Mitchell’s Wool Fat (MWF), and the supposedly identical Kent Brush shaving soap, has a legendary status in the traditional shaving community. It is regarded by many as the gold standard in shaving soaps, yet some people don’t get on with it. Part of their problems could be the normal different strokes for different folks syndrome that enriches real shaving so much. Part of it could be the way that MWF behaves.
The thing about MWF is that it doesn’t do what other soaps do, it acts almost as if it is a living thing. Use it on consecutive days and it gets better and better, as if it appreciates the attention. Leave it for a week and it will have a sulk and try and give you a bad time. Left for a while it becomes a loner, forming a hard skin round itself. Too long and cracks appear in the surface as it displays its displeasure.
This is what Mitchell’s themselves have to say about this soap:
Mitchell’s Wool Fat Soap was first produced in the early 1930’s by Bradford chemist Fred Mitchell who realised that the natural lanolin content of wool fat, which kept the hands of local sheep shearers and wool sorters so exceptionally soft, could also be beneficial to delicate complexions and sensitive skins
A simple and natural product, Mitchell’s Wool Fat Soap is still made to Mr. Mitchell’s original formula, based on a recipe from the turn of the century and incorporating lanolin from the wool fat as the key ingredient.
So what is this wool fat of which they speak? When a sheep is sheared between 5 and 25 percent of the wool’s weight is wool fat, produced by the sheep as waterproofing. This is removed from the wool, initially with steel rollers and then using detergents and centrifugal separators. It has a lot of uses including in medicine because it is hypoallergenic and bacteriostatic, it forms the basis of many ointments, where it is listed as lanolin.
One useful feature is that this is an animal fat produced in large quantities without killing anything. So strict vegetarians can get the considerable benefits of products like MWF. In fact on the side of the MWF box it says: “No animal suffers in the preparation of this bio-degradable product”.
So how do you manage your puck of MWF so that it gives a brilliant lather every time? Firstly don’t expose it to the air between shaves, it need to live in its own microclimate. The best way to do this is keep it in a hermetically sealed container such as a Tupperware box, you can find one the right size or you can mill the soap puck to fit.
Milling is very popular in the traditional shaving community and makes any soap perform better. Firstly you need to grate the soap puck up in a kitchen grater, then you put the flakes into your container of choice, then use a weight to compress it and remove the air. This process is so successful that many luxury soaps are “triple milled” using steel rollers.
If you mill at home you should aim to only half fill your container, as a maximum. You need space above the soap to form the lather. Also you can use small containers to make MWF convenient for travelling with. After each shave the residue of lather left on top of the soap adds to the microclimate keeping your MWF ready to perform optimally next time it is used.
Another point about using MWF is that it is a hard soap. So if you use a very expensive floppy silver tip badger brush you could have difficulty making it work. You really need a brush with some backbone, I tend to use an Omega 49 Professional Pure Bristle Shaving Brush, which is made of boar hair and is perfect for the job.
There is no doubt that Michell’s Wool Fat is a great real shaving product, but with a little bit of technique it can be truly excellent.
I am using MWF every day at the moment. It definitely gets better with regular use. It is kept in an old Trumpers cream tub, so lives in its own microclimate.
Before showering I dribble a few drops of water on top of the puck, by the time I have showered and am ready to shave this has sunk into the puck. This method allows a good lather to be easily created, even with a soft brush.
I am a self-proclaimed woolfat guru. It is simply the best doggone lathering product for wet shavers that currently exists on the planet.
I am at the point where I treat the Fat the same as any other soap — it requires no secret password, no standing on the head to load the brush, no magic spells. It’s just a great shaving soap.
My story with MWF is rather complicated. When I first began to use it it completely transformed my wetshaving ‘carreer’: all of a sudden razor burn ceased to be a daily occurrence. No doubt my poor technique had had a lot to do with this but the remarkable lubricating and skin-nourishing properties of this soap came and changed everything. A few months down the line, a few new products and my puck has been sitting there, drying and cracking up, looking quite sorry for itself. I recently decided to relieve it from its misery and it punished me with a lather which looked fluffy and abundant enough but which did nothing to protect me from my blade. The ironic result: razor burn for the first time since the ‘MWF revolution’. Bruce’s idea of keeping it moist and airtight sounds like an excellent plan to keep this capricious friend always on our side.
I’m from Sydney, Australia and the water here isn’t hard at all. I just used MWF for the first time and had no problems getting a thick lather. I soaked it in hot water while I had a quick shower. When i came to use it i drained most of the water and noticed a thick soapy liquid at the bottom. I dripped this onto my brush and away i went, perfect lather. Added a little more by brushing on the top of the puck, which was now soft from the hot water soaking.
Some people say to soak your brush, I didn’t and there wasn’t a problem. I just dunked in hot water and flicked it out. Some say to use a firm brush, mine isn’t and i didn’t have a problem. Some people say to use warm water to lather but i didn’t, i used hot water, as always! No problems.
The problems with lather may be because you just don’t have enough soap yet!
Any recommendation as to where MWF can be purchased in London? Much appreciated.
»One useful feature is that this is an animal fat produced in large quantities without killing anything. So strict vegetarians can get the considerable benefits of products like MWF. In fact on the side of the MWF box it says: “No animal suffers in the preparation of this bio-degradable product”.«
Yeah, sure. And tallow grows right on trees, come on…
You must have missed the explanation of what wool fat is and how it is made.
Wool fat is extracted from the sheep’s wool (hence the name), and is therefore harvested without harming the animal. It could even be argued that harvesting wool and wool fat is beneficial for the sheep – it is very important for their health and comfort to be sheared periodically.
Tallow, on the other hand, is a product of fat rendered from animal carcasses. In terms of animal welfare, tallow and wool fat are polar opposites!
It would be a shame if, due to a simple misunderstanding, you were to miss the opportunity to uphold your ethical principles while also enjoying a better shave.
Mitchells Wool Fat is a truly great soap. Easy to use, performs great and has a really nice scent.
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