Nerd Incognito

The Dad Who Says N.I.

How to Use a Shaving Brush

For the second article in my wet shaving series, I thought I would give my readers an idea of how to correctly employ a shaving brush. Now, this is certainly non-canonical; there are probably as many different opinions on the subject as their are we shavers. What I offer is merely MY experience.

Before we get started, I should note that there are a ton of shaving brushes to choose from, and you can agonize over whether your should go with "best badger" or "silvertip" for days at a time. The sweetened, condensed version of the choices goes something like this:

  • Synthetic brushes tend to be extremely inexpensive, but are generally bad at their job; the bristles often fail to hold much water or lather, and don't feel particularly nice against the skin.

  • Boar brushes have a prickly feel to them, which can be a bit of an aquired taste, but some of the best boar brushes do the job very well.

  • Badger brushes are the generally accepted best choice for shaving brushes, but are broken down into categories: "pure badger" is the lowest quality, "best badger" is the next step up, "super badger" is second best, and "silvertip" is considered the highend of the spectrum.

  • Each rung up the badger ladder (isn't THAT a mental picture) tends to be softer than the one before it, and capable of holding more water. The hair used is correspondingly rare, with silvertip bristles coming from less than 15% of a badger's body. While softer bristles arguably perform better, how soft is often a matter of personal taste and budget.

Edwin Jagger Brush

With that out of the way, let's get shaving!

Step 1: Soak the brush bristles in hot water for a few minutes prior to shaving
This is probably best done while you're working on preparing your face. I personally fill my scuttle (like a cup within a cup to keep lather warm) and put my brush in it while I shower. The steam works like a hot towel treatment to soften your beard. You can also put some hair conditioner on your face to assist--just rinse it off before shaving.

You may want to make sure that you only put enough water in the cup to cover 1/2 to 3/4 of the bristles, as getting the glue that holds the bristles in wet regularly may cause your brush to shed and eventually fall apart.

Step 2: Put brush to soap (or cream)
For softer creams, this can be as simple as a quick twist of the brush. Firmer creams may take a couple of twists, and a triple-milled soap you will want to swirl the wet brush on the surface of the soap until lather starts to build. Try to get about 3/4 of the length of the bristles good and soapy.

Step 3: Build lather
I personally face lather, meaning that I swirl the brush around on my face in a circular pattern until the soap starts to build up into a meringue-like consistency.

If the texture is sticky when you swirl the brush on your face, it's too dry--dip the brush tip in the sink and continue lathering; if it's thin and bubbly, you have too much water--squeeze the brush at the base and milk a bit of the water out of it, then continue lathering.

Step 4: Shave
No, really. What are you waiting for? Your brush is just going to hang out in your (empty) shave cup or scuttle until you finish, so hurry it up. Feel free to add additional lather if the stuff on your face dries out, or you go for another pass.

Step 5: Clean and hang your brush
Shaving brush stands do more than just look snazzy; they are there to ensure that the water isn't pooling at the base of the hair knot and rotting the glue (as it would if you stood the shave brush up on its handle). Rinse the brush thoroughly, squeeze and shake out as much water as possible, and hang 'er up.

Don't worry if your brush loses a few hairs each shave for a month or so; it happens. Also, because it's made of natural hair (provided you didn't choose syntetic, of course), it may smell a bit like wet dog the first couple of times. You can lather or shampoo the hair a few times to avoid this, or just wait it out.


Looking for more of The Finer Things? Why not read them now?

Kitchen Cubby Buildlog Ocean at the End of the Lane Review Why I Wet Shave