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Brush review: Thäter two band badger prototype

June 8, 2011 — R

Thäter two band badgerBecause there has recently been a lot of confusion about these: There is exactly one source for these brushes at the time of writing, and that is Straight Razor Designs. If you come across any offerings from other vendors, read the fine print: A "two band style" brush is a three band brush, and while being a great brush, it is not a two band brush. Caveat emptor.

There is something magical about two band badger brushes. They have gained widespread popularity owing to a number of favourable reviews. Its two most prominent examples are Simpson’s and Rooney’s. Recently, Thäter – one of Germany’s most eminent brush makers – started designing their own. So what exactly is a two band badger brush? It is, generally speaking, a three band badger knot that has been shortened. The hairs used by Thäter (and other high quality producers) are different from regular three band hair inasmuch as they have longer white tips, and there is a clear transition from almost black to almost white. This allows for more backbone, ie the stiffness of the brush under pressure, while retaining the softness of the badger hair tips. You can see the raw material of a three band brush, and the two band brush below. The image of the travel brush below shows how three band looks.

Two band badger with a sample of the regular badger hair used by ThäterAs badger brushes go, Thäter are famous for the softness of theirs. This feature is courtesy of their production process which allows them to not cut the tips into shape like other manufacturers do. The advantage of this approach is that Thäters are extremely soft while still delivering excellent backbone – something that users of hard creams and soaps will appreciate when loading their brushes prior to lather making. The two band Thäter we are reviewing here is the result of a modified version of Thäter’s standard production process. Its aim was to maintain their typical tightly packed knot structure, and the luxurious feel of their badger hair tips, while offering those who appreciate it the increased backbone of a typical two band badger brush. The best of both worlds – at least in theory.

Left to right: Thäter travel brush, two band, 4125/3The following review is to be taken with a grain of salt. Following a visit to Thäter HQ in Nuremberg earlier this year, Thäter CEO Harald Schuldes asked whether we would be interested in beta testing one of his two band prototypes. We gladly took him up on his offer. But this also means that this particular brush type may not appear in the market as is, particularly with reference to the handle. The picture shows a regular 4125/3 26mm three band badger (rightmost brush). As you can see, the two band’s handle is slightly smaller. The 24mm knot, however, is shown before its first use, after which it bloomed considerably, resulting in a mushroom shape whose diameter is wider than that of the 26mm three band. Simply put, this two band is a rather big brush, despite its relatively slim handle.

80 swirls, perfect latherThe handle itself is a standard Thäter issue, produced by a local company and available in black and ivory plastic, as well as plexiglas. Its shape is octagonal, giving the brush a distinctly modern look. When I first encountered this type of handle a few years back, I was a little taken aback, being used to the more traditional rounded shapes found in most other brushes. Thäter offers these, too. Their series of wooden handles are particularly attractive. But the octagonal ones offer one distinctive advantage which would make me pick them over any other even if they came in swirled candy stripes or worse: they offer a perfect grip. When you stretch your facial skin, shaving lather will get onto your finger tips. One of the characteristic features of lather is its lubricity. While essential for letting a blade glide across your skin, it will also easily make a brush slip from your fingers. Not so with this handle design. With the wide bottom of the handle firmly placed into the palm of your hand, the concave sides of the octagon will offer your fingers sufficient grip even when slippery and wet from soap and water.

Ready to take the plungeForeplay enough already. The proof of any brush is in the lather. For those who are still using canned products, let it be said that there are three elements to good lather: a high quality cream or soap, a well soaked, densely packed brush, and good technique. So for the purpose of this review, I decided to go with Castle Forbes’s “Lime” shaving cream. With the Xpec and Domenico Caraceni lines of shaving creams having been discontinued recently, I find Castle Forbes’s products the single best products in the market. Soaking any brush is essential. When it comes to Thäter brushes, a caveat is warranted. Badger hair consists of a type of protein, and proteins will denaturate if exposed to temperatures above 42°C. Incidentally, this is why high fevers have the potential to kill humans, as my father-in-law (both a material scientist and a medical doctor by profession) morbidly pointed out. So I always ensure that I soak my brushes in a shaving bowl filled with warm, but not hot, water whilst taking a shower.

Recipes for creating superior lather are a dime a dozen. From mushing to whipping and on to the addition of glycerine, everyone seems to have developed their own secret formula. But let us take a logical approach here. Lather is created by turning soap into bubbles by enriching the soap with air. The more hairs are involved in the process, the easier it becomes. Thäter brushes are densely packed, which is one factor why they make it exceedingly easy to create good lather. The other factor is to use just the tips of the brush for the production process. Thäter brush meets Castle Forbes "Lime" - mind how the cream is evenly distributed in the tips of the brush, not insidRealistically, there is no reason whatsoever why one would want to ram a brush into a shaving bowl. The only result this will achieve is that soap will be driven into the knot of the brush. It will not create lather there, ever. Instead, it will be hard to remove. Now, imagine washing your hair without rinsing it. No-one in their right mind would ever do that. Your scalp would quickly begin to itch, and your hair would lose its shine and eventually become brittle. Well, the same applies to badger hair. Leaving aside for a moment the philosophical question whether a handle can feel itching, soap residue will kill your brush. Not immediately, but in the long run. High quality brushes can have a life expectancy of more than ten years, but excessive pressure on the fine tips, or residual soap in the knot can take years out of this. So, easy does it. I have made it a habit to swipe my brushes lightly across the surface of the soap or cream (which is where soap bowls and wide tubs like Castle Forbes’s prove superior to small or high and narrow tubs).

As you can see from the pictures, loading the brush is a straightforward task. And the little cream used in the image above (more images can be found in the gallery) will result in this amount of lather in well under 60 seconds. The lather is firm and smooth, and it stays that way throughout the entire three pass shaving session. The fan shape of this two band head allows for precise movements around any obstacles such as earlobes or a nose, which is an advantage over the round shape of the regular large Thäter brushes.

So how to sum up this review? I would like to begin by re-stating that this brush is a prototype. While I doubt that its essential setup will change significantly, you might want to wait for the final product to become available before pre-ordering. Not least because there is no retail price for it, yet. Apparently, the additional work that goes into the production process will be reflected in the price for these brushes eventually. But the difference will be quite moderate compared to some other two band badgers brushes in the market. Sourcing the brush will be easy in Germany, as it will become available through the regular distribution channels, such as The Different Scent in Berlin. Internationally, Straight Razor Designs will carry it - and they deserve it, having made theses brushes popular in the US. At the time of writing, the Straight Razor Place are running a group buy of the new Thäter two band - and the prospective price is very attractive.

Shave of the day with a 5/8 Sanssouci razorMy personal verdict: I like Thäter brushes better than any other brush in the market. I have recommended or given several to friends and relatives, and none of them were disappointed. I would still maintain that they offer the best value for money when it comes to high quality brushes today, certainly far better than Simpson or Plisson. If Herr Schuldes had not given me this two band one, I would have bought one, anyway. Which is why I took the liberty of violating our review policy of having to buy articles we review - this brush simply is not for sale yet. But I recommend it without reservations. It is the best brush I have ever tried.

[Update] Apparently, this review has gained the interest of the big US shaving forums (B&B, SRP). As if I needed another reason to find forums braindead. Funnily enough, more people have commented on this review than have read it (yes, we keep and analyse server logs here). In the interest of public mental safety:

  1. This is a big brush. A very big brush. I would definitely not buy a bigger size. If anything, I would actually go for a slightly smaller one. Fan shaped Thäter brushes bloom a lot.
  2. I doubt that this brush will become a mass produced product. Not just because Thäter are a very small manufacture with limited production capacities. But also because the supplies of the hair required for making two band brushes are limited.
  3. I have since made available some more prototypes to friends. Everyone is exceedingly happy with theirs. Even notorious face latherers with a penchant for cheap brushes.
  4. As for the price, I would have paid €150 for mine, and I don't necessarily expect these brushes to retail for less.
  5. Never trust anything you read on Badger & Blade. This post by one of their differently abled moderators contains a comparison of a two band (sourced from Straight Razor Designs) and a three band brush (called "two band style" brush by the vendor). Apparently, key qualifications for becoming a moderator at that sewer have not changed: big mouth, small knowledge. Just do not go there if you are looking for accurate information.