08-21-2020, 02:06 PM
#1
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I’ve basically been a badger brush user since I started wet shaving. I’ve gained a recent appreciation for boar, but I wanted to hear from the community. Other than price, what are the advantages to a good synthetic brush over a badger brush?

While I am mostly asking about performance characteristics, I want to be clear that I don’t think we need to exclude the treatment of badgers in China from this discussion.

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 08-21-2020, 03:41 PM
#2
  • chazt
  • Senior Member
  • Queens, NY
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Just one man’s opinion.. Synthetic fibers are all over the place. Some are cloud-like soft, others not so much. In the last two to three years I have tried Plisson, Thater and Simpson synthetics, plus other more generic knots such as the so-called tuxedo and mother lode knots. All are vastly softer feeling and more usable than an older style of fiber found in my older Omega Hi-Brush. To be fair, I have a definite preference for the Simpson Platinum grade fibers and the mother lode fibers. The newest Simpson fibers as found in the Trafalgar series are almost as good, imo. Those three brush fibers are enjoyable to use. They feel different from natural materials. Is that better? I don’t know. Folks say that synthetic brushes need less loading. I have no opinion there as I tend to load all my brushes pretty heavily. I’ve heard they are more hygienic than natural fibers, but don’t know where that comes from exactly. Maybe because they rinse so cleanly and are less prone to staying damp and getting moldy. Synthetics are certainly easier to rinse. Because they dry so quickly and are very resilient, they’re wonderful for traveling if you won’t be in one place for more than one night.

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 08-21-2020, 04:04 PM
#3
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(08-21-2020, 02:06 PM)LostinCincy Wrote: I’ve basically been a badger brush user since I started wet shaving. I’ve gained a recent appreciation for boar, but I wanted to hear from the community. Other than price, what are the advantages to a good synthetic brush over a badger brush?

While I am mostly asking about performance characteristics, I want to be clear that I don’t think we need to exclude the treatment of badgers in China from this discussion.

The most significant advantage would be that synthetic brushes do not need to be soaked and dry more quickly and are therefore more suitable as a travel brush. Their low price also makes them an ideal beginners brush. I would recommend a good synthetic over a boar brush to a beginner. I haven't tried any of the synthetic brushes by the elite brush makers, but I have a couple of brushes from stirling and I am quite happy with them. They also have enough backbone to work well with soap pucks. I do find that I prefer to use the badger when I use soaps, but I think that is because of the way I build a latter on my face. I load directly on the puck and apply a dense soap paste to my face. Then I dip the brush in water and slowly build the lather on my face. I find that the synthetic brush holds more water after a dip and soapy liquid splashes around. It builds the lather just fine, but it is a little more messy. This seems to be less of an issue with creams. I find myself using the badger brushes mostly with soaps and the synthetics mostly with creams. 

These 2 synthetic brushes have changed my opinion on badger brushes. I now see badger brushes as a luxury item and not a necessity. Don't get me wrong, I like my badger brushes and use them regularly, but if I had not bought my badger brushes before I bought my synthetics, I probably would not have bought them. 

My concerns with the synthetics would be that I don't know how these synthetic fibres are made, what goes into their manufacturing and what happens to them after they are discarded. Manufacturing of plastics is typically a very polluting process. In addition, if these fibres last for hundreds of years and are likely to end up in the dump, that is bad in itself. While I do not want to ignore the treatment of badgers in China, I have come to the conclusion that the solution is not wasting. Managing my acquisition disorders is important to me. If I buy another badger, I would like to buy from an ethical source.

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 08-22-2020, 03:27 AM
#4
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ymmv - imho
If you like to load harshly and grind your brush on your face then synthetics are perfect.
I own Simpson's Trafalgar T2, T3 and a Muhle HJM and enjoy harsh loads and face grinds.  I dare not do this with any other hair types.
my 2 cents

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 08-22-2020, 08:50 AM
#5
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Here's my 2 cents.

Obviously, brushes come in sorts, sizes and quality.
So I wondered with the OP about the advantages of synthetics, and it occurred to me these vary at different levels.

I divided the brushes I am familiar with in inferior, mediocre, good and excellent, and debated their compatitive advantages.

[Image: uSgNFn3.png]

A few observations:

I do think that badgers, even the lousy ones, tend to outperform bad fibres. There is only a few brushes ever I had to part with and those were usually coarse, rough, nylon-y fibres (or horsehair). So when it comes to cheap, not so good brushes, the only reason I can think of to prefer synthetics is either its price and (often) easy replaceability, or a problem with animal hair (either because of unsustainable business practices, or medical reasons such as an allergy). In this category, I also question the sustainability of production with all the plastic materials (even more than in the other categories). 

In the 'so so' category, mediocre is just mediocre. I do not really care for under or nearly- on par badgers, but I also do not like ugly and under par fibers. Same as in category 1, price might be a decisive factor. 

I cannot decide when it comes to 'good'  brushes. It is a draw between the fibres and the badger. Reasons could include: 
  • synths are cheaper, so price performance is in their advantage
  • synths dry fast, and perform well, but good badgers are solid performers as well. 
  • badger knots are becoming scarce
  • animal welfare is an issue (and likewise, I take care with exotic woods and also ivory is not for me)
  • Synthetics have a shorter break in period(some say no, but my experience is different) 
And then the pièce de résistance: the hors category. In which badger still wins in my book. There is something about an extremely well built badger knot that - especially in terms of face feel - cannot be beaten by synthetics. They also look more classy in my opinion. I addition to the points above:
  • There is no smell in a synthetic fibres, whereas badgers sometimes can take a few pins to clean
  • The excellent synthetics can do with less care, they are more robust
  • And something i have not researched, but suspect: prestigious badgers may keep better value (I have seem vintage brushes for stellar prices, and doubt whether that will be the case with good fibres)

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 08-22-2020, 11:52 AM
#6
  • chazt
  • Senior Member
  • Queens, NY
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A solid post, Wim. I like the chart and your approach to “tipping the scale” either way. We’re left with trying to define / quantify good, mediocre, etc. I have owned a few “bad” badger knots and a agree that a so-so synthetic is preferred.

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 08-22-2020, 12:01 PM
#7
  • Gabe
  • Senior Member
  • Arizona
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(08-22-2020, 08:50 AM)wimbouman Wrote: Here's my 2 cents.

Obviously, brushes come in sorts, sizes and quality.
So I wondered with the OP about the advantages of synthetics, and it occurred to me these vary at different levels.

I divided the brushes I am familiar with in inferior, mediocre, good and excellent, and debated their compatitive advantages.

[Image: uSgNFn3.png]

A few observations:

I do think that badgers, even the lousy ones, tend to outperform bad fibres. There is only a few brushes ever I had to part with and those were usually coarse, rough, nylon-y fibres (or horsehair). So when it comes to cheap, not so good brushes, the only reason I can think of to prefer synthetics is either its price and (often) easy replaceability, or a problem with animal hair (either because of unsustainable business practices, or medical reasons such as an allergy). In this category, I also question the sustainability of production with all the plastic materials (even more than in the other categories). 

In the 'so so' category, mediocre is just mediocre. I do not really care for under or nearly- on par badgers, but I also do not like ugly and under par fibers. Same as in category 1, price might be a decisive factor. 

I cannot decide when it comes to 'good'  brushes. It is a draw between the fibres and the badger. Reasons could include: 

  • synths are cheaper, so price performance is in their advantage
  • synths dry fast, and perform well, but good badgers are solid performers as well. 
  • badger knots are becoming scarce
  • animal welfare is an issue (and likewise, I take care with exotic woods and also ivory is not for me)
  • Synthetics have a shorter break in period(some say no, but my experience is different) 
And then the pièce de résistance: the hors category. In which badger still wins in my book. There is something about an extremely well built badger knot that - especially in terms of face feel - cannot be beaten by synthetics. They also look more classy in my opinion. I addition to the points above:
  • There is no smell in a synthetic fibres, whereas badgers sometimes can take a few pins to clean
  • The excellent synthetics can do with less care, they are more robust
  • And something i have not researched, but suspect: prestigious badgers may keep better value (I have seem vintage brushes for stellar prices, and doubt whether that will be the case with good fibres)

So you are saying, just buy an excellent badger. I like it.   Thumbup

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 08-22-2020, 12:20 PM
#8
  • garyg
  • Senior Member
  • Great Lakes
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I like Wim's analysis above.  I've owned & used over 100 brushes in the last decade or so, including a number of the synths.  The latter have the practical advantage of drying quickly, and don't stink when new, but that means little if you don't travel.  I've had some outstanding Simpson's Synthetics, and some (insert brand here)lousy ones .. for me.  I've at present retained too many brushes, in the ratio of around 10% synthetic to 90% badger.  

But to me, it is the difference between an appliance and an automobile.  A Yugo starts & goes, mostly, but only the most soulless comrade wouldn't prefer a Mustang GT Convertible ..  the "hors" categorie as Gabe puts it.

And I'd echo the question of whether plastics production and disposal isn't more harmful to our environment than the harvesting & use of animal species

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 08-22-2020, 01:28 PM
#9
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what about hybrid badger and/or boar and/or horse?

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 08-23-2020, 02:27 AM
#10
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(08-22-2020, 12:01 PM)Gabe Wrote: So you are saying, just buy an excellent badger. I like it.   Thumbup

Hi,

I can always find a solid and valid reason for another high end Simpsons, Paladin, Wiborg or Semogue :-)
But at lower price points, synths really give natural hair brushes a run for their money.

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 08-23-2020, 02:30 AM
#11
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(08-22-2020, 01:28 PM)jackgoldman123 Wrote: what about hybrid badger and/or boar and/or horse?


The Mistura knots of Semogue are definitely a worthy contender.
I like them a lot.

In terms of the little spreadsheet, they would be a new category somewhere around ' good badger' !

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 08-23-2020, 02:56 AM
#12
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(08-22-2020, 11:52 AM)chazt Wrote: A solid post, Wim. I like the chart and your approach to “tipping the scale” either way. We’re left with trying to define / quantify good, mediocre, etc. I have owned a few “bad” badger knots and a agree that a so-so synthetic is preferred.

Sure, good point.
These are not scientifically defined categories, more an intuitive ranking. 

My 2 cts:

Inferior brushes refer in general to the badgers and synths around 10 USD. There are decent ones, especially from the trusted vendors, but they are scarce. At that price level, one could argue boar would be the way to go. Mediocre refer to the bulk or the middle of the road brushes. The knots are solid but not exciting, the handles are well done but nothing special. Say, your typical 50-100 USD badger. Good brushes have nicer specs, but do not necessarily need to be more expensive. That also depends on personal preference, for style or heritage. Good synthetics can come as reasonable as 20 USD, like the Simpsons Trafalgar series. And as added before, there are also mixed or hybrid knots like Semogues Mistura that are wonderful. Likewise, Muhle's are solid synthetic brushes. Excellent brushes in my mind are the hand made, high specced brushes that use high end materials and pay a lot of attention to look and feel, style and experience. Think of the high end Paladins, Simpsons or Semogue Selected Silvertips. 

Now that is not to say expensive equals excellent. I have a few expensive brushes that do not live up to the expectations. I'd consider them inferior, frankly (usually because they are style over substance). Nor do reasonable prices equal less than stellar performance. Said Simpsons Trafalgar comes to mind. And in similar fashion, I have some Muhle synthetics with custom larger and lower lofts that are not expensive but punch way above their weight. The relation between price and performance in shaving brushes is not perfectly linear, as we probably all know and experienced first hand. In my book they can be considered excellent, but at lower prices than the highly sought and admired high end badgers.

I realize I fail miserably in trying to get a clear definition. The goal of the chart was - in the first place for myself - to structure the discourse a bit. And as for the question of the OP, come up with a nuanced answer about the advantages - or the why - of synthetics. Like, I would not use a synth in the same way I use my unobtainable Paladin Falstaf. For instance, sometimes the price point and replaceability of the synthetic is a 'why' - but in other circumstances it is not. You will not find my beloved RV AS2M hommage in my dopp kit either!

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 08-23-2020, 03:14 AM
#13
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Without failure, without constantly approximating and forecasting I doubt we would have scientific breakthroughs. So, to quote Churchill, keep on going. 
The chart is a great start and with feedback from other members this could eventually become a gold standard for grading brushes. ymmv of course.

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 08-23-2020, 05:54 AM
#14
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I do really appreciate the responses (and the chart!). These days, I pretty much live in the lower right corner of the chart, so I was wondering if there was something I was missing that made people use them. Regardless, I’m going to keep my eye out and consider mixing in a good synthetic. The ones I’ve tried to date were pretty disappointing, but there’s clearly a range.

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 08-23-2020, 07:53 AM
#15
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I used synthetic exclusively when I use creams; lately I have been using my synthetics even more than my Paladin's and others. I like the less maintenance the synthetics offer.

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 08-24-2020, 05:29 PM
#16
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Yep love that detailed post and I agree,  if you want the absolute best experience (face feel, luxurious feel and looks) just go with the premium High End Badger brushes and dont look back (ones I would categorize as such are: M&F, Simpsons, Declaration Grooming, Mozingo, Paladin, Black Eagle, Varlet, Rhodium)

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 08-24-2020, 11:25 PM
#17
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(08-23-2020, 07:53 AM)JRRIII Wrote: I used synthetic exclusively when I use creams; lately I have been using my synthetics even more than my Paladin's and others. I like the less maintenance the synthetics offer.

Yes, indeed.
We might add that to the the list of advantages throughout all categories: they ask less care and maintenance.

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 08-24-2020, 11:26 PM
#18
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(08-24-2020, 05:29 PM)heribertomaya Wrote: Yep love that detailed post and I agree,  if you want the absolute best experience (face feel, luxurious feel and looks) just go with the premium High End Badger brushes and dont look back (ones I would categorize as such are: M&F, Simpsons, Declaration Grooming, Mozingo, Paladin, Black Eagle, Varlet, Rhodium)

I never heard of Mozingo.
Will check them out, interesting.

And I should have Black eagle to the list indeed.
Great brushes! I have one, it is a favourite.

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 08-29-2020, 09:10 AM
#19
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I keep wanting to love my badgers, but all of my synthetics seem to build a better lather and release way better than any of my badgers. Don’t get me wrong, I love them but I usually have to super overload the soap. Especially with anything that is high density.

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 08-29-2020, 05:42 PM
#20
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(08-29-2020, 09:10 AM)Whisker_whacker Wrote: I keep wanting to love my badgers, but all of my synthetics seem to build a better lather and release way better than any of my badgers. Don’t get me wrong, I love them but I usually have to super overload the soap. Especially with anything that is high density.

I’ve been experimenting a lot lately, and I have to say that I’m very impressed by what you can get out of a quality synthetic. Honestly... if you’re happy and don’t feel a compulsion to go for the highest-end badgers, I’d stick with synthetics and just be happy!

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