This is an expansion of my posting of two years ago that compared 14 shaving brushes http://badgerandblade.com/vb/showthr...hlight=maurerc. I marked the additions with doubled darts.
I look for two things in a brush before anything else: soft tips and sufficient backbone to provide something of a facial massage while lathering. Those are the bases for my ranking below, which runs in the order of increasing preference. Except as noted, all of the handles are nondescript, plastic and functional. None of them appears to be constructed more or less carefully than any other.
I am not comparing how well the brushes lather because I do not notice any significant differences among them. Each of these brushes can hold enough soap to create sufficient lather for many passes. However, the nature of the soap and lather affects how synthetic bristles feel. If synthetic bristles are not well lubricated by lather along their entire length, then they tend to stick to one another and bend together as a lump.
•• Mühle "pure badger" travel brush, $52. I put "pure badger" in inverted commas because I don't believe Mühle's description. From the way the brush feels, I am convinced it is made of porcupine quills. Moreover, Mühle seem to have found a species of porcupine that throws its quills. It shed so copiously that the shopkeeper took one look at it, shook his head, and refunded my money.
•• Vie-Long horsehair, $15. Prickly, stiff and stinky. Long soaks in Barbicide and in vinegar do not remove the stench.
• Vulfix Super Badger Travel Brush (US$60 with metal tube). The tips sting painfully. The solid metal handle I find to be unpleasant, too heavy for the size of the brush and uncomfortably small. The bottom of the tube is not soldered on, it is affixed with two drops of glue--or was affixed until it popped off.
• Omega Sintex (US$15). The tips feel hard and the bristles feel stiff.
• Men-u Premier Synthetic (US$55). Better than the Omega Sintex above but similar failings.
• Rooney 2/1 Finest Badger (US$210). Excellent at the start of a shave--soft tips with nice backbone--but after several passes the tips begin to sting. Also, I dislike the handle because, although it is easiest to wield a brush with the fingertips near the knot, this handle is shaped so that a recess naturally found by the fingertips is near the end.
• Koh-i-Noor SC67 Boar (US$22). Soft tips, comfortable to use and not problematic in any way, but too little backbone to make lathering enjoyable. This knot blooms larger on the face than any of the others on this list save the two big brushes in the category below. Koh-i-Noor supply the same knot in fancier, costlier handles, but these are shaped like the handle of the Rooney 2/1 above, so they look to be less comfortable.
• Rooney Synthetic Badger (US$45). The tips feel soft; the stiffness depends upon the lubricity of the lather, how much pressure I apply, and what shape the knot is taking. It ranges from a little on the stiff side to very nice. This brush has a little more backbone than the Jagger Synthetic below: some days I prefer one of these two, other days the other.
• Edwin Jagger New Synthetic (US$55 with plastic tube). The tips feel soft; the stiffness depends upon the lubricity of the lather, how much pressure I apply, and what shape the knot is taking. It ranges from a little on the stiff side to very nice. This brush has a little less backbone than the Rooney Synthetic below: some days I prefer one of these two, other days the other. I bought the small-handled travel brush in faux ivory and find it to be appropriate for travelling, but the handle feels short for its thickness. Jagger supply the same knot in another travel brush with a smaller handle, which is black, and in an assortment of models with larger handles. Jagger are owned by Mühle, who appear to offer the same knot in a different choice of handle, as well as similar knots that are smaller and larger.
GOOD — LARGE KNOT
• Rooney 1/2 Super Badger (US$100). Feels like a soft, dense, huge, luxurious mop. The knot blooms so large that I cannot move it far in any direction before running out of face.
• Omega Pro Boar 98 or 10098 (US$20). Densely packed soft tips with enough backbone to provide a gentle massage. The knot does not bloom so much as the Rooney's but it is still large for my face. It is also very long and combines with an unusually long handle to make me feel as though I am wielding a paintbrush. The "pro" appellation is appropriate here: this brush would be perfect for lathering up a customer in a chair. The Omega 49 has a similar knot with a shorter handle that would make the brush more pleasant to use.
GOOD — SMALL KNOT
• Rooney 1/1 Super Badger (US$75). Feels like a soft, dense, luxurious mop. I got to try two of these, because the first one never stopped shedding. Both felt the same.
•• Omega 5014 boar travel brush, $14. Lightweight, practical handle. Once this brush is broken in this feels as soft and nicely scrubby as any boar brush, assuming that you soak it for a few minutes before using it. However, for a travel brush it has a significant shortcoming: it takes the best part of 24 hours to dry, so that if you travel during much of the day, it will never dry out.
• Semogue 1305 or 1800 Boar (US$25). Densely packed soft tips with enough backbone to provide a gentle massage. Very similar to the Omega 10005 below except slightly less dense.
• Omega Boar 10005 (US$15). Densely packed soft tips with enough backbone to provide a gentle massage. Slightly denser than the Semogue 1305/1800 above. Feels like the Semogue 1470 below except slightly larger. Pleasant wooden handle.
• Semogue Boar 1470 (US$12). Densely packed soft tips with enough backbone to provide a gentle massage. Feels like the Omega 10005 above except slightly smaller, which makes it more controllable around the nose and lips. The Semogue's wooden handle is the most comfortable of any brush I have used. This strikes me as the most sensible brush for a newbie or for anybody on a budget. Indeed, this strikes me as the most sensible brush for anybody. There is little reason to spend any more. On the other hand, I do prefer the two brushes below, especially the latter.
• Simpson Wee Scot Best Badger ($40). This brush is so tiny that it looks like a toy but it is not. It has dense, soft tips with a narrow but moderately stiff backbone. These combine with its small size to give a pleasurable massage. (A small knot moving a lot massages better than a large knot moving little.) In addition, its diminutive knot makes it easy to keep lather out of nostrils and off of lips, and it's so tiny that it dries almost as rapidly as a synthetic brush. The handle is also miniature but is sufficiently well proportioned that it feels fine to use. I bought two of these and could not tell them apart.
•• Mühle silvertip fibre. "Silvertip fibre" means nylon but you would never know this brush is nylon except by how quickly it dries. I liked the knot well enough to buy it in three handles. I expected all three brushes to feel similar--after all, they are plastic--by to my surprise, they feel markedly different, as different as any three badger brushes might feel from three different companies. However, each of the three feels within the range of badger brushes, and I find that I like them allf. Flattened against the face each of them produces a pleasing massage, and the knot is small enough to offer reasonable control over where the lather goes. (But note one caveat: one of these knots is sufficiently stiff that to make it comfortable I needed to be soak it overnight, and now I need either to use it daily or to soak it the night before I use it. This works because nylon fibres will absorb a few percent of their weight in water if soaked for long enough, and the saturated fibres are more pliable.)
Mühle sell this knot in two handles designed for travelling as well as an assortment of conventional handles. I bought both of the travelling models plus a normal one. One of the travelling handles is chromed brass. That was my first. It appears to be indestructible but is heavy enough that I would not care to carry it on a walking trip, so I bought one with an aluminum handle ($49, available anodized silver or black). This is less slippery than the brass model, and it weighs only 1/2-oz. more than a Wee Scot in a pill bottle, but its threads are so thin that they would be easily damaged by cross-threading. The conventional one I bought because I liked its appearance in a photo (Kosmo 31 H 873, $49). It is advertised as having an oak handle, and it would be as attractive as the photo if I could ignore the enormous logo. However, I would not call the handle wood, I would call it heavy metal (probably brass) with a wooden covering. It is so heavy that I would not want to use it daily over a china or enamelled sink, for fear it would chip the sink the odd time that it slips from my hand. (NB: the brass travel brush is comparable in this respect.)
From this comparison I conclude:
• Badger brushes range from nice to nasty.
• Synthetic brushes range from nice to nasty.
• Boar brushes tend to be nice.
• The price of a brush bears no relationship to how pleasant it is to use. No relationship at all.
For travelling I suggest either a synthetic brush or a Wee Scot. A synthetic brush is less likely to mildew when put away damp in a suitcase that ends up misdirected onto a plane to Timbucktoo, and it is less likely to be put away damp in the first place since it dries faster--faster than badger and much faster than boar. The Wee Scot is an exception because of its size.
For use at home I suggest buying a cheap boar. It will probably feel as nice as any brush and its handle will be light enough that it will not damage a sink or a tile when you drop it. If you want to see what more money might buy you, I suggest trying one of Mühle's "silvertip-fibre" brushes. In my experience these are highly variable but all three of mine live within the broad realm of silvertip badger, and you can try two of them for the cost of one comparable badger. Extremely expensive badger brushes are Veblen goods, naught else. The only badger brush that I would now consider buying is a Wee Scot. Again, this is an exception because of its low price and small size.
Note that boar brushes will not become maximally soft and pliable as soon as you wet the bristles. To soften a boar brush in preparation for shaving, wet it before you wash your face or head into the shower.
The tips of new boar brushes are usually pointed and prickly but with use the ends flag or split (assuming that the brush-maker kept the natural ends of most of the bristles and did not cut corners by trimming the brush to shape). You can accelerate this flagging by soaking the brush and drying it with a hair dryer. You may want to do this a couple of times or a dozen times, depending upon the brush. Also, a boar brush may feel softer if you train the knot as you train your hair, so that the tips tend to bend slightly in one direction. Then, when you touch the brush to your face, any unsplit tips will not jab you.