For some of folks, what follows might seem too basic. If you're one of them, feel free to click past. You won’t hurt my feelings, I promise! But for others—especially those of us using a synthetic brush for the first time—learning how to build terrific lather with a new shaving brush can be a challenge.
For that reason, I decided to write up some thoughts to help you along. Let me say
right off that some experimentation might be in order because you may need to adjust this technique depending on how “hard” or "soft" your water might be--as well as the type(s) of soap or cream (creme?) you use. Most of what I'll have to say pertains to soap, since that’s what I use. Cream users will need to pick and choose.
Over time, you’ll gradually develop your own process; but if you’re just starting out—or starting out with a new brush, give this a try.
Let’s start by understanding that lather consists of three components: soap (or cream), water and air. Get those proportions right and you will build terrific lather!
So let’s get to it….
- First off, most lather “failures” come from using either too much water—or too much water too soon! So lesson #1 is learning how to control the amount of water. Here, the rule of thumb is: better too little than too much. We can always add more water, but it’s pretty tough to take it away.
- If we’re using soap, start with a small “puddle” of water (warm or cold is up to you) on the soap while you shower (or whatever you do to prep for your shave.) Some folks will soak the entire puck in water. Soaking the entire puck works for especially hard soaps like Mitchell’s Wool Fat—or if you have very “hard” water. In either case, the idea is to soften the soap to get it ready for “Loading the Brush.” Cream users can obviously bypass this step.
- Next comes what I call “prepping the brush.” How you “prep” your brush will vary depending on the kind of “hair” your brush has. If you’re using a synthetic brush, I recommend skipping this step entirely. Just leave your synthetic brush dry for the moment. But if it’s Badger, Boar or Horse hair, I find it best to simply run the brush under the tap just enough to get it wet. Then gently wring out most of the water. Some folks will soak their brushes in water for a few minutes first. I find that unnecessary, but YMMV.
Loading the brush. Loading the brush is probably the most important step—it’s certainly where most “lather failures” happen. If you’re using a synthetic brush, leave a little water on top of the puck; otherwise dump all the water. Then swirl the brush against the puck for at least 60 seconds, depressing the bristles no more than about ¼ of the way down. (Pressing any farther only slows the loading process and breaks the tips, eventually causing a “donut hole” in the center.) You should feel resistance as the tips drag across the soap. This means soap is collecting in the bristles. Ignore what appears to be lather forming at this stage. This “proto lather” is just a precursor to true lather. If the soap starts to feel dry and pasty, you can add a few drops of water. What we’re looking for is rubbery “goo” on both the soap and brush.
- Now that our brush is loaded, we can either “face lather” or “bowl lather.” Which one you choose is purely personal preference. Let’s talk about face lathering first.
Face Lathering: Dip the tips of your loaded brush in a little water, then start lathering your face, alternating between swirls and back and forth “paint brush” strokes. Gradually add water, a little at a time, by dipping the tips of your brush in hot tap water. Continue lathering for 3 – 4 minutes until the lather reaches a rich foamy consistency you like. Then start shaving.
- Bowl lathering. Bowl lathering is similar to face lathering except here we develop our lather in either a soup bowl sized shaving bowl or scuttle (again, the choice is yours.) Put a few drops of tap water in the bottom of the bowl, then swirl the brush around for 3 – 4 minutes, gradually adding water a little at a time until the desired consistency is reached. Again, depress the brush only about ¼ of the way down. Then start shaving.
- Face Lathering: Dip the tips of your loaded brush in a little water, then start lathering your face, alternating between swirls and back and forth “paint brush” strokes. Gradually add water, a little at a time, by dipping the tips of your brush in hot tap water. Continue lathering for 3 – 4 minutes until the lather reaches a rich foamy consistency you like. Then start shaving.
This is what works for me but “your mileage may vary” as they say. You can always call or email me with questions. I love to hear from you. There are also a ton of shaving videos on YouTube and lots of advice on the shaving forums.
I find immense satisfaction in building terrific lather the way my father and grandfathers did. It’s one way to connect with the generations that have gone before us. But whether you think this way or not, the big thing is to enjoy the ride!
Until next time.
Enjoy your Shave!