Here we offer some high level insight into how we go about creating larger numbers of single-resin BSSW shaving brushes. This might seem long-winded, but in truth what's described in this article represents only about 40% of the work involved in getting your new brush into your hands. We should say at the outset that the processes for creating Morris & Forndran and multi-resin brushes somewhat different--and that building multi-resin brushes requires a lot more work; but because those processes involve several trade secrets, we shall save describing them for another time.
So let's get to it....
When creating larger numbers of the same brush, we take a production line approach in which the same—or several closely related—operation(s) is(are) performed before moving on to the next step. This “staging” process allows us to develop a rhythm that results in both a higher degree of brush-to-brush uniformity along with improved production throughput. (You can see the examples of the first four stages in the “Evolution” photo below. The handle components shown are from a special design we created for one of the wet shaving forums. The process is otherwise the same.)
In this example, we begin by cutting 50mm diameter cast polyester rods, as received from our supplier, into handle-length segments. We start with a larger diameter rod because cast polyester rods typically warp when curing and rarely come out of the mold perfectly round and straight. Additionally, most of the so-called "Fancy Resins" (Disco, Moonjava, etc.) don't typically reveal "clear" colors until 4-5mm of the outer "shell" have been removed. These segments are rough cut about 2mm longer than the “finished” length to allow for “wiggle room” during lathe turning and finishing (Stages 2—4.) (Yes, there is a LOT of waste!)
During the second stage, we transform our handle segment into a rough-turned “blank.”
- After mounting the rod segment on the lathe, we
- Reduce the segment to a diameter ~1-2mm larger than the largest part of the finished handle. (This slight excess will be removed during Finish Turning.)
- We then trim the top of the handle segment “squaring” it to the handle sides.
- Next, we drill the socket to the precise depth needed to ensure the desired bristle loft. This is always done on the lathe to ensure proper knot alignment.
- When dictated by the handle design, we then form the collar, “ring” or other ornamentation at the top of the handle along with the "shoulder" (the curved section just below the collar.)
- Finally, we sand these sections through five progressively finer “grits” of sandpaper. Sanding removes any residual tool marks and leaves a semi-gloss finish that will be buffed to the mirror polish we all expect.
- After all blanks have been "prepped," it's on to Stage 3.
In the third stage (called “Finish Turning”), we transform the prepped blank into its final shape and dimensions, and make it ready for polishing in Stage 4. (We combine Stages 3 & 4 for reasons we'll explain in a moment.)
- We again fix the blank to the lathe, but now the blank is held by the socket.
- Next, we fine-tune the handle length and mark the key cuts in pencil.
- With the lathe running at full speed (~3,250rpm), we turn the handle blank to its final shape.
- Once the final shape has been established, we sand the entire handle through the same progressively finer grits used at the end of Stage 2 to remove all tool marks, leaving a semi-gloss finish ready for buffing.
- After inspecting our work, it’s on to Stage 4.
Stage 4 involves buffing the finish-turned handle through a progression of four different cloth “wheels.” Each wheel has a different composition and is coated with progressively finer buffing compounds. Our handle is carefully buffed, being inspected after each step and either re-buffed or even returned to the lathe for touch-up sanding until all marks/scratches have been removed—and our handle reflects a mirror finish.
At the end of Stage 4, the handle is carefully examined under different lighting conditions both by eye and under magnification before being turned over to Nancy, my wife, who double-checks my work. If (when!) she finds anything I’ve missed, she gives the handle back to me—often with a joking “ya missed something” remark.
In Stage 5 we imprint our logo and provenance ("where the brush is made.") Imprinting is done using state of the art pad printing technology where a laser-etched 2-D image is transferred to our 3-D handle. The laser-etched image is created at extremely high 1,200 dots per inch resolution to ensure the crispest possible image on our handle. The inks used are the same specialty inks employed by large manufacturers to imprint medical instruments, stainless steel insulated mugs, and other difficult substrates.
After imprinting, our handles are baked in an oven for a fixed period of time at carefully controlled temperatures. This baking cures the ink, bonding it to the underlying plastic (the “substrate”) at the molecular level through a process chemists call, “chemical cross-linking.”
Another inspection then on to Stage 7. (That’s not a typo. Read on!)
Stage 6 (no, we don’t get off that easily!) is where the knots are prepared.
- We start by inspecting each knot for proper shape and density, then
- Rough-up each knot plug base with a Fordham tool (think oversized Dentist’s drill) fitted with a carbide burr. This gives the epoxy plenty to grab onto when we set the knot.
- Next, we sanitize and shampoo each knot two times in a borax and shampoo solution with conditioner. Each "shampoo" is followed by a warm water rinse to rinse away the dirt and most of the “badger funk.” This process also jump-starts the break-in process--and lets us weed-out any obvious “shedders” before they’re set in the handle.
- A final inspection and the knots are set aside to dry in a humidity-controlled room.
Stage 7 is where it all comes together.
- At long last, we bring the sanitized, shampoo’d and conditioned knots together with the finished handles.
- First, we “dry-set” each knot to double-check for correct bristle loft—and make any necessary adjustments to the socket depth.
- We now set the knots using a high-tech epoxy engineered to stand up to water and chemical environments.
- The completed brushes are then set aside for at least eight hours while the epoxy cures.
- One final inspection and your now completed brush is carefully packed into our logo box, labelled, and set aside before being packed and shipped.