When shopping for a shaving brush, one can quickly become confused with the different grades of shaving brushes on the market today. There are several types of brushes available, such as badger hair, boar bristle, and synthetics, but badger hair is by far the most ideal material for a shaving brush because of its natural water absorbing capability. Unfortunately for the newcomer to wet shaving, brush manufacturers do not have an industry standard in place that specifically defines grades of badger hair. The grade designations vary from one brand to the next, so it can be difficult to understand shaving brush quality and pricing. This article breaks down the basic classifications so that you can easily understand the different characteristics and benefits of various badger hair grades.
Pure badger hair is the most readily available grade of hair since it covers a large percentage of the badger's body. Because of its high availability, pure badger hair is the least expensive of badger types and makes a great starting point for a beginning shaver who wants to learn wet shaving before moving on to a higher quality and more expensive brush. Pure badger typically ranges in color from dark tan to black, and is usually coarser in texture than higher grade hair.
Brushes filled with pure badger are often manufactured with the tips trimmed to form the final shape of the brush loft. This makes the tips of the hair blunt and gives them a scratchier feel on the face that some men find appealing for exfoliation. The courser texture of pure badger also makes it very useful for lathering soaps well because of its ability to agitate the surface of the soap very easily. Some manufacturers offer variations of pure, such as black badger brushes, which comprise only the darkest hairs to create brushes that have longer lofts and more stiffness in the overall feel of the knot. Over time the tips of pure badger hair will soften and feel a bit more broken in, but will never be as soft on the face as higher grades of badger hair.
Best badger offers a significant improvement in feel and quality over pure. Best grade hair is harvested from large areas of the badger, including the belly area of the animal. The hair ranges in color from lighter brown to gray and has more color separation in the length of the hair, often referred to as "banded." Best badger hair has better water absorbing capabilities than pure badger, making it a more ideal brush for creating quality shaving lather, particularly with dense creams that require more water to properly hydrate when lathering.
On the face, best grade hair has a softer feel and not as scratchy as pure; however, it still has some light scrubbiness to it and offers a good middle-of-the-road texture between the scratchy pure badgers and very soft super and silvertip grades. Many men have found that best graded brushes from reputable manufacturers, such as Simpson, Rooney, and Edwin Jagger, offer some of the best values in quality for the price. Many models in this grade are priced very reasonably and will provide outstanding results without compromising quality.
Super badger hair is a finer gauge of hair and has a softer feel than best grade hair. Super badger is not as readily available as best, and it is harvested from the back of the animal. The hair has a distinctive color pattern with a black banded midsection in the hair and whiter tips than the lower quality hair types. The white tips of super badger are very soft on the face and have little to no scratchiness on the skin.
Super badger hair is often color treated by some brush makers to further enhance the whiteness of the brush's cap; however, the tips have the natural taper of the hair shaft and are not trimmed to form the shape of the brush loft. The white tips of the hair are often short and make up the smallest percentage of the length of the hair shaft. Because the brushes are filled with finer hair, more individual hairs are required to fill the brush's knot making them very dense yet soft and luxurious in feel.
Proper care of the shaving brush becomes increasingly more important with super badger brushes. These brushes are filled with more delicate hair and are more susceptible to damage if the brush is abused or not dried properly after each use. The finer gauge of super badger gives it superior water absorbing properties over lower grades of badger hair. The density and water holding capacity of super badger brushes offers a noticeable difference in performance when lathering soaps and creams. These brushes are capable of easily creating some of the richest and creamiest lather making them a popular choice for men who want the finest quality of shaving brushes available. Super badger is the highest grade offered by many manufacturers and is significantly more expensive than best badger.
Found only in the neck area of the badger, silvertip is the rarest and highest grade of hair. There is often a bit of confusion regarding the difference between super and true silvertip badger hair. The silvertip hair is sorted and graded based on very specific characteristics of softness and coloring. Like super badger hair, the silvertip has a very distinct color banding, yet it has the softest and most luxurious natural tips and usually the most defined contrast in color between the black and white color bands. It is also very delicate and caring for the brush properly is very important to prevent the hair from breaking or becoming damaged.
The tips of the hair are never color treated and are left in their natural white to off-white color. The hair is fine gauge and has the most superior water absorbency of any of the badger hair grades. Although the hair is more exquisite in color and feel than super, they do create a very similar quality of lathering from soaps or creams. Both are capable of producing a rich and dense lather because of their ability to absorb water easily and infuse it with the product, but the silvertip has a distinctive quality in the feel against your skin.
On the face, silvertip hair is gentle and luxurious, like a soft cushion that massages the lather on to the face. The value for the increased price difference of silvertip over super is often debatable; however, many recognize silvertip brushes as the finest available in the world. Because of their scarcity, silvertip shaving brushes are the most expensive grade available.
While pure, best, super, and silvertip are the most standard grades seen among the range of shaving brushes on the market, there are also special nonstandard grades that are offered by some manufacturers, such as Rooney, Plisson, and Simpsons. These hair types are rare and are often not produced as a standard grade, but rather a special subcategory because they have very distinctive physical characteristics from other grades of badger hair. Finest and two-band badger are examples that fall in to this category.
These hair types typically have a very firm tensile strength that results in a brush that is very dense and very stiff, a trait preferred by many wet shaving enthusiasts and collectors of shaving brushes. They are identified by their long and striking white tips that sharply contrast with dark black section of the hair that extends all the way down to the base of the knot. Because these black and white sections are the only visible parts of the hair in the knot, they are referred as two-band. Hair that meets these criteria is difficult to source and a result these brushes are not always available. They are generally very high in demand and prized among brush collectors.
Because badger hair is a natural material from an animal there will always be a level of variation from one brush to the next. It is not uncommon to see two brushes of the same grade from the same manufacturer that show some obvious differences in color and appearance when compared side by side. Quality brushes are a hand-made product and each will always have its own unique characteristics. In addition, some brush makers may offer a best badger grade that closely resembles the hair coloration of the super grade offered by another maker. Simpsons, for example, offers only pure, best, and super, yet their super grade closely resembles the silvertips of other brands and commands a comparable retail price point. Kent is another brand that differs in grading designations. The BK and BLK series of silvertip brushes are some of the finest available and they label the handles as pure badger, simply to indicate that the hair knot is produced using only hair from the badger and not necessarily a reference to its quality grade.
It is helpful to understand the different characteristics and benefits of various badger hair grades so that you can understand the qualities and benefits of certain shaving brushes. Although there is not an industry standard that specifically defines grades of badger hair, there are basic classifications that many manufacturers use to describe the quality of hair used in their brushes. Being familiar with pure, best, super, and silvertip grades will help you when exploring the different options of shaving brushes available on the market today. Understanding the grades will help you find the right brush grade that fits your shaving style and your budget.