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Layering: My new (old) lather method

Not for me. It’s the Devil and in a bad way. Lots of water and soap/cream with minimal air is the home of my best shaves. I need as much as possible on my skin and nothing is needed above my skin.
Agree to disagree.

I always bowl lather. I think the key to getting the water/lathering product/air ratio correct is to slow down the swirling speed and to curtail its intensity.

If air is not an important component of lather you would be better off just taking a tiny bit of cream onto your fingers and applying it gently to a wet face. Even paintbrush motloms with the brush serve mostly to introduce air into the mix.

And by the way, one can get a perfectly good shave by just applying a thin layer of cream to a wet face. You get all the slickness of a regular lather, perhaps even more. Plus your cream will last forever. But for me the function of lather is more than just slickness. Getting the ratio of water, product, and air just right is the whole purpose of using a brush to lather, imo. If you don't want air, it is probably better to omit the brush.


Lounging On The Isle Of Tugsley.
If you don't want air, it is probably better to omit the brush.

It should be, but I get a wetter, slicker lather with a brush at this point. I’ll give brushless a better try, though, because your point makes sense. Thank you, Randall.


Remember to forget me!
If air is not an important component of lather you would be better off just taking a tiny bit of cream onto your fingers and applying it gently to a wet face.

Shave sticks can work very well that way too. A shave stick rubbed on wet stubble, and lathered with wet fingers alone. I have done that many times. In fact I have used regular bar soap to good effect the same way.

I still prefer the brush though.

Even paintbrush motloms with the brush serve mostly to introduce air into the mix.

As you said above, agree to disagree.

The brushes' primary role is to get lather everywhere it needs to be. Covering the skin, including under low lying stubble, making sure there are no dry and unlubricated "shadow" areas for the blade to foul upon. It's also good for laying off the lather, keeping the applied thickness low, so as not to "muffle" the shave feel.

I think of my razor as much as a stylus as I do a cutting tool. Many a time I have stopped at a fledgling spot that I had not seen, but had felt with my razor, before plowing through it. I can feel if the angle is off, or the edge is waning. Bulky lather stifles that awareness, increasing the chance of mishap or mishandling, on my shaves at least. There's nothing that an aerated lather offers me, that I would sacrifice that in-shave awareness for.

If you don't want air, it is probably better to omit the brush.

I can get just the lather I want with the brush, and the brush teases the lather all around the stubble, far better than my fat fingers ever could. There's no reason to forego a brush, to get less aerated lather.

If people prefer a different lather to me, that's all well and good. I will certainly be keeping the brush though, and my low profile slickest lather, and the great shaves I get from it. I have tried other ways and means since I first started with double edge back in the early 90's, but the lathers I'm getting now, with various brushes and this method, are as good or finer than they have ever been.
This is something I’ve been playing around with for a little while recently, and wanted to share my progress. Apologies in advance for the long post, but there's a lot to share.


I started toying around with this concept, because of a couple of “floppy” best badger and super badger brushes. They simply didn’t have the backbone for my regular face lathering technique. This was especially the case, with two or more days growth, as they just laid lather on top of the stubble, because they lack the stiffness to work it through the beard to properly cover the skin. I also noticed that once the brush was laden, the brush had even less backbone than it did when empty. So In order to try to get the lower backbone brushes performing better, I decided to try to figure out if they could be used more effectively with far less product in the brush.

Older backstory:

The first synthetic brush I owned was an Omega Hi-Brush. I still have it. It has by far the springiest bristles of any of my synthetics, but I soon learned that it was also a fantastic brush for using with shave sticks, providing I painted only. Attempting to scrub and swirl with it, could fling lather, and leave more on adjacent walls than on my face, but as I can’t scrub or swirl effectively with the floppy badgers either, I decided that using the painting style that I use with the Hi-Brush, might be a good place to start.

Even older backstory:

I learned to shave with a double edge razor, and to lather with soap and brush, in the early '90s. Back before the “benefit” of internet forums, shave vids, or anyone else advising me what to do. I just had to figure it out as I went, and what I did then, was nothing like what most shavers on here tend to do now. However what I did before, bouncing between adding soap and water, worked every single time… because I didn’t stop tweaking until it did work. It was only when I started reading internet forums, that I let the digital realm convince me that collecting all the soap I might need (and often more) for all the passes I intended doing, should all be stuffed into the brush right from the outset.

Abandoning that greedy first load, gave me the final piece of the jigsaw.

Drawing from those three elements mentioned above, I’m now getting fantastic lathers from my lowest backbone brushes, and my scrubbier brushes perform at least as well as they ever did.. At times, I think they too might be getting better lather than I have had over the last five to ten years.

Here’s what I ended up with…


I start out with a damp brush, well shaken to get the excess water out. I then start to load as normal… but I don’t load anywhere near enough for a three pass shave. I only load the brush, so there’s barely enough to paint a film of soap on the whole shaving area. Then after painting that on, I dunk the brush. Not just dip the tips, but dunk the whole knot underwater. That’s key to stopping the core of the knot getting gummed up with thick lather. After a gentle shake to dislodge the excess water, I then paint the water that’s left on top of the soap on the face. Dunking again if necessary to cover the whole face. Then I go back to the puck again with the still damp brush, load a little more, and repeat the cycle. All the time, I’m gradually building up layers of soap and water onto the face, while keeping the brush running as lean as possible.

Dunking the whole knot each time I add water, prevents a build up of thick lather deep in the knot, and ensures there’s far more free action to the bristles in the center. As a result, what little backbone is in the brush when dry, remains far more usable while lathering. However, the frequent additions of water also help flush the lather through the stubble, eliminating any dry shadows, and making sure the whole skin area is well lubricated. As such, I’ve had success getting super slick lather, everywhere it needs to be, through three days stubble, with nothing more than painting strokes. No swirling. Even with my floppiest brush.

For the painting strokes, I try to keep the brush close to upright on the face when going against the grain, to try and “sweep” the lather under the hair. When painting with the grain, the brush leans more, pressing the lather through the beard with the side of the knot. That sounds more complicated than it is. In reality, the neutral position of the brush, is that the handle leans slightly away from the knot in the same direction as the hair growth, and then the different approach angle just happens naturally as I paint.

The “building” of the lather all comes from this layering process. A little soap, a little water, a little more soap, a little more water, and so on. As the layers build up, I might need to dunk the knot more than once when painting on the water, to get enough water over the whole shaving area. The first time I add water, the lather is far too wet, and looks like it’s collapsed. More like cloudy water with bubbles in than shaving lather. As a couple more layers are added though, they get less washed out, and the “soup” starts to thicken. The beard penetration and coverage with this method, is far more effective than trying to paint on a bowl of pre-whipped lather, or trying to face lather with a floppy brush.

As soon as the lather is up to thickness/depth, and still has a nice sheen, it’s done. Ready to shave. I tend to use small brushes most of the time (20mm or less), yet on a day’s growth that might only need two or three light layers each of soap and water for me to consider it ready. Heavy growth might need one or two more layers (with my beard, water hardness, etc).

  • No whipping, and building, trying to knock air into, or knock air out of the lather.
  • No problems with over scrubbing and brush burn – I tested this with my nearly brand new Simpson Case in Pure, on just 17 hours growth. It worked great.
  • No dry spots beneath the lather, as the lather keeps getting both flushed and pushed through the beard for full coverage. It took me less than three minutes to fully lather through four days growth with my floppiest brush.
  • No huge globs of excess lather wasted down the drain at the end of the shave.
What about my lather bowl/scuttle?

Sorry. This is a face lathering method. While I used to load shaving creams in a lather bowl, and then finish off the lather on the face, I think I’ll just be smearing a little cream on the face, and using this method from now on. That lather bowl may well be redundant now.

Does it take longer?

Slightly. For me, anyway. For others, it might actually be a lot faster. From an empty brush and clean face, to lathered up and ready to shave, might take me two minutes on one day stubble, and maybe a minute and a half longer on heavy stubble.

But what about the second/third pass?

Well having the brush nearly empty, means there might only be enough left in the brush for the first layer of the next pass, and a couple more layers of soap and water might be needed. Which is absolutely fine. Also, with a nearly empty brush, and the bristles working better, and the bulk of the stubble now removed, there’s more chance of getting a bit of a gentle exfoliating scrub now before you start building up the layers again, with those lower backbone brushes. Add a little more soap and water as needed, with no worrying about earlier lather having dried out, or gone cold, and crack on with pass two. The lather for pass two, will be just as warm and just as slick as pass one.

That said, occasionally I have still ended up with enough lather in the brush to not need any more “layers”.

How versatile is it?

Well, I’ve tried this method now with scrubby brushes and floppy, natural and synthetic, hard and soft soaps, less than a day’s growth, and more than three. I’ve used it with shave sticks too, and with little smudges of shaving cream smeared on the cheek. So far, I have had great shaves every single time from this method, no matter which soap or brush. I also think this would be a good technique to have in the toolbox, for when you encounter one of those soaps that doesn’t want to get along with your water hardness.


I think my days of loading all the soap from the outset, might be over. I’d certainly recommend giving it a try, especially if you have any brushes or soaps that aren’t working well for you with your water hardness and usual lathering methods. It might feel “wrong” at first, but going “back to stupid” with the loading, has certainly brought benefits for me, even if it might take me a minute or two longer to have a shave than before.
Excellent writeup, sir! Much appreciated! Cheers!
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