Shaving Brush Standardization Guidelines

As I’ve begun testing a mountain of shaving brushes for the Shaving Brush Buyers Guide (SBBG), one thing has become quite clear—the existing vernacular for shaving brush descriptions leaves much to be desired. Terms like “floppy” and “scritchy” are difficult if not impossible to quantify. All “flop” and “scratch” are not created equal, thus trying to describe the difference between one scritch versus another is an exercise in futility.

BrushStandard1The core issue with shaving brushes and shaving brush manufacturers and/or assemblers is the utter lack of standardization—both in terms of badger grades and brush characteristics. At the end of the day, the name of the badger hair is less relevant than the feeling on one’s face and the overall characteristics of the brush. In fact, if you examine a brush in enough detail, you’ll actually find that some expensive badger hair has similar characteristics to certain inexpensive shaving brushes. These brushes are never compared side by side or even considered as competitors because of a significant difference in price . . . but this begs the question. Do you really have to buy Plisson HMW to experience a face feeling like it? Well . . . no. Not only that, but there’s a night and day difference between Plisson 2-band vs. 3-band HMW. How can you call the hair of these two brushes the same grade when they feel completely different against your face and the handles absorb water differently? A change is long overdue. Brushes should be compared based on their relative quantifiable characteristics, not their price or the “grade” of hair given to them by their manufacturer.

BrushStandard2Many brush manufacturers use ambiguity against the consumer and refer to their products in a misleading fashion since no clear definitions exist. It is due time that we as a community act as a standardization body. By no means am I saying that we should strong-arm folks, but we consumers are the ones who control the market . . . and if we buy a brush advertised as Manchurian, for example, we should know exactly what we’re getting. If a manufacturer decides to adopt that name for their hair but it doesn’t meet acceptable guidelines, then we should refer to it with the proper grade, which forces them to change their labeling to the correct grade or be known as the vendor that marks their brushes improperly just for marketing purposes. Not a good look for them if you ask me. Simpson created the “Manchurian” labeling, and we as consumers have a vested interest in helping them protect it to ensure that quality, consistency, and standards are preserved. The same goes for other firms, such as Plisson and High Mountain White. There’s only one place to buy Manchurian hair, and that’s from Simpson, as they invented the term more than a decade ago. The same holds true for Plisson and their High Mountain White. While these are all marketing terms and I am in no way supportive of inventing new “marketing phrases” for other brands to make their grade “unique” and in turn jack up prices, I do feel we will ultimately pay the price for allowing the cannibalization of long-respected manufacturers’ terms. Badger hair grading, however, is a battle we’ll take on another day.

Today, we’ll discuss standards for describing the characteristics and performance of shaving brushes in a quantifiable manner and provide some general terminology.

Handcrafted: The knot of badger hair is weighed, shaped, tied, cut, and glued into the handle by hand. The handle is crafted by hand, which is defined as being made by hand on a lathe without automation or templates or that the handle is built/carved by hand. The knot is created in the same factory/location as the handle. Thus, the entire brush is created through human labor and expertise.

Handmade: The knot of badger hair is handmade in the process described above. Someone builds the knot and glues it into a premade handle (which was made by a CNC machine, purchased elsewhere). It could also be the opposite, i.e., the handle is made by hand as described above, but the knots installed are not made in-house.

Assembled: The knot of badger hair is purchased prebuilt, and the “brush maker” merely assembles the brush. Even if both elements are handmade/crafted by others, if the final assembly is done in a separate location from which both parts originated, the brand must specify that the brush is assembled.

Machine Made: Made in an automated factory.


Shaving Brush Bristle: Individual hairs that compose the knot.


 Canopy: The area from the widest bristle width, including the area above it. This is typically the top 7–18mm of a shaving brush. This area widens after several uses (i.e., bloom).

  • Canopy Distortion: Flexibility of the canopy
  • Canopy Channel: Area within the canopy where lather is held
  • Canopy Release: Used to describe the canopy’s aptitude for releasing lather from the canopy channel onto one’s face, which is often directly proportional to canopy distortion

Foundation: Bristle below the canopy.

  • Foundation Distortion: Flexibility of the foundation—directly proportional to “floppy” characteristics
  • Foundation Channel: Area within the foundation that holds lather; often inversely proportional to density
  • Foundation Release: Used to describe the foundation’s aptitude for releasing lather from the foundation channel onto one’s face, which is often directly proportional to foundation distortion

Knot Density: The amount of hair concentrated into the handle

Knot Conformation: Consistency of the shaping of the knot (i.e., the shape being true to form without pits or emergent hairs above the knot’s intended shape).

Flow Through: Used as an abstraction to describe a shaving brush’s canopy/foundational release (i.e., the lather in the shaving brush “flowing through” the brush onto one’s face).

Bulb: A brush with a taller canopy such that the outer bristle is trimmed at the base to be shorter than the inner bristle. This creates a taller canopy of 15mm or above, rarely exceeding 25mm.

Fan: A brush with a shorter canopy such that the outer bristle is close to or the same length as the inner bristle. Canopy length ranges from 2mm to 10mm.

Hybrid: A brush with a canopy height between a bulb and fan—10mm to 15mm.

Payload: The amount of water a shaving brush retains before lather production. This is measured by weighing a completely dry shaving brush, submerging the entire length of the bristle in warm water for 60 seconds, removing the brush (bristle facing down) and letting excess water drip for 5 seconds, and then immediately weighing the brush. The difference in weight between the dry brush and the 60-second submerged brush (with 5-second runoff) is the payload.

TTL (Time To Load): Average time and effort required to build sufficient lather.


Small: 22mm and under

Medium: 23mm–26mm

Large: 26mm–29mm

Extra Large: 29mm+


The above terms will be used exclusively to describe and detail the 30+ brushes currently being evaluated and documented in the Shaving Brush Buyers Guide. I have high hopes that standardized terms and descriptions will allow us to make more informed purchasing decisions and product comparisons without needing to actually use or try the product yourself. With the above descriptions, I believe we can properly document the characteristics of a given brush such that one can make substantive comparisons between brushes by merely analyzing the normalized review and user inputted data points. Got a brush you want to try to describe with the new terminology? Give it a go and we’ll help walk you through it. Onward and upward, gents!



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