This seems to be how things go with me in general, and with wetshaving stuff in general: the most amazing stuff comes to the fore when I'm not intently looking for it. The was the case with my current Main Axe razor (Parker Variant, over a year's worth of shaves and still tops in my book), creams (I'm back with D.R. Harris' Arlington after more years than I'd care to count), blades (currently bouncing between Astra Superior Stainless and Croma), and, up to now, brushes - my 20+ year-old J. Peterman brass-handled silvertip for home-on-the-range shaves, and a semi-anonymous, Best-Badger travel brush that stows in its own aluminum handle, for, well, shaves away from home. But the Brush Thing is about to change, at least on the home front.
It started last week wen I noticed that I was past the halfway-used-up point for what's become my fave aftershave balm, Pre de Provence No. 63. This started as a slightly-reluctant replacement for the much-pricier L'Occitane Cade balm I'd discovered the previous year, but actually came to prefer, finding 63 the equal in terms of effectiveness, and superior in terms of scent - still low-key, but more..."interesting" to my senses. (Just like my choice in cologne - for the record, J. Peterman's 1903 - I choose the scent for my own satisfaction first, others' a distant second.) The problem with No. 63, however, is availability: it's pretty much luck-of-the-draw, even though I have both a local source (Pasteur Pharmacy in NYC), as well as online (usually WCS), but both outlets have frequently been out-of-stock. Pasteur was out this time around, but WCS had some this time, and, as luck would have it, they were offering free shipping for the holidays, so I hit their website and quickly plopped a tube into my virtual basket. But, let's admit it, none of us simply click straight to Checkout without, you know, checking other stuff out...blades, soaps/creams, whatever, especially if the thing we originally came for wasn't all that costly to begin with. So, I started perusing brushes, of all things, not because I wasn't satisfied with what I had, but I did have longstanding curiosity about synthetic-bristle brushes, especially since there's been a lot of positive buzz about them over the last few years, in regard to their much-improved performance vis-a-vis badger, moving them beyond the circle of diehard vegans and the like. At the moment, there are tons of synthetics on the market, but somehow, one brush caught my eye, based on an odd nexus of shape, size, handle material, and price: the Yaqi Short Heavy Metal Shaving Brush. Somehow, with a long, descriptive name like that, I didn't need to guess too hard at the brush's origin of manufacture (China, which Yaqi makes no bones about on the box), and the price (as of this writing, $18), was low enough for me to say "what the hell, why not try it?", and added it to my cart, but quickly moved on to Checkout before anything else entered my mind.
Both balm and brush arrived today, and while the box with the tube of No. 63 was quickly squirreled away in my medicine cabinet for future use, the brush was quickly broken out of its box for evaluation: just my good luck that arrived on a shave day. (I'm an every-other-day shaver.) I did my usual bit: fill scuttle with hot water in the base and bowl, place brush in bowl, shower/shampoo/conditioner on both scalp and face (I find hair conditioner on the beard to be a good pre-shave routine), then a towel-down, except for the face, remove brush from scuttle and drain scuttle base, refill with hot water, give brush a light shake, apply a small fingertip-full of cream to brush tip, whip up lather for about fifteen seconds, and...we're off!
The Yaqi is lighter - brushed-aluminum handle versus the 1903's brass - but the balance is close enough not to feel unfamiliar in the hand. Leaving the brush to soak in the scuttle allows the handle to warm up, and that warmth makes handholding feel that much nicer...the contours of the machined handle are smooth without being too slippery. The lather build-up, however, was quite different: for a moment, I thought there was a bit too much water in the mix, because I felt a good deal less resistance stirring the brush on the bowl than with the 1903. I removed the brush and flicked it a bit in the sink, but, curiously, no excess water flung from it. Just to assure myself, I added a tiny dollop of cream to the brush and continued whipping up a lather: there was no difference in resistance, so I just went ahead and started brushing my mug, hoping for the best.
And here's where the next difference made itself known (and another tortured metaphor begins): if my 1903 could be regarded as a brush an expressionist or abstract painter might use, the Yaqi would be more like what that same artist would only use as a base coat on the canvas, or a really good housepainter would use: the 1903 whips up proverbial mountains of lather in swirls across the face, while the Yaqi applies what appears in contrast as a geometrically-smooth coat clear across. At first, I was afraid yet again that the cream/water "mix" was thinner than usual, and I tried to work up a thicker coating, and got it thicker, but with the same, near-seamless coat as the first. It almost looked like a latex mask looking back at me in the mirror.
Then it was time for the shave. I almost loaded a fresh Derby Premium blade in the Variant - Pasteur had them on display when I visited them last week while looking for another tube of No. 63, and picked up a five-pack to try - but decided to stick with the Astra already in the razor, merely giving it a quick corking before getting down to business. (Can't have two variables, after all.) And here's where the business got interesting: however thin the lather appeared to be on my face, the blade took to it with aplomb, shaving noticeably smoother than before. And not just on the first, WTG pass: ATG was smoother and closer. Something was happening on the alchemical/molecular level for this to happen. I will report that while the 1903 is buttery-smooth when lathering up, the Yaqi seems even smoother, though without the floppiness early-generation synthetics were criticized for. Then came the final, XTG pass: again, smoother, closer, and no drama.
Warm rinse, cold rinse, towel-down, after-shave: Pretty much BBS, which I don't actively pursue anymore ("it happens when it happens"), and, as I write this hours later, the skin-feel is rather uncanny. And all because I changed to a "cheap" brush?
So, yes, based on the first shave, the Yaqi is stupid-amazing, especially for under twenty bucks, and the look and in-the-hand feel belies its low cost. The other factor was "compatibility": I have a favorite razor/brush holder I bought a number of years back from a fellow BandB member who was making them, and I was happily surprised that my 1903 brush fir perfectly in it; I also appreciated the fact that, given its (high-grade) plastic construction, that neither my razors or brushes would suffer any wear from repeated removal and replacement therein. I'm happy to report that the Yaqi is quite at home in the holder.
So, I now have a third brush. The 1903 isn't going anywhere, merely moving for the very first time into "rotation" status with the Yaqi. (Funny thing, though: I have four other razors, three of them adjustable, besides the Parker Variant [not counting my Parker A1R travel razor because, well, travel], but I haven't touched any of them since getting the Variant). In terms of overall value, the Yaqi is simply off the charts. Highly recommended.