The Complete Guide to Badger Shaving Brushes
Badger hair could make all the difference between a good shave and a great shave. Yes, you read that right: badger hair. While badger hair is nothing unusual to experienced wet shavers, it can be a strange and unfamiliar concept to those new to wet shaving. Thankfully, you don’t have to rub a badger on your face to reap the benefits.
Instead, we’ll be exploring badger shaving brushes, one of the most desirable and effective shaving tools ever invented. Whether you’re looking to upgrade from canned shaving cream or want to upgrade an existing brush, this guide is for you!
Before we jump into badger hair grades and handle shapes, however, we should probably address the elephant—or badger—in the room: Just why is badger hair so desirable?
Why Badger Hair?
Whoever first thought of making a shaving brush out of badger hair should win some kind of award—or maybe be put in some kind of institution. Or maybe both.
Either way, they were definitely onto something. Unlike hair from other animals, badger hair has the unique property of holding water without bending or losing its form. Since lathering shaving soap requires applying moisture with some force, badger hair’s unique properties make it a perfect candidate for shaving brushes.
Badger brushes aren’t a new concept, either. Invented by the French sometime in the 1750s, badger brushes—then called blaireau, the French word for “badger”—quickly became popular for shaving. However, quality widely varied, and some blaireaus were made of horsehair, boar bristles, and other natural fibers.
Thankfully, today’s badger brushes are a bit more consistent in quality. Most new shaving brushes are now made of badger hair, with horsehair as the major alternative. However, although horsehair is cheaper and, arguably, more sustainable, it has noticeably less lathering capabilities.
Even still, not all badger brushes are made equal. In the next section, we’ll learn how badger hair is graded and bundled together, and what exactly you should look for when choosing your next—or first—badger brush.
Badger Brush Selection
There’s a lot to consider when it comes to choosing a badger brush. While even the cheapest options are still better than using canned shaving cream, even slight differences between grades can make a massive difference in your lather.
While you don’t have to be an expert in grading badger hair or the types of badger brush knots, even a little familiarity is enough to choose a great brush.
What to Look For
There are three things to consider when choosing a badger brush:
- Badger hair grades—quality
- Badger brush knots
- Brush handles
Badger brushes are one of those rare items where the more you pay, the better the result will be—short of solid gold handles, of course. Higher grades of badger hair, for example, generate a better lather in less time than lower grades. Similarly, different knot types affect the strength of the brush and its longevity.
Of course, you don’t need to buy a top-of-the-line badger brush to get great quality—or a great value.
Badger Hair Grades
Badger hair “grades” designate the quality of the badger hair and, by extension, its lathering capabilities. Grading is the single most important consideration when choosing a brush, as it has the greatest impact on lathering and brush longevity.
There are three major grades of badger hair. Each grade has unique characteristics, depending on where the hair comes from on the badger’s body.
- Pure Badger: The most affordable grade of badger hair, and an excellent choice for beginners. Pure badger covers roughly 60 percent of the badger’s coat, making it widely available but also inconsistent in length. As a result, pure badger must be trimmed before knotting, giving it a rougher feel on the skin than finer grades. However, some shavers prefer this roughness for its great exfoliating capabilities. Pure badger hair usually has a dark color.
- Best Badger: Though more expensive than pure badger, best badger offers greater lathering capabilities and a softer feel without the price of silvertip badger. This “middle ground” between price and performance has made best badger the preferred grade for the majority of shaving enthusiasts. Best badger is also noticeably lighter in color than pure badger, consisting of the fine hairs found on the belly region of the badger’s coat.
- Silvertip Badger: The finest and most luxurious grade of badger hair, silvertip badger provides unparalleled lathering capabilities, softness, and water retention. A silvertip badger brush can whip up a lather in far less time than a pure or best badger brush, due in part to its extremely fine hairs. Silvertip badger hair comes almost exclusively from the neck and cheek sections of the badger’s coat, and must be hand selected before knotting. The “silvertip” name comes from the hair’s silver-colored tips.
Some less-common grades include:
- Finest Badger: Coming from the long hairs of a rare cold-climate species of badger, finest badger is unique in having a thick and sturdy base topped with a soft, fine tip. This unique combination of hard and soft consistencies gives it the strength of pure badger but with the feeling of best or silvertip badger. The added strength makes it ideal for shavers using harder shaving soaps.
- Super Badger: Though some manufacturers use “super” to designate silvertip, super badger is a grade all its own. In most cases, super badger is a halfway point between best badger and silvertip badger; however, most super badger is closer to silvertip badger in all respects.
- Mixed Badger: Ever wonder where all the leftover hair goes after grading? No? Well, in case you were wondering, most of it finds its way into mixed badger brushes. However, that’s not to say that mixed badger is low quality: Most combine pure and best badger hairs, sometimes with even finer grades included. This combination creates an unbeatable value, making it a very popular choice among shavers.
If you’re just getting started in wet shaving, a badger brush may be the ideal choice if you plan to commit to it long-term. However, if you only want to try on wet shaving for size, then a less expensive pure or mixed badger brush would be a better choice. Just be warned: Once you start using a brush, it’s likely you’ll never go back!
Badger Brush Knots
Badger brush knots determine the strength and “power” of a brush, as well as the amount of soap or shave cream they consume. Typically, large knots have higher strength and higher soap consumption.
Knots are categorized by their width and the number of “bands,” which refers to the number of distinct hair colors on the brush. The most common include:
- 2-Band Knots: Black or brown base with cream- or white-colored tips. 2-band knots are typically the thickest available, with the ideal thickness ranging from 24-28mm.
- 3-Band Knots: White- or cream-colored base and tips contrasted by a black or brown middle layer. 3-band knots are notably thinner than 2-band knots, resulting in less of a “backbone” but greater flexibility.
- Synthetic Knots: Where both 2- and 3-banded knots are “true” knots, synthetic knots aren’t actually knots at all; instead, the hairs are simply rooted together on a base. While removing the knot may sound counterintuitive, it comes with benefits that include no soaking, quick drying, and a lower cost than traditional knots.
Though the handle you choose is largely an aesthetic choice, its weight and material are worth considering. A good handle should be easy to hold and have enough weight to balance the hairs and knot of the brush. Handles come in an extremely wide range of colors and materials, ranging anywhere from colorful combinations of exotic wood to horn, silver, and other luxury materials.
Using a Badger Brush
Though building a lather takes some practice, it’ll get easier as you become familiar with your brush and your shaving soap. Follow this basic routine to get started.
Shortly before you shave, place the bristles of your shaving brush into a shaving bowl or mug filled with warm water. This “soak” will relax the knot and saturate the hairs with water, resulting in a better lather and more comfortable shave. Note that this step is not entirely necessary if your brush has a synthetic knot, which doesn't require long soaking.
Lathering Soaps and Shave Creams
Developing a good lather takes practice at first, but it’ll come naturally over time. The exact method you’ll use depends on whether you use shaving soap or shave cream.
- Lathering Shaving Soap: If you’re using a soap “puck,” soak it in a shaving bowl or mug for a few minutes before shaving. After draining the water from your bowl and brush, brush the soap until a thick layer of soap “loads” onto the outer bristles. Remove the soap puck and continue brushing the inside of the bowl with the soap-loaded brush, adding drops of water as necessary until a rich lather forms.
- Lathering Shave Cream: Place a quarter-sized amount of shave cream in your shaving bowl or mug along with a few drops of warm water. Brush the shave cream the same as you would the loaded shaving soap, adding drops of water as necessary until a rich lather forms. Note that the “shave cream” mentioned here is not the same as canned—aerosol—shaving cream!
When in doubt, use less water than you need; you can always add more. A well-developed lather will look similar to lightly whipped cream and billow out from the bowl.
Apply the lather to your beard area using firm circular motions. Ensure that all beard hairs are coated and standing up, and then do a final pass in straight lines—without soap—to even out the lather.
When you’re finished shaving, rinse the brush under warm water until clean. Shake the brush to remove excess water, and then brush it gently on a dry towel until the hairs are no longer wet. If your brush has a knot, hang the brush with the hairs facing down to ensure that the knot fully dries.
Badger Brush Care
Your brush requires regular care to maintain a good lather and prolong its life. Follow these guidelines to keep your brush in top shape for years to come.
Badger brush care begins during shaving—not just after. How you handle the brush and its hairs has a major impact on brush quality and longevity. During shaving:
- Do not apply too much pressure when brushing. Excess pressure can permanently bend hairs, making it more difficult to develop a lather.
- Let the brush do its job. Apply lather to your face as though you were “painting.” Use light circular motions with just enough pressure to guarantee a thorough spread.
After shaving, it’s crucial to rinse and dry your brush without applying too much pressure to the bristles. Here are a few things you can do.
- Do not squeeze or wring out your brush! Many new shavers make the mistake of squeezing their brush dry, only to cause damage and ruin their investment. Instead, gently shake the brush to remove excess water—much like a dog—and then lightly brush the bristles on a dry towel.
- Hang your brush to dry—especially if it has a knot. You won’t be able to remove all the excess water from your brush immediately after shaving. Ensure that your brush dries completely by hanging it from a shaving stand with the bristles facing down.
Cleaning Your Brush
Many shavers wonder if their brush needs any special cleaning when, in fact, they clean their brush every time they shave! However, soap buildup can call for extra treatment—but it’s crucial not to be too harsh.
- Avoid using strong chemicals and solvents. Bleach, vinegar, and other solvents can cause permanent damage and hair loss to the brush.
- Soak gently in liquid soap if there’s soap buildup. If soap builds up on your brush over time, soak it in a solution of warm water and liquid soap for about ten minutes. Allow to dry naturally.
- Be gentle. No matter how you clean your brush, always be gentle with the hairs.
When to Replace a Badger Brush
With the right care and maintenance, a high-quality brush should last for several years—sometimes well over a decade. However, you should replace your brush if:
- There’s an excess number of bent or missing hairs.
- The brush no longer develops a good lather.
- The knot becomes separated from the handle.
Choosing the Best Badger Brush
Whether you’re buying your first brush or replacing an old one, there’s a lot to choose from. Why not stand out from the rest of the crew with the finest range of shaving brushes on the seven seas? Our hold contains brushes for every budget, ranging from best badger to silvertip badger bundled in only the strongest knots and finest handles this side of the West Indies. For more information, drop us a line or visit BlackshipGroomingCo.com.