The best shaving brush is an essential part of wet shaving. We’ve explained why shaving soap is superior to modern foams and a brush is required to apply this to the face in a thick lather.
While you can apply shaving soap to your face with your hands this tends to just be thin and wet. With a shaving brush the aim is to stir up a thick lather of soap and air with hot water.
Using the best brush for shaving is a very different experience when wet shaving compared to using shaving cream out of a can.
Swirling a hot shave brush across the skin opens up your pores, cleaning the face and removing dead skin before you even start shaving. This brush movement also lifts and softens the bristles of the face ready for the best shave.
Part of what separates the best shaving brush from the average brush is its ability to hold hot water when shaving so the brush stays hot as it works its way across your face.
There’s also what’s frequently called the ‘backbone’ of the brush, which refers to the stiffness of the brush hairs.
A good brush should still be soft on the face but also tight and stiff enough to hold its form when full of hot water.
- Best Shaving Brush Types
- The Handle
- Simpsons Chubby 2 Super Badger Brush
- Edwin Jagger Best Badger Hair Shaving Brush with Drip Stand
- Fendrihan Synthetic Shaving Brush with Resin Handle
- Vikings Blade Shaving Brush
- Parker Shaving Brushes
- Other Shaving Brush Hairs
Best Shaving Brush Types
Shaving brushes come in a range of bristle choices: synthetic, badger, boar and horse. These have their own advantages and disadvantages for wet shaving.
Unfortunately making a shave brush with badger bristles and boar bristles does require the killing of the animal and so this may be of concern to you. If so then synthetic brushes might be a better option for you.
There are 8 types of badger found in the world and few more subspecies that are brought up. The species most commonly harvested for its bristles is the Eurasian Badger. While this badger was once harvested in Europe, it is currently a protected species. This species is also common throughout Asia, and is considered to be a nuisance animal in rural China.
Village cooperatives are licensed by the national government to hunt badgers and sell the hair to processors. As such, the harvest of badger bristle and making of shaving knots (and other items) has developed into an industry of its own in China. Because of the harvest restrictions in place elsewhere and the over abundance of badgers in China, China has become the world’s largest exporter of badger hair products.
Badger hair is sought after because of its unusual properties. Badger bristles are actually wider at the tips than they are at the base. Most of the water retained in a badger brush is the water in between the bristles. The density of the knot and capillary action between the hairs causes the water to be retained. This results in a brush that has excellent water retention properties. Badger brushes are also known for being particularly soft against the skin.
The badger bristles alone can be separated into different grades.
The first thing you should know is that there is no uniform standard for grading badger knots (or any other shaving brush knots for that matter).
There are a few commonly used “grades” of badger knots and quite a few “special / select / premium” grades as well. However, when users of badger shaving brushes discuss knots, the following criteria are always brought up regardless of the “grade” of knot.
- Natural tips or clipped: Better quality knots retain the natural tip of the bristle. This results in a softer tip. Cheaper brushes are formed into a knot and have the the crown of the bulb trimmed into a visually pleasing shape. This leaves a harsher edge than a natural tip.
- Density of the knot: More often than not a badger knot that has more densely packed badger bristles will perform better due to better water retention. This isn’t alway the case as some brushes are notorious for being lather hogs, but more often than not is true.
- Hand made or machine made: Machine made knots are usually cheaper but are often found to have excessive shedding of bristles, poor knot density, and clipped ends. Handmade knots can have the same issues, but it would be rare to encounter all three issues, let alone one.
- Knot size: The larger the knot the firmer the knot feels against the face. Because a larger knot requires more badger hair, they are usually more expensive.
- Color: You will hear people refer to many grades of badger by a color or color combination. Silvertip, two band, three band, black badger….
- Where the hair is harvested from: Silvertip comes from the muzzle and neck of the badger, while black badger hair is harvested from the belly of the badger. Different grades of hair come from different parts of the badgers body.
Pure Badger Hair
Pure badger brushes use the most common hair from the underbelly of a badger. This hair varies greatly in softness, pliability and color. It’s darker in color and varies between light tan to a near-black or silver.
The pure badger hair is coarser than ‘best’ or ‘silvertip’ hair due to its larger shaft. This makes cheap brushes that are often trimmed to shape making a stiff and scratchy finish that’s hardly what you want when shaving.
Best Badger Hair
Best badger brushes use the finer and more pliable hairs from 20 – 25% of the badger’s body. It is longer and lighter in color than ‘pure’ badger hair. While these brushes tend to be denser and produce a better lather there’s not much comparison to the pure badger.
Super badger is often an imitation of silvertip badger where the hairs are artifically coloured lighter at the tips. However, they do tend to be arranged carefully to create the correct brush shape naturally.
One way to determine if a brush bears a ‘super’ or ‘silvertip’ badger hair load is to look at the color of the bristle tips.
A true ‘silvertip’ brush has tips that are an off-white as a natural product. A ‘super’ brush on the other hand has bristle tips that are a more grey-white that don’t extend far down the hair.
Silvertip Badger Hair
Silvertip badger hair is the most expensive and rare type of badger hair. The tips on this badger hair appear white naturally, without bleaching.
This is due to the rarity of the bristle as it is only found on the badgers neck and muzzle area. “Silvertip” bristles are are generally longer and finer. This results in a denser knot that can hold more water, while being extremely soft. These are generally considered to be the best shaving brush material available.
The badger hair is naturally shaped in a way to hold water fantastically well and produce an amazing lather easily. You will often find grades above silvertip like ‘super silvertip’, but these will be minor improvements or brandings on the ultimate badger brush.
While it is true that many of the cheap and low quality shave brushes you find are synthetic, recent years have seen a real push towards developing high quality synthetic brushes that compete with the best pure silvertip badger.
While at Artisan Shaving we strive towards a zero-waste approach of reducing plastic, one of these best synthetic brushes is sure to last a very long time.
Nevertheless it remains that the best shaving brush is generally a silvertip badger shaving brush that can cost hundreds of dollars. A Simpson shaving brush is the top choice here.
After so much detail on best shave brush badger bristles and boar hair, the handle is the main consideration remaining. The handle comes down largely to personal choice. Some wet shaving fans prefer a heavy handle that fits nicely in the hand. Others prefer a lightweight handle as they whirl a good lather of shaving soap across their face when shaving.
Simpsons have been made the world’s best shaving brushes since 1919 and have used the very same handmade methods ever since. You can get many great figures of the 20th Century started their days with one of these.
The chubby series is their most iconic and comes in three sizes, this being the largest. The hairs are incredibly dense which means it has superior water retention as you lather.
The base of the brush hairs within the brush are very stiff but taper out to be much softer where they touch your face, meaning you have a workable tool that responds exactly how you want it to.
With such brush size and density it can take a while to break in this badger hair brush and soften it up but don’t forget this is a badger brush to last you a very long time. Meanwhile the handle is made from a faux ivory so you can have a heritage feel with a sustainable and ethical reality. The only thing to watch is the price tag, but that’s what you get with the best world-class shaving products.
While lathering up with a badger shaving brush this size is certainly the best shaving experience, you may need to upgrade your shaving mug if it’s a little small.
On the other hand the chubby 1 is made with the same Simpsons shaving brush expertise but to a smaller scale.
- World-renowned brand
- Super badger
- Huge size
- High price tag for a premium product
While much lower in price, Edwin Jagger offers another best badger shaving brush that’s sure to satisfy.
This comes with a plastic handle that is much lighter than Simpsons. Edwin Jagger have been going since 1988 but have quickly established themselves as a classic shaving brand. Match this shave brush and brush stand with one of their Edwin Jagger safety razors.
This will never match the Simpsons chubby brush, but on the other hand of price this shaving brush offers excellent value for money.
Much as we love heritage shaving brands, Fendrihan has rocketed to success since 2007 combining traditional quality and modern convenience.
The best synthetic shaving brushes they offer are no exception with this ethical synthetic option offering an experience that competes with fine badger. Some experienced shavers have gone so far as to say it beats their badger shaving brushes.
The Fendrihan shaving brush is also very cheap under $20. Then let’s not forget that beautiful resin brush handle.
Plus you don’t have to put up with the occasional shedding of badger hair that naturally occurs with hair brushes.
Despite the lower price the brush feels great with a good weight and a knot that can hold plenty of hot water and lathers well. Despite the hefty Viking branding and metal-rimmed handle this is a brush that’s still gentle on the face.
Vikings Blade also do a ‘White Knight’ synthetic brush that aims to be a premium synthetic brush. This clearly matches many more expensive badger brushes proving even Vikings can be vegan!
Parker offer a wide range of high quality brushes in a range of materials from boar to badger to synthetic. That means you will always be able to find your preference from rigid stiff boar to luxuriously soft pure badger.
Other Shaving Brush Hairs
Boar Shaving Brushes
The next type of shaving brush knot is made out of Boar. Boar bristle is is obtained from shaving the hairs from a boar… who would’ve guessed?
Boar hair is characterized as being stronger, thicker, and less flexible than badger hair. A little water is retained by capillary action, but most of the water retention is by the bristle soaking up the water. These brushes excel in lathering harder soaps and face lathering.
Choosing a boar bristle brush is much simpler than choosing a badger hair brush. Not only is there no agreed upon standard, the are no standards AT ALL. When you look up boar bristle brushes you will see the following things “discussed”
- Coloring: Many boar brushes have a dark ring dyed into the outer layer of bristles to simulate the look of a badger brush
- Cut tip or natural: Over time natural boar bristle will split into 2 or 3 individual ‘hair tips’ connected to the same thick shaft. This gives you the benefit of a finer, thinner and softer hair with the support of a thicker, firmer bristle. If the bristles have been cut to shape there is a much less likely chance of this happening.
- Hair length: The shorter hairs shaved from the boar are not as large and therefore not quite as stiff and may be a bit softer .
- Hair thickness: The thicker the hair, the stiffer the brush
- Bleached: Many brushes are sold bleached to be more uniformly colored or before being dyed.
- Loft: Taller loft will have a greater brush splay.
- Knot size: The larger the knot, the stiffer the brush backbone will be.
Boar bristles have more “backbone” than badger brushes. As such they are great for face lathering. Boar brushes dry out quicker than badger brushes, and are often used while travelling (because how often do you have the time required to let a brush dry out properly when hopping from motel to motel).
Natural boar bristle will split into 2 or 3 individual tips connected to the same shaft. These split ends give you the benefit of a finer, thinner and softer hair with the support of a thicker, firmer bristle. This in effect “breaks-in” the brush and results in a much more enjoyable shave (in my opinion). If the bristles have been cut to shape there is little chance of this happening.
Horse Shaving Brushes
Horsehair shaving brushes were extremely common in the 1800s and early 1900s. Due to an anthrax scare in the early 1900s horsehair was discontinued and the market was dominated by badger and boar hair.
One of the selling points that people will hear about is the humane harvesting of horsehair. People assume that the hair is cut from the horse and the horse is left to grow more hair for next time. If you do a little research you will see that most horse hair seems to be gathered at large scale butcher shops or rendering plants. This actually makes a lot more sense if you think about it. It is a natural byproduct of the harvesting process and caring for a horse is expensive.
Features of horsehair shaving brushes:
- Horsehair is often described as being between badger and boar. It retains a good backbone but is still very soft.
- Horsehair is harvested from the tail and mane of the horse. I haven’t found much info on the differences as far as feel or lathering ability between the two.
- Horse does not absorb water like boar, but rather holds water in a “sheath” around the outside of the brush.
- Traditional horsehair brushes have a hollow center. The bristles are arranged on the outer rim of the brush.
- They release lather by a slapping or painting motion.
- The brush will smell when new. De-funk it as you would any other brush.
I’m on a mission to help millions of people around the world ditch expensive and wasteful plastic cartridge razors and switch to traditional safety razors that are far better for the planet.
I discovered the joy of traditional shaving when I was just 14, less than a year after I even started shaving at all. I loved the time-honoured ceremony, precision and quality of soap, brush, razor and aftershave.
My double-edge safety razor from Merkur is still the same one I use every day, although I’ve enjoyed experimenting with a range of models over the years.
Paradoxically I have also been through a long list of interesting facial hair styles, but have never stuck with a full beard. Instead I am normally sporting very intricate mixes of sideburns, moustache and goatee that makes a good shaving system essential.