types are looked upon as low cost alternatives to Badger so basically if you want one you get what they make and thatís it. You want fancier or a different size you have to go for a pricier option. Of course you have the option to find a custom maker who can make one for you to your specifications or even better make one yourself.

    Does that mean the non Badgers are inferior brushes? Those who use them and enjoy them donít think so and many will extoll their virtues. You need to judge their construction and performance along with what you consider important.

    So how do they feel? The nylon one my father had was terrible. It was like using a marshmallow. What you want in a perfect brush is some backbone but not too much, you want it to hold water and you want it to make a great lather quickly and you want it to feel great on the skin. Much of this is subjective of course and you may love a stiff prickly brush and another may love one soft and floppy. The fact is all modern and vintage brushes will do the job. Itís a matter of how much you want to spend and how hard you want to work at making that lather. The reason Badger is king is because it combines all these desirable qualities. Other hair types may display some of them or all but to a lesser degree.

    So now we come to Badger Brushes specifically.

    First you need to realize there is no universal system for grading the hair. Each maker can call the hair whatever name they want to invent for the grade. Hair is often dyed. So, when smaller Brush makers do up a brush they buy generic knots of hair from China which is where most hair comes from. The specialized well-known makers buy the hair in bulk where they can inspect and grade the hair. The old axiom of buy the seller then the product is a wise one in this case.

    So how do they grade the hair? Itís graded according to what part of the animal it comes from. The most common hair is termed pure badger and if not dyed appears usually dark brown or can be shades of brown. It is usually very prickly with lots of backbone. Next is whatís called Best Badger and itís a big step up from pure because the hairs are more selective. Sometimes they are blended but usually Best Badger though still having some backbone is also pretty soft and not prickly. Like with the other animal hairs the selection is limited because once again it is considered low end stuff (relatively speaking. Practically itís not low end at all) though the selection is better than the other brushes. Next is whatís usually termed Silvertip. Itís the premium and most limited stuff and very often is very soft and luxurious and can be very floppy. Some makers trim it to a short loft to give it more backbone. Last there is a sub grade of Silvertip which comes from (I am told) a different species and is only grown during certain times of the year. It is very resilient, is not floppy at all and has the combined qualities of softness and stiffness. This is the most prized hair and at various times is very difficult to get. Only a very few makers even use it when they can get it.

    Another consideration is the way the hair is shaped some being fan shaped and some bulb shaped. That is personal preference though.

    Once you get into Silvertip the variety of brush sizes and handle designs and materials is endless as is the price.

    Iím not going to discuss specific makers here because you really have to study the offerings and compare them to decide what grade is what as compared to another maker and they can be confusing.

    So what do you get for your money when you buy a brush? You get the name brand, the critter, the grade, the handle material, the handle construction, the size of the brush (its loft and diameter, amount of hair fill), whether its hand trimmed or machine trimmed and of course the amount of hand work going into the thing and probably the packaging too.

    So you need to decide how much you can afford for a brush and what qualities are important to you as well as the aesthetics of the total package as well as any feelings you have about how the critters are treated or what critter you prefer over another. Also as I said before you can make your own brush if youíre a mind to as long as you can source the hair knots.
    So thatís about it.

    Iím going to leave this post open and I invite discussion. Letís talk about our favorite brushes and their qualities and the alternatives available. Maybe others can fill-in some of the blanks Iíve left out on purpose here. Maybe someone knows more about brush history for instance or more about badger species or can map out from where each type of hair comes from on the animal. We can also talk about our favorite brands and grades.



    Every day without fail one should consider himself as dead-Tsunetomo

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    The Dude wolfmanXIII's Avatar
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    Good post BigSpendur. I've actually been recently thinking a lot about brushes now that I've calmed my other AD's by breaking the bank . I have one of the cheap boar brushes that come in the VDH soap/bowl/brush pack and it's not bad. It's alright at lathering, I've used it on VDH and SRD soaps, I don't feel that it's too prickly, it's actually pretty soft but that's what I started out on so YMMV. After I got my Simpson Beaufort B4 badger though I stopped using the boar so much. I like the Simpson badger brush, I use it practically every shave, it looks nicer, but it's smaller and less lofty than I would prefer. For some reason I noticed a few stray hairs kind of stick out a little instead of going straight up with the rest, which I don't understand since I dry it correctly and try to smooth the sides down but it still does it so I'm kind of wondering if this is normal since most pictures I see of brushes the brush looks flawless with every hair in place. I recently stopped at TBS to try out their maca root shave cream and they had a synthetic brush for $10 so I picked it up as well. It's not a bad little brush; I've only used it once so far, but it made one hell of an uberlather.

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    Forum mogwai thebigspendur's Avatar
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    With the exception of really short loft brushes like my chubby 3 and the B&B LE by Kent the others all have a hair here and there that goes in this direction or that.
    Every day without fail one should consider himself as dead-Tsunetomo

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    The Dude wolfmanXIII's Avatar
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    Alright, thanks for that. I was worried I was sticking it in the brush holder wrong or something.

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    Senior Member blabbermouth niftyshaving's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by thebigspendur View Post

    We are about to take a trip to Brush land and we will explore the issues that most affect us
    ............

    Good post. In a long post you covered a couple points
    that should be obvious. One is worth repeating:

    The old axiom of buy the seller then the product is a wise one in this case.

    I might add some...
    First shop and compare. I think the result will be that as long as
    exchange rates are stable a $100 brush from a quality vendor is about
    equal to a different $100 brush. But a brush is a very personal
    thing, it can be a simple work horse or a work of art.

    Next a new shaver should practice, practice, practice with a brush and soap.
    I recommend a very inexpensive brush and soap for practice. A CVS boar brush for $7 and a puck of Williams for $2 and a couple hours tinkering adding
    soap and water: too little, too much, too soon, too hot, too cold,
    tap water, bottled water, melted ice water (no scotch).... Then take
    the "good stuff" down from the shelf and adjust and apply the lessons
    learned.

    I was astounded that with an afternoon of practice I could build a much
    better lather with a boar brush than I had been able to to do the previous
    morning with a fine badger brush. Then I found that my result with
    the fine badger was oh so much improved. And today any brush on
    my shelf builds a fine lather. So much is just practice....
    hipsley likes this.

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    Senior Member milehiscott's Avatar
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    Default Warning: Greenhorn Question!!!!

    Why does one want a big brush vs. a small brush (assuming an average size person)?

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    Forum mogwai thebigspendur's Avatar
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    Strictly personal preference.

    Some people like the feel of the large size and all the luxurious extra soap it produces and some think that's a waste and like the precision and economy of a small brush and some just prefer one size over the other for the feel on the face. Also with a small brush especially silvertip often times the bristles are cut short so you don't have the floppiness which many dislike. Smaller brushes within the same quality range are cheaper too.
    Every day without fail one should consider himself as dead-Tsunetomo

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    ....So with murder in my heart slooooooowly I turned ,step by step, I crept upon him and when I saw him I struck and I grabbed him. TAG, you're it!
    Sorry, couldn't resist.

    I would like to comment on my experience with the good, the bad, and the ugly....well at least my take on the former 2.

    I have been using a badger brush from my Uncle Herm's gift to me years ago. I have wet shaved many many years, since 1970, but until a couple of years ago it has been mostly Barbasol, etc., canned foam. Works ok, and I have had no complaints about it. But, I thought I'd dig out the badger brush and old crock shaving mug that he had bought back in the late 1940's. I found Van Der Hagen soap at Wal-Mart and marveled at how silky smooth the lather went on. It was almost sensual, in the softness of the brush and lather against my skin.
    Yesterday I stopped in Walgreen's to get my prescription and bought a Van Der Hagen boar brush for $8.99. I included price as someone someday will note the date and price I'm sure. Used it last night. WHAT a PRICKLY SOB!!! My thought was boar what, porcupine?? There is a world of difference. The old vintage 1950 brush is soft and luxuriant, while the new brush feels like I need to break it in, maybe with a bench grinder and a wire brush! You put on the later with it and it pricks you literally. It does build a nice lather, but I could get that from one of my wife dish brushes just about, and the cleaning brush would at least expect to feel harsh.

    My take is a good quality Badger brush, and I only have my old vintage to judge against, is far and away the nicest piece of brush I want to put against my skin. Seriously, is there anything I can do to this new brush, other than some "Nair" to soften it?
    Brimy623 likes this.
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    The Assyrian Obie's Avatar
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    Default A Brush Primer

    Hello, thebigspendur:

    Your post is quite instructive and helpful. Thanks for the good job, my good man.

    Regards,

    Obie

  14. #10
    Senior Member oldschooltools's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gibbs View Post
    ....So with murder in my heart slooooooowly I turned ,step by step, I crept upon him and when I saw him I struck and I grabbed him. TAG, you're it!
    Sorry, couldn't resist.

    I would like to comment on my experience with the good, the bad, and the ugly....well at least my take on the former 2.

    I have been using a badger brush from my Uncle Herm's gift to me years ago. I have wet shaved many many years, since 1970, but until a couple of years ago it has been mostly Barbasol, etc., canned foam. Works ok, and I have had no complaints about it. But, I thought I'd dig out the badger brush and old crock shaving mug that he had bought back in the late 1940's. I found Van Der Hagen soap at Wal-Mart and marveled at how silky smooth the lather went on. It was almost sensual, in the softness of the brush and lather against my skin.
    Yesterday I stopped in Walgreen's to get my prescription and bought a Van Der Hagen boar brush for $8.99. I included price as someone someday will note the date and price I'm sure. Used it last night. WHAT a PRICKLY SOB!!! My thought was boar what, porcupine?? There is a world of difference. The old vintage 1950 brush is soft and luxuriant, while the new brush feels like I need to break it in, maybe with a bench grinder and a wire brush! You put on the later with it and it pricks you literally. It does build a nice lather, but I could get that from one of my wife dish brushes just about, and the cleaning brush would at least expect to feel harsh.

    My take is a good quality Badger brush, and I only have my old vintage to judge against, is far and away the nicest piece of brush I want to put against my skin. Seriously, is there anything I can do to this new brush, other than some "Nair" to soften it?
    Gibbs,

    In defense of the $7 VDH brush...they take time to "break in". An expensive badger brush will lather and feel wonderful from the get go. When the little VDH has had many shaves, the backbone will soften, the hairs will split and it will lather and shave beautifully! My problem is, when I get them right, I give them away! OTOH, I am not going to give my 24X58 silver tip badger to a nephew or cousin. The much maligned little drug store brush has ended up being the genesis for many of the young males in my family to give up aerosol cream and disposable razors and begin wet shaving; for this reason, and others, I love them!

    A request....shave with the brush for a few months, then get back to us.
    Last edited by oldschooltools; 03-27-2011 at 03:01 PM.

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