Entries Tagged 'Shaving brushes' ↓
December 27th, 2012 — Shaving brushes
Britain is the home of the classic shaving brush. Even today there are a lot of brands that have survived the lean years when horrible aerosol lathers nearly killed them off. I have put the word British in inverted commas for two reasons. Firstly because by far the biggest manufacturer of these brushes is Progress Vulfix who are on the Isle of Man in the middle of the Irish sea, which is not part of Great Britain. Secondly because a lot of what goes into these brushes nowadays is Chinese.
All the badger hair in all the British brushes comes from China. It is still from Meles meles, the same badger that we have in Europe. In China this animal is vermin which is culled annually and the meat is eaten whilst the hair goes to the brush industry. Whereas in Europe the badger is protected, though there is probably going to be a cull in Wales early next year as a measure against tuberculosis. The Chinese don’t just sell the hair, they take advantage of their cheap labour to make the hair up into knots, in fact the vast majority of all badger knots are now made in China, some by hand and some machine made. And of course the Chinese make the handles, some by moulding and some by machining.
So we have the situation where it is possible to buy a knot and a handle from China, glue them together in Britain and then write “Made in England” on the brush!
Here are some of the brands:
Bonds of Oxford Street. A London tobacconist who sells a lot on eBay offer the Vulfix range of brushes with their own name printed on them. You can buy the same brushes elsewhere for less.
Coate’s. The Brush company was founded in London in 1875. They shared premises in Somerset with Simpson’s from 1941 and amalgamated with them in 1990. Nowadays more famous for their shaving soaps but you can still buy new old stock Coate’s Fitzwilliam brushes made by Simpson’s which look very nice indeed.
Cyril R Salter.
Geo. F. Trumper
Morris & Forndran
Taylor of Old Bond Street
Truefitt & Hill
Woods of Windsor
February 16th, 2011 — Shaving brushes
Regular readers here will know that I have a penchant for horse hair shaving brushes. Once most brushes were made of this hair, until there was an anthrax scare (which is no longer a problem). Using a horse hair brush is different, interesting and very good. You know straight away that you are not using badger or boar and the combination of softness and backbone may be better than both of those for some people.
The big bargain is the wooden handled shaving brush No6 from BestShave in Turkey. At just $2.45 this is the biggest bargain in shaving and every traditional shaver should have one. It isn’t just inexpensive, it is also a truly excellent brush, very many happy owners have now written positive stuff about owning and using one on the interwebs.
Another source of horse hair brushes is Vie Long in Spain. These are available as large wood and metal handled barber brushes with undyed and unbleached hair, intended for professional barber shop use these are good value at about $8 to $10. Also there are a huge range of normal consumer shaving brushes with a very wide range of handles in various materials using bleached and dyed hair. And finally there are brushes of mixed horse and badger hair and also mixed horse hair and boar bristle.
Something for everyone you may think. But not quite, for the purist it would be very nice to have the normal consumer shaving brushes but with unbleached hair. And due to consumer demand on the Pogonotomy forum this is exactly what is going to happen. Online retailer Gifts and Care, who have a fine reputation, are organising it. So if you have an interest in such a special and unique brush have a look at the forum thread about it.
February 8th, 2011 — Shaving brushes
Simpson's Wee Scot and Penworks Finest Badger
There is a current fashion for ridiculously large wrist watches, you are not a real man without half a pound of steel strapped to your wrist, yet I remember when the manufacturers were competing against each other to make the thinnest watches. The same is true of mobile phones, it is not so long since smaller was better, now big is the order of the day.
Which brings us neatly to shaving brushes, the current fashion is for far bigger brushes than our fathers and their fathers used. Unencumbered by fashion previous generations used brushes that were the right size for the job, which we would now regard as being small brushes.
Part of what is going on must be conspicuous consumption. A Simpson’s Duke D3 costs about 50% more than a Duke D1 so it must be about 50% better, right? Well, not really, it just means that it cost about 50% more to make. Followed to it’s logical conclusion we would all be using Polo PL 14s, they cost the most so they must be the best.
Instead of looking at the cost of the brush lets look at what we use it for, building a lather and distributing that lather on our faces. We only need so much lather and even a Wee Scot can carry enough for three passes, so what is the point of having a massive brush and then making enough lather for a soccer team? It seems to me that the main result is a lot of wasted shaving cream/soap going down the plughole.
And when it comes to using the brush on your face the large brush lacks precision, so you end up painting your ears and your nose as well as the stubble areas. A correctly sized brush is a delight to use precisely because it enables you to do a better job, to place the lather exactly where it is needed. And to only use the right amount of shaving cream/soap to shave one person.
Simpson's Commodore X1 and Beaufort B1
It is because of the innate rightness of a perfectly formed brush that I find myself using my Simpson’s Commodore X1 and Beaufort B1 more and more. Admittedly I am face lathering and I have to say that these are just about perfect tools for the job. They might take a little longer to paint your face but they make up for it by being far quicker to load up and to rinse. A further joy is that you can use the same brush at home and for travel, all you need is a standard brush tube.
So if you are a big brush user why not give a small brush a try for a while. Once you have got over the learning curve you might be pleasantly surprised.
January 21st, 2011 — Shaving brushes
In part one we dealt with the boar, horse and synthetic brushes. Now it is time to deal with the badgers. As you can see I am a victim of the hype and the marketing with a disproportionate number of these brushes compared with, say, the excellent horse hair brushes. In my defence I would say that these brushes were each bought with a reason. And the sad thing is that I can think of good reasons to buy plenty more!
The brushes that shocked the traditional shaving world. High quality build and performance direct from Ian Tang in China for a fraction of the price of more traditional offerings. From the top a white then a black handled finest, then a silvertip, a short lofted best and a short lofted silvertip. These are fantastic to use and set the benchmark for low cost badger brushes.
Meet the Simpson’s:
Widely regarded as the best shaving brushes in the world I am amazed that I have got away with only having five. Some people have vast collections. They work just as good as they look, if not better. Simpson’s have a fantastic range of brushes that are often very different to one another. Here is a Duke 3 in best, a Milk Churn MC2 in best with a strangely asymmetrical knot, a Commodore X1 in best, a Beaufort B1 in pure and a Wee Scot (an amazing brush) in best.
Some English shaving brushes:
Firstly two Trumper brushes, a super badger and a pure badger, that have seen considerable use and which are still excellent, then my very favourite brush a Morris & Forndran blonde badger. Then an Edwin Jagger best in faux marble, a Taylor’s of Old Bond Street pure and a New Forest 2201 in 2 band best badger.
Regular readers will have met all of these before. Firstly a Penworks with a cream handle and an immense finest badger knot, also a Malachite handled Penchetta with a super badger knot. Then two prototype Rooneys, candy stripe and metal based, both in super badger. Next come two beejay restorations, a Boots catalin butterscotch with a Frank Shaving finest knot and a Rubberset with an iKon silvertip knot. Finally we have a total beejay creation, his hand made Yew handle with a Golden Knib silvertip knot in it.
Odds and Ends:
Firstly a Tweezerman which is popular in America where it sells for $15, which is good value, but nothing compared to Frank Shaving brushes. Next is a Shea Moisture which sells for $9 and which works. Then a LiJüN & 1980 pure badger which cost me £0.99 (but £6 P&P) in pure badger which is easily the worst brush in these articles, however the more expensive offerings from this vendor have a good reputation.Finally we have the Plisson European grey badger in an olive wood handle, an eye wateringly expensive brush with a cosmetically beautiful knot which is more than a bit floppy.
As you can see this is an eclectic collection and by posting it up you can see the amazing variety that there is out there.
January 18th, 2011 — Shaving brushes
I have written here before about Acquisition Disorders (ADs) and for me the biggest is Shaving Brush Acquisition Disorder (SBAD). This is because there is more variety amongst brushes than there is amongst any other element of the shave.
There are brushes made from horsehair, boar, badger and synthetic fibres. Plus mixtures of these. All these have totally different characteristics. Then there are the variations within each hair type and the variations in the construction of the brush, both handle and knot. Just getting to grips with the Simpson’s range would involve buying dozens of brushes and spending a fortune. And of course you can have brushes custom built, which then introduces infinite possible variation.
Each brush I have was bought for a reason. Mostly just curiosity. There were some big surprises along the way, an exceedingly cheap Turkish horse hair brush works better than just about everything else, for instance. A concept that some have trouble getting their head round.
In this first article I will deal with the synthetics, the horse and the boar brushes.
Here we have the Body Shop and the Men-U synthetics, as you can see they have pretty similar knots, the main difference is the handle. So in use they are also pretty much the same, which is interesting as you can buy several of the Body Shop brushes for the price of one Me-U. These brushes work quite well and you could live with one, as vegans must. But they do not come anywhere near a good natural bristle brush. Their big advantage is that they dry almost instantly and the fibres can’t rot, so they are perfect for travelling.
I only have these two horse hair brushes and they are brilliant. I wish I had more. The top one is a “Barber Brush” from Spain which cost just ten Euros, it is from a retailer who specialise in Vie Long brushes so it is probably made by them. The bottom one I have written about before, a fantastic brush from Turkey for just two and a half dollars. This really is a must have for any traditional shaver.
There are two sorts of boar brushes. Those that have had their tips trimmed and those that haven’t. If the tips are trimmed then the ends won’t split and the brush will never break in and become soft on the face. All this and more is in an authoritative article that was published on here.
So, the Disco, on top, is a unique brush but very different to use because of it’s height. Next the Omega 49, a design classic and a very good brush for just £8. The Semogue Owner’s Club is a lot more expensive and is a good brush. The Wilkinson Sword is less than £4 in most British supermarkets and works just fine. The Vulfix VS5 is about £5 and also does the job. The Vulfix 404 Grosvenor below it is included here because it is mostly boar with some badger added. It is a totally brilliant brush in every way and is a great bargain for £10. The Jaguar is a top notch brush with poor QC on the handle, the knot on this is right up there with the best bristle knots so I am amazed that they are not more accepted in the traditional shaving community. Next is the green handled Omega 10018 with Arabic script that I bought in Egypt, a good smaller boar brush. And finally an old model Body Shop brush with clipped tips which have not split in hundreds of shaves.
The super stars on this page are the Turkish horse brush and the Vulfix 404. Obviously other will disagree but this is my experience.
January 12th, 2011 — Shaving brushes
Simpson's Milk Churn Best Badger Shaving Brush
Oh, the weakness of the flesh! Such was the temptation of the low prices of Simpson’s brushes at Badger & Hone that I succumbed and bought another one to add to the Beaufort B1 that I bought the other day. This time it is the Milk Churn and in the best badger grade of hair. The Milk Churn is only available in this grade and (supposedly) only in one size which simplifies the choice compared with some Simpson’s brushes. Once again I will try and justify myself:
- The delivered price from the Simpson’s website is £63.96. The delivered price from the usual cheapest supplier, Diamond Edge, is £61.02. The Badger & Hone regular price is £54.99 delivered, but with their 15% off this came to just £46.74. You can see the temptation. And having given up alcohol for January I can rationalise the spend as money saved elsewhere!
- The Milk Churn is firmly in the middle order of Simpson’s brushes so is something rather special in its own right. Not very many of these are made every year so it has a rarity value that just adds to the special event that a traditional shave is.
- The handle. As ever with a Simpson’s brush the handle, hand made on a lathe, is very special. But the Milk Churn is one of the most special because you can easily recognise it from across a room. They say that it is modelled on the Milk Churns used by the farms in the Somerset countryside that were all around the Simpson’s factory when the company was based there. But to me it looks more like a traditional wooden butter churn.
- And now for the big one, the knot. This is of the soft and highly rated Simpson’s best badger which also has commendable backbone. But here it has been made into a longer loft than usual for a Simpson’s knot of this diameter. It is as if they were deliberately making a brush specialised for shaving creams. And a bit of investigation online supports this, the Milk Churn is one of the very best shaving cream brushes that money can buy.
At least now if the wife discovers my profligacy (it is not as if I actually needed more brushes) I can point her at these articles by way of some justification. Meanwhile I will keep you updated about how these brushes are turning out in the real world of my bathroom.
And here is an interesting addendum. The Simpson’s website only lists one size of Milk Churn and this has the code MC engraved on it. However out there in the real world some retailers are stocking a Milk Churn MC2, which in Simpson’s methodology should be a bigger brush. In fact it looks like the MC may well have a 20mm knot and the MC2 a 22mm knot. Although the picture above is an MC, the brush I was sent is an MC2. Certainly it is far bigger than I was expecting, being not too dissimilar in size to my Duke D3. This being so it makes the purchase price ridiculously good value in the Simpson’s scheme of things.
Milk Churn collection
January 10th, 2011 — Shaving brushes
Simpson's Beaufort B1 Pure Badger Shaving Brush
I just bought a Simpson’s Beaufort B1 pure badger shaving brush and thought that I would justify my actions here.
- For a hand made Simpson’s brush the Beaufort B1 is very inexpensive. On the Simpson’s website it is £16.55, but add in £4.95 P&P and £4.30 VAT and it becomes £25.80. The normal cheapest source for Simpson’s brushes is Diamond Edge, here it is £15.15, but add in £2.55 P&P and £3.03 VAT and it comes to £20.73. Still around a 20% saving on Simpson’s own price. So it was remarkable when Badger and Hone launched their new website and it was there for just £18.99 including P&P and VAT. Even more remarkably they had a first week discount of 15% for members of the Pogonotomy forum, so the brush cost me just £16.14 delivered to my front door. That is around just 62% of the Simpson’s price. The temptation was too much.
- The Beaufort has one of the finest handles Simpson’s make. It looks like a less extreme version of the handle on their Keyhole brush, but in fact it is an almost exact copy of the vintage Coates EJ3. The Coates company amalgamated with Simpson’s and it looks like they just changed the name on the handle.
- Simpson’s make their brushes in three grades. Pure, Best and Super. With the Vulfix takeover of Simpson’s all three grades are getting praise. But the Pure, which is the least expensive grade and which is what is used in the Beaufort, is the stiffest and so will, everything else being equal, have the most backbone and the least soft tips. I have tried pure badger from other brands and it can be quite nasty, hopefully the Simpson’s Pure will be just right to give that good exfoliation that a shaver sometimes wants, without being too brutal.
- I wanted a small brush, for travelling and for face lathering accurately. The problem with most small brushes is that you get less of everything, but with Simpson’s you get their legendary knot density. So this should be a small brush with the heart of a far larger brush. Maybe the best of both worlds. And combined with a shaving stick it has the potential to be a great lather-on-the-move machine.
I will give you more feedback on this brush once it has had some use. Meantime a little birdie tells me that Badger & Hone may be running their 15% off deal for a second week because they had some website teething problems in their first week. Keep an eye on the Pogonotomy forum for updates.
January 6th, 2011 — Shaving brushes
Simpson's Duke 3 and Wee Scot shaving brushes
Gary Young’s great uncle was Alexander Simpson, the founder of the Simpson’s shaving brush company, his father and grandfather were both managing directors of the company and now he is sharing some of his knowledge about the company online with the traditional shaving community. His knowledge of the company is of the period when it was at Nimmer Mill in Somerset and extends up to 1990, when it was bought out by David Carter and Francis Woodhouse.
Here are some points he has made:
- They persisted with using catalin (which oxidises to a butterscotch colour), till the end of the ’80s, after more modern plastics were available because of the limitations of their water powered machinery which tended to chip the newer plastics.
- Their top brush maker was called Stan Archer and he made the brushes that Simpson’s produced for Aspreys.
- His grandfather and father used Duke 2s as their daily brushes. He uses a Chubby 2 in Super Badger hair.
- He says that the Chubby, the Duke and the Wee Scot are the best Simpson’s brushes. And of these three the Wee Scot is best.
- The Wee Scot was named partly because Alex Simpson was Scottish and partly because Gary’s grandmother’s maiden name was Scot.
- The amount of hair to go into each knot was measured by weighing it. Trial and error was used with new brush models till they got it right.
- Duke was the family nickname of Alex Simpson, hence the name of the brush.
- A Colonel of the Somerset Light Infantry in WW 2, David Durie, was a friend of Gary’s grandfather and great uncle. The Colonel brush is named after him.
- Simpson’s sold hand made toothbrushes to the British royal family in addition to shaving brushes.
- They had two brands, the other being Coates, which mainly made hairbrushes. The shaving brushes were about half of their total production.
- The logos on the handles were water transfers. These were not durable, which is why they also lamp blacked the brush’s details onto it.
- It took a skilled employee a couple of minutes to make a knot.
- They made both fan and bulb shaped knots. Deciding factors could include the grade of hair and handle shape. Gary’s preference is for bulb as he thinks that fan is less good at making lather.
- The brush handles were turned by hand with only the expert eye to get it right. For each model there was a reference pattern handle which the production handle could be compared against using callipers.
- Handles were made of catalin and ivory, the lathes ran at a different speed for ivory as it machined more like wood.
- They made boar as well as badger brushes.
- The hair came from a London supplier who sorted and sterilised it.
Some interesting stuff and he must know plenty more. Let’s hope that he continues to put time and effort into the shaving community, this is our heritage and there are huge gaps in our knowledge.
Nimmer Mill in Somerset, site of the Simpson's brush factory
January 5th, 2011 — Shaving brushes
Penworks and Penchetta shaving brushes
Anthony Turchetta owns an insurance company in Arizona but very obviously likes making things of beauty with his own hands. So he also owns The Golden Nib (TGN), Penworks, Penchetta Pens & Nibs and Cave Creek Casting and is very well known as a retailer of quality pens and a maker of very fine artisan pens.
He has transferred this passion over to the shaving world where he is probably best known as a specialist supplier of brush knots from TGN, but he is also a retailer of a wide range of shaving kit at Penworks. And he sells his own brushes under two brand names, Penworks and Penchetta.
Of the Penworks brushes his site says: Manufactured to our specs for the finest quality badger hair brushes at a very reasonable cost. A great value for a top notch brush that will provide years of service.
Penworks acrylic cream finest badger shaving brush
And of the Penchetta brushes his site says: Hand made custom shaving brushes from rare & burl woods, resin & stone. Available in limited quantities all hand turned by Penchetta. A wide variety of unique shapes and knots in silvetrip, finest & super badger.
Penchetta Malachite Tru-Stone super badger shaving brush
Tony knows a lot about brushes, he retails Simpson’s and Omega, also he sees the vast number of knots that he sells at TGN. So his own brushes must be something special, especially the Penchetta ones.
Penworks and Penchetta shaving brushes after blooming
So imagine my surprise when two brand new examples turned up on UK eBay. One is a Penchetta with a Malachite Tru-Stone handle and a super badger 20mm knot with a 47mm loft. The other is a Penworks with an “Acrylic Cream” handle, though it is not single colour, and a 22mm finest badger knot with a massive 62mm loft. Each comes with a hand written identification card.
Malachite is a vibrant green semi-precious stone that is an ore of copper. Tru-Stone is a propriety composite material of about 85% powdered stone mixed with resin under pressure. It resembles the natural stone but can be worked on a lathe, it is very popular for pen making and in this instance has been used to make a very nice shaving brush handle.
Penchetta Malachite Tru-Stone Super Badger shaving brush after blooming
So what are they like to use? Dry the malachite super badger is extremely soft tipped and the cream finest badger has quite soft tips. But wet they are both similar, extremely soft, to the point where you wonder how good they would be at picking up a hard soap and how good at exfoliating. The malachite brush has some backbone from its short loft and, in general behaves like a top end silver tip.
Penworks acrylic cream finest badger shaving brush after blooming
The cream handled Penworks brush is a very different beast. With its long loft and high density it has more badger hair in it than any other brush I own, despite only being 22mm in diameter. It has bloomed mightily and just about doubles in weight when wet. In use it is just one big floppy mush of softness and can lather a face in little more than a couple of strokes. This brush would get through your creams (for that is what it is destined for) at a prodigious rate and once charged could lather up several people. In fact you could use it for home decorating.
So two very different brushes that are rather nice and fairly unique works of art and yet which in use behave like the quality top end brushes that they are.
Penworks and Penchetta shaving brushes with Simpson's Duke 3 and Frank shaving for comparison.
December 9th, 2010 — Blades, Razors, Shaving brushes, Shaving soaps and creams
Firstly a disclaimer, the variety of traditional shaving kit on sale is so vast that the choices are effectively infinite. And because you are different to the next man so what kit is best for you will be different, this is part of the joy of shaving this way, you can customise to your own exact personal likes and requirements. So what follows is just one man’s opinion, yours may differ substantially. Also because I am UK based this is reflected in some of the choices, however the interwebs have made us one big global community so this is not the problem it once was.
Soaps and creams.
Russian shaving creams and balms. Svoboda, Tet A Tet, Comme Il Faut, Viking, Everest, Phyto Expert
Basically creams are just soaps with water added to make them easier to use. So hard soaps are much more concentrated and can work out far cheaper per shave even if they cost more.
One of the very best soaps in the world is the Palmolive shaving stick that you can often get for under £1 in English supermarkets. Just rub it into your stubble like a big crayon then whip up into a fantastic lather with a shaving brush. The brush will then have enough charge left in it for second and third passes. This is not available in America so American traditional shavers buy it at a far higher price on eBay or bring home masses of sticks when they come here on holiday. I have done some great transatlantic equipment swaps for these sticks.
An excellent low cost cream is Ingrams which you can buy in many chemists and supermarkets. Loaded with menthol this is superb in the summer. Once again impressive value for money.
Going a bit upmarket there is Mitchell’s Wool Fat (MWF) shaving soap. This stuff is a legend and is really good for your skin. Keep it in a sealed container between shaves. Mantic59 has just done a YouTube video on how to get the best out of it. It is actually very cheap to use as a puck lasts a very long time indeed, buy online. Also it prefers a brush with a bit of backbone, like a Vulfix 404 boar/badger mix.
If you are a cream person then the step up from Ingrams is probably Body Shop Maca Root which is truly lush and is available on any high street. Sometimes they have it on offer which is a good time to stock up.
Then there are the St James’s soaps and creams from the male grooming shops in London (and online). The best value creams here are Taylors of Old Bond Street (TOBS) who have a range of different flavours. It is good to visit their Jermyn Street shop and smell them all to see what you like. About £6 for a tub.
My favourite hard soap is Trumper’s Violet. This is expensive but lasts a long time. It lathers up much more easily than MWF and the violet is very soothing.
If you want 100% natural stuff then there are artisan shaving soap makers. The best respected in England is Nanny’s Silly Soap Company (online). Beware some artisan soap makers just add bentic clay to an ordinary soap to make their shaving soaps and the results are frankly rubbish.
Beyond the above there are thousands of different creams and soaps available around the world. The Russian creams, especially Svoboda, are excellent as are the Indian creams, most famously Godrej menthol mist, which is a bit special. The Italian soaps and creams from companies like Proraso and Cella have excellent reputations and I like them a lot.
These are the most expensive part of traditional shaving. A top brush from a top manufacturer will be about £80 and upwards, but will last at least 30 years as your only brush. If you have several brushes it will last for ever. However there are far cheaper options as we will discover. Some people have large collections of brushes.
The brush has two components, the handle and the knot. With handles wood will not last as long as plastic, no matter how it is treated.The knot has very many variables which effect the way it works. One very obvious characteristic is the variation from floppiness to backbone.
Diameter at the base. This is the knot size. Too big eats cream/soap too small is more work to use.
Loft is the height of the bristles from the handle. They also go some way into the handle.
Knot shape. Flat top, bulb and fan are the main shapes. Most are a combination some way between these.
Hair variety. Badger, boar, horse and synthetic. Each behaves differently, each has followers.
Hair grade. Each of the above varieties is available in many grades and you tend to get what you pay for.
Knot density, how tightly packed the hairs are.
And you thought it was going to be simple!
Boar brushes tend to have more backbone which makes them work well with soaps. A good boar brush doesn’t have trimmed ends to its bristles and so with use they split and the brush becomes softer. This “running in” process can take several weeks and reveals the full performance of the brush. An excellent cheap boar brush is the Jaguar from Turkey, bought online for £5ish. The detail finish is not brilliant, but the brush is. After that the main brands of quality pure boar brushes are Semogue in Portugal and Omega in Italy. These are great brushes and you get what you pay for in the range. They are an online purchase. I have both. Allow £20 for a good model.
There is also the Vulfix 404 boar/badger mix brush which is just a beautiful and brilliant all round brush and is something of a bargain at less than £10 from these people.
Badger brushes tend to be softer and more expensive. Nearly all the hair for them comes from China, where badgers are vermin. The Chinese graduated to making whole knots and then whole brushes.
The bargain is to buy a Frank Shaving Finest Badger (not the silvertip) for about £10 from Ian Tang in China on eBay. He has good customer service and the brushes take about 10 days to arrive, they look beautiful and are well presented. There are a range of knot sizes, shapes and lofts. I bought three of these brushes then Ian sent me two to review for my blog. The value and quality is such that they have taken the traditional shaving world by storm and with lots of positive feedback.
You can buy brushes with the retailers name on them, Trumpers, Taylors of Old Bond Street etc. Don’t. You don’t know who the manufacturer is. Better to buy one with the makers name on it. The two great, famous, British brands are Rooney and Simpsons.
Rooney are in London and make very small quantities of fantastic hand crafted brushes.
Simpsons are owned by Vulfix on the Isle of Man and make somewhat larger quantities of equally fantastic brushes across a huge range, from £20 to several hundred pounds. Models like the Persian Jar, Polo, Chubby, Milk Churn and Wee Scot are classics. I have just two Simpson’s brushes. Buy them at good prices here.
If you want to spend lots of money then Plisson in France (which Napoleon used) make exquisite bulb shaped brushes from European badger for several hundred pounds.
Horse used to be the most used brush hair before anthrax scares moved people onto boar bristle. They are fantastic brushes and have the benefit that no animals are harmed in making them, the hairs come from natural grooming.
This Turkish brush for just $2.45 is simply amazing. The biggest bargain in shaving. The detail finish is not perfect but the brush really performs.
Next up are Vie Long from Spain which you can buy here. About 10 Euros will get you an excellent “Barber Brush” (which I have), a few Euros more and you are into their very nice branded range.
Synthetic brushes are useful in that they dry out instantly so are good for travelling. There are two sorts.
Firstly there are the simple nylon strand brushes. The £5.50 Body Shop model is a perfect example.
Then there is “synthetic badger”. The theory is that these all come from Omega in Italy, no matter what brand names is on them. They are £30+ and they are excellent.
For a bit of further reading there is Fido’s shaving brush blog which you can find in the blogroll on the right here.
Different razors perform and handle completely differently to each other, like different cars. And there are adjustable razors that are a bit like having a gearbox, you can alter the thickness of each slice of hair that they take, but the fundamental characteristics of that razor don’t change.
As ever I can’t over-emphasise that the choice is personal. What you use and how you use it is entirely up to you, the options are infinite. This is the exact opposite of what the big global shaving companies try and impose on you with their patent protected multibladed system razors.
There are two main routes you can go down, vintage razor or current production razor, let’s deal with them separately.
These are rocketing in value. But ask round friends and family and see what turns up.
With over 100 years of production there are a lot of different models to choose from but most are made by Gillette.
The Tech is a simple three part razor. Handle and two part head that just screw together. Often found in travel kits. Gives a very good and mild shave. Plentiful and cheap, everyone should have one.
The Super Speed is a succession of models with twist to open butterfly doors. These are the backbone of the traditional shaving revival. Mild shavers except for the model with a red tip to its handle which is a medium shaver.
The adjustables. Fat boy, Slim and Super Adjustable. Just dial in the aggression you want. Between passes or mid pass. Less common and going up in value fast.
There are plenty more but these are the main ones. Avoid old razors with toothed heads, except to collect till later.
Start with a Weishi off eBay or a Wilkinson Sword Classic in black delrin from Boots for less than £5. These are very mild and won’t bite. Even when you are up the learning curve they are still good for a buffing and polishing third pass. There are also the Lord razors from Egypt which are less mild and which are exceptional value. Then there are the Edwin Jagger razors that have taken over from the Merkur 34C to become the “standard” traditional razor. The new Edwin Jagger head, which they seemingly co-developed with Muhle in Germany, is amazing. It feels bullet proof, as if it will never bite, yet it very effectively and effortlessly slices through the stubble. It is easy enough for beginners yet rewards the more experienced. And the razor is beautifully made, a real piece of craftsmanship and engineering for about £20.
If you want to spend more get an iKon, handmade in Thailand, buy the tooth headed model. More money still and you want the Mergress conversion of the Merkur Progress adjustable. Made in small batches you go on a waiting list, they sell out in one hour once released. Finally there is the Feather Stainless Steel from Japan which is yet more expensive.
When you get expert you might want to try a Merkur Slant Bar, probably the most powerful shaving tool known to man. So efficient that they are perfect for people with very strong beard growth and sensitive skin.
There are plenty of others like the Joris and the Goodfella but the above list is IMHO a good guide.
These are critical, because they do the cutting and there is a lot of difference between the different brands.
The three characteristics to look for are sharpness, smoothness and blade life. Like everything else to do with traditional shaving the experience is personal and varies from person to person. Some make a Feather blade last one shave, some make it last nine. Also different blades behave differently in different models of razor. The sharper the blade the better, then it can cut your stubble with the least trauma to your face.
Supermarket blades tend to be Personna, from Israel and Wilkinson Sword, from Germany. These are perfectly good blades and cannot really be faulted. However DE blades are so cheap that it is normal to buy them in 100s off eBay or from specialist retailers like Connaught, who also do sampler packs which are a really good idea as they allow you to try different blades to find out what works for you.
Probably the best razor blades that you can buy are the dozen or so brands that come out of Petersburg Products International (PPI) in Russia, that is 65% owned by Gillette. These include Astra, Sputnik, Permasharp, Polsilver, Rotbart, Nacet, Minora and the several different variations of the Gillette brand. They have just discontinued making Iridiums which were pretty legendary in the shaving community.
Gillette also makes DE blades in Vietnam, India and Brazil. These have excellent reputations but not as good as PPI.
Feather and Kai blades from Japan are immensely sharp but less smooth than PPI blades. Also they are very expensive. A Feather blade in a slant bar razor is supposed to be the absolute ultimate way to shave!
Lord in Alexandria, Egypt make several billion good quality blades a year under several brand names. Shark is the one with the best reputation. Though they are probably all the same!
Derby from Turkey are smooth and regarded as a good beginners blade, as are Personna from Israel. But you would probably be better off with a PPI blade.
If you want the best value for money then get Super-Max from Vidyut Metallics Limited in India, the world’s second biggest blade manufacturer. These are good and can be picked up at half the price of PPI blades.
One to avoid IMHO is Merkur blades from Germany, which are not as good as their razors.
Finally there is the shavepocalypse. The time when because of reducing demand the DE production lines are closed down. This has become more likely with the launch of the very low cost Gillette Guard system razor for developing countries which is targeted at DE users. This is why many traditional shavers have a stash of thousands of blades. They don’t cost much and take little space. Also they shoot up in value when a brand is discontinued as we have seen with Personna 74s, Gillette “Swedes” and now with Iridiums.
This article gives you a good place to start, but the choice out there is close to infinite, which is part of the joy of traditional shaving. So experiment, try different things and use what works best for you, even if it doesn’t work for anyone else!