The fundamental tools of the trade are water (warm or cold although most people prefer warm), some sort of lubricant (usually shaving cream or soap) that can be used to form a lather, a brush to apply the lather, and a razor to remove the beard.

Soaps and creams

A lather is formed by the aeration/hydration of a shaving cream or hard shaving soap. A good soap/cream creates lather easily, lubricates and protects the face during the shave, and provides a pleasant aroma during the shave.

Soap making was an established craft in Europe by the seventh century, and were the first products used to create shaving lather. More than likely whatever hand/body soap was around the house was used to create a lather for shaving. Later, soaps specifically formulated for shaving were created. Hard soaps are generally poured into a container or formed into cakes.

A good soap/cream creates lather easily, lubricates and protects the face during the shave.

Shaving cream is a more recent phenomenon, only having existed for the past two hundred years or so. Creams have a soft consistency, often containing glycerin, naturally occurring saponified fats, and added scents.

Skin can react quite differently to different products, so what works well for one person may not work for someone else. In general, the more lubricating the material is, the better the shave will be. Of secondary concern is the scent of the product. These fall into several categories, including floral, woody, cologne-scented, etc.

Shaving Brushes

A shaving brush consists of a handle containing some sort of animal hair, usually boar or badger bristles. These animals are somewhat unique in that their hair absorbs water rather than repelling it. This allows water in the brush to mix with the shaving cream or soap to create a lather suitable for shaving. There is also a third kind of brush, one with synthetic fibre instead of hair. These brushes generally are cheapest and of lesser quality until very recently, but of use particularly for people who object to using animal products.

Why use a brush?

The bristles in the brush aerate/hydrate the water and cream (or soap) to form lather. This is used to lubricate and protect the face during the shave. In addition the bristles have a mild ex-foliating effect on the skin. Perhaps most importantly, the brush feels very good on the face – a very soothing feeling indeed when warm lather is applied.

What kind of brush should I get?

There are many types of brushes at many different price points. The handle should be comfortable to hold, and the bristles tightly packed. “Knot size”, or the diameter of the bristle mass at the handle end, is a measure of how large the brush is. Larger knot sizes make it easier to create large quantities of lather, but can be somewhat unwieldy on a small face. In the end, personal preference and aesthetics will determine what one person prefers versus another. A 22-26 mm knot size is a good starting point for many beginners.

Badger, boar, or synthetic?

Boar bristles are thicker, stiffer and hold less water than badger, and the brushes made from them are generally cheaper. Many men feel boar bristles are well suited to hard soap due to the stiffness of the bristles. Badger bristles, however, are much softer than boar and feel more luxurious on the face.

A badger shaving brush has been the standard for shaving brushes for centuries.

Synthetic bristles have been improving in recent years and are now more than shave worthy.

Grades of badger hair

There are several grades of badger hair, but unfortunately the nomenclature is not standardised, see more background here.

Generally, “pure badger” is the lowest grade, coming from the back of the animal. Pure badger is a dark colour, and is the least soft of the grades. “Finest (sometimes “best” or “super”) badger” is the middle grade, and has white tips with a dark band below. “Silvertip” is the highest grade, with very soft white bristles, also with a dark band below. Silvertip is harvested from the animal’s neck area.


Double edge razors

Double edge (DE) safety razors are the kind of razor your father and grandfather most likely used. The blade itself is a thin, flexible, two sided metal blade made to be used in a safety razor. These blades have a standard dimension and are commonly available very cheaply either on-line or in pharmacies or good grocery or convenience stores.

A safety razor holds the DE blade in place, and can be either fixed or adjustable in how much blade edge is exposed.

Common brands include the currently manufactured Merkur and Mühle-Pinsel, amongst an every increasing range of artisan brands, and vintage Gillette and Schick razors.

Safety razors were good enough for your father and grandfather – they will be good enough for you too!

Straight razors

Straight Razors (cut-throats) were among the first metal implements fashioned specifically for shaving. They are sharp, open metal blade with a handle to protect and store it. They need considerable skill to keep sharp enough for shaving through stropping and honing.

Cartridge razors

Disposable (fixed-head) and cartridge razors began to appear in volume in the early 1970s. Since then, there has been a proliferation of single, double, triple, quadruple, quintuple, and now sextuple-blade cartridge systems sold to the public.

Be a wet shaving evangelist, spread the word!