Shaving Brush Review: Semogue Owner’s Club Badger Brush

Posted: December 8, 2016 in Shaving Articles
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My first brush was a badger. At the inception of my shaving journey, I just grabbed the recommended brush from Amazon after reading some good reviews. This was an Escali wooden handled badger hair brush that went for, if I remember, about ten bucks or so.

While the Escali certainly works, ten bucks doesn’t exactly get you champagne-level brushes of this type. It was functional and a great learning tool. It dropped a good number of hairs. It was pretty floppy and wasn’t the easiest to get a lather with. I eventually moved on, going with a series of synthetic brushes. Eventually, I found the wonderful RazoRock Plissoft line, and became a happy camper. They’re great. No more expensive than the old Escali, but outperforming it in every possible metric. I was home. I was happy.

Still…I wanted to see what I was missing. I wanted to see what a higher quality badger brush, and a high quality boar brush could do. For science. For victory. For the truth. Mostly, for the fun of it, and to have something to talk about in these reviews. The enemy of the weirdo who likes to write articles is running out of stuff to say.

I looked around at the various offerings. From the cheap-end, you can go into the stratospheric price levels with a badger brush. Some of them retail for well over $300. After some consideration, I decided that I wasn’t THAT motivated. I would have to give the Simpson Chubby 3 a pass, and look for something a little more in line with what seemed rational to me. I have nothing against the very expensive brushes, but I’m not ready to go into that level of investment at this time. I’m simply not that dissatisfied with the shaves I’m getting with my current brushes. The room for improvement doesn’t seem to have a wide enough window to justify spending thirty times as much money.

I ended up finding the Semogue Owner’s Club brush, featuring cherry wood handle. It wasn’t cheap, but it wasn’t in the triple digits in terms of price, either. As a plus, I love cherry wood, and there was a version that had the exact same handle in boar hair, so that I could compare the two dominant natural fibers with no confounding variables. While the Owner’s Club badger is firmly middle-of-the-road in terms of badger brushes, the boar is essentially the most one can spend on such a brush. Still less than half what the same brush in badger costs, but at least half again what most boar brushes go for.

I found the SOC, as we’ll call the brush from here on, to be well made, with no obvious flaws upon first inspection. The knot was dense, and the hair had more backbone than any of my synthetics (which was something of a surprise). The knot is a fan shape, with a fairly low loft. It is a little “wild” in some ways, as it is not quite as tidy as some of the bulb knots I’ve seen.

Upon first lather, several hairs did drop out. Since then, there have been no further hairs shed from the brush. The “wet animal” smell that natural fiber hairs often exhibit only persisted a few shaves. Subsequent to that, you could only smell the most recent soap that the brush had been used with.

As far as break-in, I do think that the brush improved in performance steadily over the first several shaves, each successive shave providing an easier lathering experience. To some degree, this is also a learning curve. I have found that the SOC needs a bit more water left in the bristles than a synthetic. Rather than squeezing water out of the knot, simply giving it a good shake when the brush comes out of the soaking mug is all that is required. This is particularly true when working with hard soaps, such as Mitchell’s Wool Fat or Barrister and Mann white tub. Don’t be afraid to dab a bit of extra water in while you’re loading from the puck. This brush might need it.

In terms of face feel, this is a very comfortable brush. While it has a nice, tactile engagement with the skin, I don’t find it overly scratchy or in any way irritating. It actually does one thing a bit better than the Plissoft brushes, which is not pushing all the lather out to the perimeter of its splay while face lathering. Instead, it sort of spreads, rather than splaying altogether. It still creates a large swept area during face lathering.

The amount of soap that the brush can hold is very good. When you compare the diameter of the knot on the SOC to my biggest synthetic, they are quite similar, though the loft on the SOC is lower. I’ve had no problems getting plenty of soap into the brush, once my learning curve with it was overcome.

In terms of the “special care” element, I really haven’t found the SOC Badger to be difficult to prep or operate. I put it into a coffee mug filled to just below half, allowing it to sit in warm water for a few minutes while I prepare the rest of my stuff. Really, no more than a minute or two. I don’t soak the brush for twenty or more minutes, as some indicate may be necessary. Not that I couldn’t, but it doesn’t appear necessary in this case. I only soaked the brush a long time on its initial test lather.

When I’m finished, I rinse the bristles out thoroughly, shake out the water, then beat the brush against my palm several times to get the last of the water out. From there, I brush it across a hand towel a few times, and onto the brush stand it goes. I did purchase a razor and brush stand, since it seemed prudent to have one at this point.

For the additional money, is the SOC a paradigm shift beyond the Plissoft brushes? No. It is not. It is a very nice brush, and one that should treat you well, should you choose to buy it. To my eye, it’s prettier and more substantial in looks than the Plissoft, but it doesn’t invalidate all the great praise I had for the synthetic brushes.

What about the really pricey brushes at the far end of the spectrum? Well, for now, those are not going to be in my shaving den. While I have no buyer’s remorse about the SOC whatsoever, if I spent hundreds of dollars on a brush and it didn’t really perform very differently to my synthetics, I would feel a bit foolish. I typically have plenty of times to feel a fool on the average day. I don’t need to invent new ways to do so.

If you’re just starting out, I’d still recommend a synthetic that used the Plissoft or similar fiber. These are available from most shave-related online retailers, and most of them are under $20. If you’re into the hobby, and the prospect of spending a little more green on a nice badger brush sounds like the right choice, I can say that the SOC in badger should treat you right.

One final thought: any natural hair is a product culled from animals raised for the purpose of providing said material. I have not looked deeply into the raising of badger or the particular type of pigs that yield hair for brushes, but I imagine that, like most commercial farming, it might well be cruel and appalling. I think it’s certainly a rational and reasonable choice to go with a synthetic fiber for reasons of conscience. With a viable alternative to the natural fiber, one must consider the ethics of buying badger or boar hair. Being neither a vegetarian nor a vegan, I still feel it is important to consider such things and weigh your options. That’s a bit of a somber note to end on. Hmm. Poor planning on my part.

All other things aside, the SOC Badger is a nice little brush. I will be keeping it around, but it’s very possible I’ll only take it out for a spin infrequently, going back to the synthetics when my little test is done.

Cheers, and happy shaving.

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