03-24-2013, 10:26 AM
#1
  • Codfish
  • Product Tester
  • Connecticut Shoreline
User Info
Have Synthetic Brushes Come of Age?

[Image: ZMfusfM.jpg]

When I took up wet shaving seriously several years ago, I gave little thought to acquiring a synthetic brush. Based on the reviews I read of them at the time, they were easy to dismiss. They seemed to be at the low-end of desirability, but adequate for shavers with allergies to animal hair or shavers who objected to using animal products. They also had notable drawbacks that were well-documented in reviews at the time.

I built a small collection of badgers and boars over the next year or so while I looked for a razor that would suit my needs. In 2011, I found the razor I wanted, and discovered a German company called Mühle. Their catalog described a synthetic brush with Silvertip Fibres that were claimed to closely imitate badger. I bought one of these early versions, and was very impressed. My curiosity about modern synthetic brushes increased.

The New-Gen Synth Project

In March of last year, I heard from other shavers that they were trying new synthetic brushes that showed improvements over older synths. I invited a team of experienced shavers to join me to collect and test as many new synthetics we could get our hands on. The team included Gary Carrington, Wim Bouman, Teiste Brito, Mark Herro and myself.

In most cases, we purchased the brushes we tested and then traded them back and forth as we could. Not all of us tried every brush given time constraints, but we trusted each other's evaluation skills. In all, we tested 15 different brushes from nine manufacturers. We also looked at a few pre-production prototypes that we could not report on. We did the best we could to give each member the broadest exposure possible.

During the course of our 100-day testing period, we collectively conducted over 400 tests. All of us found significant improvements over earlier generations of synths. The team did identify differences between the brushes that were part of our tests, and drew contrasts with synths we had collectively tried in the past.

I asked that the team to consider two questions:

Have synthetics brushes come of age?

Do they have qualities that are as good, or better than their natural counterparts?


Team member Gary Carrington developed a classification system to categorize the different generations of synths. It is summarized here with his permission:

Generation 1 knots were made of base Nylon which was developed in the late 1930s and early 1940s. One examples is the Omega White Syntex Line.

Generation 2 came out in the early 2000s. Taken from the cosmetic industry, these nylon brushes were flagged more at the tips to allow a softer feeling and some were dyed to approximate a more natural look. The early MenU, Body Shop, Parker synthetics used this fiber type. They are prone to "doughnut holes" while wet and are not strong performers.

Generation 3 knots came out in the mid-2000s. Also derived from the cosmetic industry, these nylon brushes were flagged more at the tips to allow a softer feeling and some were dyed to approximate a more natural look and feel. Closer to badger but not exactly like badger. The fibers tended to be thinner so that more hairs could be packed in a bundle for a denser brush. The performance of brushes using this version improved dramatically. The Jack Black, TGN, Omega Syntex, and a variety of other makers use this fiber to create high performing brushes.

Generation 3.5 arrived when Mühle began to crimp and adjust the lengths of the fibers to create a brush that looks and behaves more like natural hair. These brushes are now commonly referred to as V1 versions of the Silvertip Fiber. This is a much higher performing brush than brushes using Generation 3 fibers. These came out during the 2010-2012 time frame.

Generation 4 knots became available this year. These are found in the Mühle V2 Silvertip Fibre brush series and are believed to be in current synthetic brushes offered by Edwin Jagger. These fibers are flagged even more at the ends to increase softness and to improve lather application. The fibers are also more flexible than what is found the third generation knots, and this allows lofts to be shorter and provide excellent backbone and face feel. Brushes by H.I.S. also have a similar, if not identical fiber with different dying, finish and lofts. Here is the full text of Gary's work.

Results

I won't attempt a detailed summary of our findings here, but readers who are interested can find the three-part series here. I will say that we all found significant improvements in the following areas: attractiveness in design, more natural appearance, softness of tips, overall performance, higher density, better backbone, faster drying time, and economical use of soaps and creams.

We determined that several manufacturers were producing synths that were significantly improved from the previous generations. Among them were Omega, H.I.S., Edwin Jagger and Mühle. There may be others, and I would like your opinions on this—we were limited to the 15 brushes that we were able to acquire during our limited testing period and personal budgets.

Best of the New Synths—Mühle V2 Series

After our findings were published and the project ended, we saw new and exciting synthetic brushes become available. In my opinion, they are the finest synths ever made. They are commonly referred to as the Mühle V2 series of brushes, and they differ in several ways from any previous synths. I believe the current generation of Edwin Jagger brushes shares the same knots.

[Image: V2set_zps698b3419.jpg]

These new V2 fibers are thinner than in any previous synthetic brushes, as well as being more tapered. Thinner fibers allow more to be packed into a given knot size, and result in improved density, backbone and face feel. There is an experience of luxury when using these brushes, like no other synth on the market. They feel soft and silky both dry and wet.

Thinner fibers are also more flexible, and do not require the characteristic high lofts of other synths. The V2 lofts more closely resemble natural hair brushes due to Mühle's fine-tuning and engineering.

Finally, the V2 series so closely resembles natural silvertip badger hair that they are difficult to distinguish from natural-hair badger brushes visually. Their handles and overall quality make them even more appealing.

I won't attempt to review the new Mühle V2 series brushes here. Teiste Brito will be doing that here on ShaveNook in a separate thread. I will contribute my review points there.

When this project began, I asked two questions. A year later, with the introduction of Mühle's V2 series of brushes, the answer to both questions is a resounding YES!

[Image: P1230911_zpsa400ea34.jpg]

A special "Thank You" to Gary Carrington for allowing me to draw liberally from his writing, and for all his work on synthetic brushes and other contributions to the shaving community. I am also grateful to Teiste Brito for allowing me to use his excellent photos.

0 254
Reply
 03-24-2013, 10:48 AM
#2
  • TexBilly
  • Moderator Emeritus
  • Austin, TX
User Info
Excellent work, Jim! I think we can all agree that synthetic brushes have improved rapidly in a relatively short time and now are competitive alternatives for many shavers..

35 2,703
Reply
 03-24-2013, 11:05 AM
#3
User Info
+2, nice concise review.

I never would have considered them when I first began blade shaving, and I NEVER would have thought I'd actually have any.

One observation I've made with them however. If I dunk the brush before beginning to load with soap and face lather I have a far too wet brush. No amount of shaking seems to get the water in the brush "right". So now I just put a little water on the soap in the tub and let the brush use that little bit, or just dip the tips. It's not like the brush gets any benefit from "soaking" anyway. The hard part is breaking the habit of putting it under the water.

32 6,309
Reply
 03-24-2013, 11:16 AM
#4
User Info
Excellent review. I agree that the Muhle brushes are still the flagship synthetic brush line.

The latest from TGN and some of the third generation makers are also very good brushes and are favorites with the traditional shavers.

1 2,827
Reply
 03-24-2013, 11:42 AM
#5
  • Codfish
  • Product Tester
  • Connecticut Shoreline
User Info
(03-24-2013, 11:05 AM)ShadowsDad Wrote: ...I never would have considered them when I first began blade shaving, and I NEVER would have thought I'd actually have any.

One observation I've made with them however. If I dunk the brush before beginning to load with soap and face lather I have a far too wet brush. No amount of shaking seems to get the water in the brush "right". So now I just put a little water on the tub and let the brush use that little bit, or just dip the tips. It's not like the brush gets any benefit from "soaking" anyway. The hard part is breaking the habit of putting it under the water.

For sake of flow, I didn't go into tips for using synths, but you are exactly right. They need very little water and NO soaking. I just wet mine under running water and give them a good squeeze to eliminate almost all of the water. Mark, a team member, had problems initially with synths that shed water. Removing most, or just wetting the tips like Teiste sometimes does, works best!

0 254
Reply
 03-24-2013, 11:53 AM
#6
  • tgutc
  • Senior Member
  • Michigan
User Info
Nice writing. I have yet to use a Muhle Synthetic but they are sounding more appealing.

45 3,955
Reply
 03-24-2013, 12:19 PM
#7
User Info
Good review. For the time being I plan to remain old-fashioned and organic, however, in my choice of brushes.

184 12,002
Reply
 03-24-2013, 01:15 PM
#8
  • freddy
  • Senior Member
  • San Diego, California, U.S.A.
User Info
Thank you for a superb article, Jim. Smile

A couple of questions, if I may. I have a Frank Shaving synthetic that I purchased several months ago. Besides being too big for travel, the only other complaint I have is that it develops some serious doughnut holes. First, while esthetically I just do not like them, do they affect the lathering/face application process in any way (either bowl or face lathering) and, second, what actually causes doughnut holes?

Thanks for any help you can offer.

2 11,211
Reply
 03-24-2013, 01:50 PM
#9
User Info
(03-24-2013, 01:15 PM)freddy Wrote: Thank you for a superb article, Jim. Smile

A couple of questions, if I may. I have a Frank Shaving synthetic that I purchased several months ago. Besides being too big for travel, the only other complaint I have is that it develops some serious doughnut holes. First, while esthetically I just do not like them, do they affect the lathering/face application process in any way (either bowl or face lathering) and, second, what actually causes doughnut holes?

Thanks for any help you can offer.

If I may step in on this one. Doughnut holes are really caused by three factors.

One, the density of the brush may not be great enough. Too much space in any brush (natural or synthetic) will allow doughnut holes to develop.

Two the glue bump (which is an ally in the synthetic knot to simulate bloom or flair) is made too large and makes the knot behave less dense than it is when it is dry. Glue bumps are needed in the synthetic knot where as they are somewhat of a problem in natural knots.

Third the loft may be too long and the length allows the fibers to clump together when wet at the top which can create the hole.

When all three occur, you get a severe doughnut hole that makes the brush in my opinion useless.

Here is an example of when all three occur.

http://shavenook.com/thread-parker-brush...onary-tale

I hope this helps.

1 2,827
Reply
 03-24-2013, 02:02 PM
#10
  • Codfish
  • Product Tester
  • Connecticut Shoreline
User Info
(03-24-2013, 01:15 PM)freddy Wrote: Thank you for a superb article, Jim. Smile

A couple of questions, if I may. I have a Frank Shaving synthetic that I purchased several months ago. Besides being too big for travel, the only other complaint I have is that it develops some serious doughnut holes. First, while esthetically I just do not like them, do they affect the lathering/face application process in any way (either bowl or face lathering) and, second, what actually causes doughnut holes?

Thanks for any help you can offer.

Earlier generation of synths did have drawbacks, and doughnut holes and lathering irregularities were chief among them. I believe that the thicker fibers used before the latest generation were the cause.

Synth fibers are solid, unlike natural hairs and fibers have, as a result, been stiffer than naturals. If you've noticed that older synths have a certain "springiness" it's because they do behave differently. Lofts on older synths were tall compared to naturals in the same knot size in an attempt to better-emulate the characteristics of naturals. Brush designers and synthetic fiber engineers have been aware of this, and developed a work-around.

Unlike with natural hairs, science is able to design improvements in synths relatively quickly. The technology is better understood now. Companies like Mühle, which pioneered Silvertip Fibres, have a lot of experience in this area.

Gen 4 brushes were designed using thinner fibers, and several major advancements have been made, as noted above. They work very well with any soap/cream I and others have tried. They also have a luxurious face feel, and face- and bowl-lather extremely well. They are different than naturals in some ways (they need very little water or product), and in some ways are superior to naturals (ease of cleaning, less use of product, faster drying).

If you are able, borrow a member or friend's V2 to try for a few days. I think you'll be happily surprised. There are those who will resist them because they are not traditional, and that is certainly a choice to be respected. But to have a truly fine shave brush, it is no longer necessary to use a natural.

0 254
Reply
 03-24-2013, 02:04 PM
#11
  • freddy
  • Senior Member
  • San Diego, California, U.S.A.
User Info
(03-24-2013, 01:50 PM)GDCarrington Wrote:
(03-24-2013, 01:15 PM)freddy Wrote: Thank you for a superb article, Jim. Smile

A couple of questions, if I may. I have a Frank Shaving synthetic that I purchased several months ago. Besides being too big for travel, the only other complaint I have is that it develops some serious doughnut holes. First, while esthetically I just do not like them, do they affect the lathering/face application process in any way (either bowl or face lathering) and, second, what actually causes doughnut holes?

Thanks for any help you can offer.

If I may step in on this one. Doughnut holes are really caused by three factors.

One, the density of the brush may not be great enough. Too much space in any brush (natural or synthetic) will allow doughnut holes to develop.

Two the glue bump (which is an ally in the synthetic knot to simulate bloom or flair) is made too large and makes the knot behave less dense than it is when it is dry. Glue bumps are needed in the synthetic knot where as they are somewhat of a problem in natural knots.

Third the loft may be too long and the length allows the fibers to clump together when wet at the top which can create the hole.

When all three occur, you get a severe doughnut hole that makes the brush in my opinion useless.

Here is an example of when all three occur.

http://shavenook.com/thread-parker-brush...onary-tale

I hope this helps.

Thanks, Gary. I just looked at your other post and the holes in my FS don't look anything like that, make lots of lather, and I can get a few passes out of a good lather. I still don't like them, though. Rolleyes

2 11,211
Reply
 03-24-2013, 02:12 PM
#12
User Info
Fantastic information and very well researched, planned and executed. An excellent guide for anyone curious as to synthetics' performance and may just be able to help attract those to whom traditional wet shaving with an animal hair brush is off-putting for whatever reasons. It certainly enlightened me so thank you very much indeed, gentlemen.

1 253
Reply
 03-24-2013, 03:35 PM
#13
User Info
(03-24-2013, 02:02 PM)Codfish Wrote:
(03-24-2013, 01:15 PM)freddy Wrote: Thank you for a superb article, Jim. Smile

A couple of questions, if I may. I have a Frank Shaving synthetic that I purchased several months ago. Besides being too big for travel, the only other complaint I have is that it develops some serious doughnut holes. First, while esthetically I just do not like them, do they affect the lathering/face application process in any way (either bowl or face lathering) and, second, what actually causes doughnut holes?

Thanks for any help you can offer.

Earlier generation of synths did have drawbacks, and doughnut holes and lathering irregularities were chief among them. I believe that the thicker fibers used before the latest generation were the cause.

Synth fibers are solid, unlike natural hairs and fibers have, as a result, been stiffer than naturals. If you've noticed that older synths have a certain "springiness" it's because they do behave differently. Lofts on older synths were tall compared to naturals in the same knot size in an attempt to better-emulate the characteristics of naturals. Brush designers and synthetic fiber engineers have been aware of this, and developed a work-around.

Unlike with natural hairs, science is able to design improvements in synths relatively quickly. The technology is better understood now. Companies like Mühle, which pioneered Silvertip Fibres, have a lot of experience in this area.

Gen 4 brushes were designed using thinner fibers, and several major advancements have been made, as noted above. They work very well with any soap/cream I and others have tried. They also have a luxurious face feel, and face- and bowl-lather extremely well. They are different than naturals in some ways (they need very little water or product), and in some ways are superior to naturals (ease of cleaning, less use of product, faster drying).

If you are able, borrow a member or friend's V2 to try for a few days. I think you'll be happily surprised. There are those who will resist them because they are not traditional, and that is certainly a choice to be respected. But to have a truly fine shave brush, it is no longer necessary to use a natural.

To continue this point. Two additional advantages of the generation 4 fiber are as follows:

1. They can produce an equal amount of spring compression movement with a shorter loft than the older generation knots.

2. They can have more fibers in the same knot size due to the smaller fiber size.

With that, you can achieve an improved performance with a much shorter loft than a generation 3 knot. That is why you have a difference in loft size and performance of the Muhle V2 over the V1. You need less of a glue bump as well to produce a good flair with the shorter loft. So there is a major step up with this fiber.

I have a suspicion that we will see more manufacturers look at this fiber as a viable candidate for top flight brushes in the future.

1 2,827
Reply
 03-24-2013, 04:25 PM
#14
  • Arcadies
  • Senior Member
  • Greeneville, TN
User Info
Excellent write-up!

Well this possibly answers one quirk I have been having in my den lately. I've owned a Muhle 23mm synthetic for a while, but a few months ago ordered another 23mm Edwin Jagger, as I wanted another synthetic anyway, and I enjoyed the look of the handle. I've noticed I keep going to the EJ more often than the Muhle, it just seems better, slightly softer, whips up creamier and more abundant lather and it seems to splay a bit easier when building lather on my face.

I assumed it was just differences in the actual manufacturing process, after reading this I'm leaning more towards the idea that my EJ possibly has the V2 fibres.

31 1,510
Reply
 03-24-2013, 04:30 PM
#15
  • Codfish
  • Product Tester
  • Connecticut Shoreline
User Info
(03-24-2013, 04:25 PM)Arcadies Wrote: Excellent write-up!

Well this possibly answers one quirk I have been having in my den lately. I've owned a Muhle 23mm synthetic for a while, but a few months ago ordered another 23mm Edwin Jagger, as I wanted another synthetic anyway, and I enjoyed the look of the handle. I've noticed I keep going to the EJ more often than the Muhle, it just seems better, slightly softer, whips up creamier and more abundant lather and it seems to splay a bit easier when building lather on my face.

I assumed it was just differences in the actual manufacturing process, after reading this I'm leaning more towards the idea that my EJ possibly has the V2 fibres.

If you ordered the EJ late last year, or since then, you may well have received a V2 model brush. V2s feel noticeably softer to the touch, both wet and dry.

0 254
Reply
 03-24-2013, 04:53 PM
#16
  • Johnny
  • Super Moderator
  • Wausau, Wisconsin, USA
User Info
Jim, nice write-up.

173 23,508
Reply
 03-24-2013, 05:02 PM
#17
User Info
Fantastic summary.

One criticism about word choice though. Flagging. I think you're using the wrong term. Flagging refers to the explosion of the fiber at the tip, like split boar hair. Good explanation of flagging by Dupont in this brochure:

Bottom of page 1 (actual page)

9 2,988
Reply
 03-24-2013, 05:09 PM
#18
  • mikeperry
  • Senior Member
  • St Louis via the UK
User Info
Hi Jim

Excellent write up and very helpful, useful information Thumbsup

Take care, Mike

23 1,872
Reply
 03-24-2013, 05:23 PM
#19
User Info
(03-24-2013, 05:02 PM)asharperrazor Wrote: Fantastic summary.

One criticism about word choice though. Flagging. I think you're using the wrong term. Flagging refers to the explosion of the fiber at the tip, like split boar hair. Good explanation of flagging by Dupont in this brochure:

Bottom of page 1 (actual page)

Without that flagging though, the tips would be hard ended like the original Gen 1 nylon fibers. Those feel like a hard fishing line slapping the skin. So the process to explode the tip allows for that nice soft end to be generated. In addition it is another fiber adjustment to help the fiber hold a little more water at the tip. It is not much, but every bit helps.

http://sharpologist.com/2012/10/syntheti...art-5.html

1 2,827
Reply
 03-24-2013, 05:34 PM
#20
  • Codfish
  • Product Tester
  • Connecticut Shoreline
User Info
This is a close-up I took of a Mühle Black Fibres brush. The "forking" I note looks like examples of flagging to me:

[Image: A37.jpg]

NOTE: The reddish and white colors shown are do to the extreme lighting I used to highlight these details. They are not present in the actual brush under normal lighting conditions.

0 254
Reply
Users browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)