The lather: There are many shaving creams, aerosols and gels on the market that aren't formulated to lather with a brush. Therefore be sure to look for products intended for brush lathering. The bristles should be thoroughly saturated with hot/warm water to start. Then some excess water is flicked out before stirring with the soap or cream. The brush should not be dripping water.
Lathering soap with a shaving brush
There are two distinct types of lather material. Hard soaps like glycerin rounds, and shaving creams. Both lather well with a brush but have slightly different techniques and attributes. Some men prefer the hard soaps, some prefer the creams and some actually use a combination of the two. Glycerin and hard soaps are generally more economical. They are thought to cut closer, be more slick and rinse clean. On the other hand, shaving creams are thought to create a denser lather and provide more cushion. If you’re not sure which type of product you will like try one of each to experiment and find out what works best with your razor of choice. Or, put a small dab of cream on top of soap and get the best of both worlds... After all, a good portion of the experience is enjoying the different aromas available and the process of creating lather.
It can take a few days to learn the bristle's water retention ratio in conjunction with the lathering product used because each brush and soap/cream has its own personality and technique. The lather application does not need to be dense to provide a great shave. Soften the whiskers with hot/warm water before lathering and use a slow, light touch with the razor as you let it glide over the prepared shaving area.
Shaving soaps: These generally have a glycerin base and usually come in rounds or tubs in a variety of scents. Rounds are placed in a mug, bowl or other container and are kept there until used up and replaced with a new bar. They can be left in the open air between use, or kept in a covered container after draining out excess water. The user takes the wet/damp brush and stirs over the soap until the bristles are well coated with soapy lather, and then finishes lathering on the face. If the lather bubbles are too big, loose or runny flick out excess water from the brush and stir a little more. If the lather seems to dry, put a touch more water on the bristle tips and stir again. Soap is more forgiving because if you start with too much water you simply drain off the excess, flick the brush of extra water and stir some more.
Often a new soap placed into a dry mug or bowl can slide around when used with a brush for the first few times. You can put about 1/16” of hot water in the container’s bottom, place the new soap in and let it dry naturally before use. This should help to form a suction type of seal between the bowl and soap. Otherwise, the soap should stop moving around after several uses because some residual soap will help hold it in place. Wipe around the container's edge as desired to keep clean, however don’t remove the soap between daily use or the suction seal will be broken. For deeper containers, you can place more than one soap round in at a time to make reaching the soap easier. Just be sure to put the newer round under the oldest one to maintain a rotation for freshness, and rinse off the older one at the same time to keep things tidy.
Tip> To make lathering go faster you can cover the soap with warm water, drain right away and let sit while you soften whiskers. Or, you can stir an overly wet brush over the soap a few times before draining off the standing water, and in this case also shake out the excess liquid from the brush. Then wet the bristles under warm water, lightly flick and stir over the soap as usual. The point – moistening the surface of soap first will soften its outer layer and make lather creation fast and easy. The quicker the lather is created, the warmer it is on the skin. When finished shaving drain any excess liquid from the soap container.
Shaving creams: Shaving creams have a soft or paste-like consistency depending on the brand. They usually come in a tube, tub or other dispenser. It’s best to saturate the bristles with warm water and then shake a little to start on the drier side. Then dip the bristle tips back in water as needed. That way you can control creating lather without overly diluting the cream. Once the cream has too much water you need to add more cream or stir much longer in order to make the optimum lather. The user can make cream lather in several ways depending on preference:
A) By placing a dab (about a heaping dime's worth or almond sized dollop) on the brush tips and then going straight to the shaving area to create the lather. For a tub, some people swirl the bristle tips directly on the cream. However a consideration with this method is that the tub of cream can get diluted over time by daily dipping of a wet brush right into the tub itself.
B) By putting a dab into the palm of the hand and then stirring the wet/damp brush in the palm to pre-whip up some lather and then finishing on the face.
C) By putting a dab into a mug or bowl and whipping up a lather first, and then moving to the face.
Tip> With both soaps and creams you can squeeze the bristles gently moving upward, and the lather inside of the bristles will bulge out. This provides extra lather for touch up shaving applications or makes rinsing out the brush go faster. When finished shaving be sure to thoroughly rinse the brush and shake out excess water. The bristles will only be damp and not dripping with water.
FAQ: How and why do you saturate the bristles with water - There are several ways to do this. One way is to sit the brush bristles facing down in a bowl or mug of hot water (not boiling per brush maker's recommendations) and letting them absorb water and heat. Or you can point the bristles facing up under running water and cup your hand around them to form a funnel to keep the bristles from splaying outward while allowing the water to heat up, and be absorbed by, the bristles. The goal is to get the hair thoroughly wet, and the internal hair warm from the water saturation. That way when you flick out some excess water before stirring with the soap or cream the lather generated will be warm. While all shaving brushes will help to create a warm lather, heat retention and water absorption are especially pronounced with the higher end badger brushes making that one of the reasons they elevate the shaving experience and feel more luxurious. If you are new to wet shaving with a brush it may take several times to fine tune your technique based on the brush and lather product used.