Synthetic brushes are the new craze and, as much as I hate to admit that I’m on any kind of bandwagon, I’ve been enjoying using synthetics almost exclusively for a while. But with the release of Stirling Soap Company’s new lineup of affordable finest badger brushes, I felt compelled to purchase one to try. And then, I felt compelled to try all of them.
My wet shaving history with badger brushes is short and limited to only two – a pure badger Omega brush and a silvertip badger brush from Whipped Dog. I wasn’t a huge fan of either of those brushes, which could’ve been what turned me away from badger brushes.
Either way, I grabbed a 24mm finest badger shave brush from Stirling with the bulb knot and fell in love. It’s a fantastic brush, and affordable too at just $34.95. But the bug bit me and I wanted to see how the entry-level badger brush fares to the rest of Stirling’s lineup. So, I did what any right-minded wet shaver would do and decided to try all three brushes.
I put all three brushes up against one another on three criteria: looks, ergonomics, and performance. Performance included things like density, backbone, and face feel. While I may state that one brush is better than the other, everyone’s preferences are different and one of the brushes may work better for you. As the saying goes, your mileage may vary.
This one is an easy win and one that can be summarized in one word – butterscotch. The 24mm bulb knot in white isn’t ugly, neither is the 26mm bulb in white, but come on, just look at that handle on the 24mm fan knot. And it’s not just the butterscotch coloring that does it, but also the way the brush stands tall and its flowing lines. As far as handles go, the one on the fan knot is my favorite.
Winner: 24mm Fan Knot
All three badger brushes have very distinct handles. The 24mm bulb knot is in a goblet-like handle. There’s a nice tapered edge that stops lather from coming down onto your fingers and it feels good enough in your hands. Those with large hands or sensitive nerves will get a hand cramp when lather for an extensive time, but it’s nothing too bad.
The 26mm bulb knot features a large, comfortable handle. It’s the same one from the 22mm synthetic brush (Li’l Brudder) and feels really nice in the hand. It’s meaty, well balanced, and a joy to use. The only downside to the handle on the 26mm bulb knot is that lather constantly makes its way down onto your fingers. It doesn’t matter if I’m bowl or face lathering, I have to rinse the base of the handle off multiple times throughout a shave, which gets annoying. I wish there was more of a lip on the 26mm brush to stop lather from trickling down, but the 26mm handle feels a little better than the 24mm.
The winner, though, is the gorgeous, yeah it’s really hard to get over how good the fan knot looks, handle on the 24mm fan knot. It’s meat and tall, meaning that your hand won’t cramp and lather won’t get onto your fingers. There’s a prominent lip to ensure that your hands won’t get slippery either.
Winner: 24mm Fan Knot
Just like the “looks” category, this one is just as subjective. Everyone likes something different in a brush, so these are just the things that I noticed and which one works better for me. It won’t necessarily result in a better brush for you, though.
Density, or how many hairs are in a brush when it comes to shaving, is a big thing for me. I like a knot that’s well packed and has little flop, as the majority of synthetics are floppy and aren’t densely packed. When it comes to density the 24mm bulb has it in spades, while the 26mm bulb follows closely behind. The 24mm fan knot, though, is on the floppier side.
Density also plays a role in how much backbone a brush has. Usually, a denser brush offers more backbone and that’s the same story here. The 24mm fan knot splays much easier than the bulb, making it difficult to use on harder soaps. The splay in the fan knot also makes it floppier than the bulbs, which makes it better to paint with, but not necessarily to build a lather with.
Lastly, and this is kind of odd, the tips of the brushes vastly differ. The ones on the 24mm bulb knot have more scritch, but turn into gel when any amount of water comes into contact with them. The tips on the 24mm fan knot and 26mm bulb knot on the other hand, are softer, but aren’t as gel-like. This could’ve been due to the fact that I bought the 24mm bulb knot heavily used and the other two brushes weren’t broken in yet.
Overall, I find the 26mm bulb more appealing when it comes to performance because it’s the densest, has the most backbone, and has the softest tips. And now that I’m using the brush more often, the tips are starting to mimic the ones on the smaller 24mm bulb knot.
Winner: 26mm Bulb Knot
At the end of the day, the 26mm Bulb Knot walks away from the 24mm Fan Knot and the 24mm bulb knot for me. And it’s all because of the way the brush performs. The fan knot, though, is a looker, and I was extremely tempted to just keep the brush because of the gorgeous handle. But the knot wasn’t dense enough, didn’t have enough backbone, and was too floppy. If Stirling wishes to revisit the fan knot in the future, I would strongly urge to put the knot lower into the brush, giving it some much-needed backbone in the process, and put a larger 26mm knot into it for a denser feel.
Overall Winner: 26mm Bulb Knot
At the end of the day, I’m keeping the 26mm bulb knot until Stirling decides to revisit the fan knot. If I had to put the three brushes in order from best to not as good, it would go: 26mm bulb knot > 24mm bulb knot > 24mm fan knot.