Shaving Brush Review: Semogue Owner’s Club Boar Brush

Posted: December 22, 2016 in Shaving Articles

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After having been swept away in the wonder and joy of using the RazoRock Plissoft brushes for a time, I felt that it was incumbent upon me to step back and examine the most prevalent types of natural bristle brushes. After starting with a cheap badger brush, I wanted to go back into the natural hair brushes, picking up a somewhat “better” brush of each type, just to see what my experience would be.

It happened that Semogue produced a set of brushes called the Semogue Owner’s Club (SOC) that featured the same handle shape and material, with one having a two-band badger knot, while the other sported what purported to be the highest quality boar hair.

The badger version came first, while the boar came via slow boat from Portugal. In the room, they really did appear to be identical, other than the knot. The boar knot is narrower by a few millimeters, while it has more loft. In its resting state, just out of the tube, it had the charactaristic, narrow cone shape, a good deal narrower than the badger’s fan.

It is smart with a natural brush to give it a good “wash” lather or two before starting to use it in earnest. I’d done this with the badger, and found that it took the wash lather and a few actual shaves for the animal smell to depart. The knot also found its working state, and the brush just started to get better and more comfortable with each shave. It easy to get spoiled by the synthetic fibers, with their easy care nature and essentially unchanging nature. Still, you don’t learn that much when you linger in your comfort zone all the time. I emerged from the test of the SOC badger brush fairly impressed. Particularly, it works great with soft soaps and creams.

The SOC boar brush had a very light amount of wet animal smell after its first soak. Not at all skunky or nasty. You would barely notice it with a scented soap. I did a few lathers with Zest bar soap, just because I had it around and it’s 50 cents a bar. That beats the economy of even the cheapest shave soap, and so off I went. The SOC boar grabbed a lather off of the standard bar soap without any difficulty, and actually produced a respectable lather in my palm. This puts me in mind of doing a shave with standard soap, just for a hoot. One day…but I digress.

The brush, which is fairly stiff when dry, became pliable and splayed out without issue once loaded with soap. After the test lathers, I found that almost all of the animal smell had already departed. The brush did shed several hairs during this initial washing phase. I resolved to watch closely to see if this trend continued.

After rinsing the brush and drying it out, I found that the tight cone it had initially displayed was quickly broadening out into a fan shape, significantly increasing the width of the resting bristles.

A word about the boar hair used in the SOC. It is a blond, undyed boar bristle. There are one or two dark hairs in the knot, and if you’re a real stickler for such things, that could be a concern. I am not, so it’s just a detail to me. As previously mentioned, it has a good bit of loft. I think that the loft is probably somewhat typical for a modern boar brush. If you’re used to badger or synthetic brushes, you’ll probably find boar to be somewhat less dense in terms of number of bristles, but the bristles to have greater backbone.

I’d read some comments and reviews of the brush, and there were a number of people indicating that the SOC was very stiff out of the gate, and would take a long time to break in. While it is quite stiff when totally dry, I didn’t find it terribly abrasive or scratchy when lathering on my face for the first time. Stiffer? Yes. Not to the point of discomfort. Everyone’s face has a different basic sensitivity, though.

The first shave with the SOC, I used Barrister and Mann Bay Rum, a soap I know to be a little challenging to load, as it is a hard formulation and a bit thirsty. Testing this bad boy with TOBS cream would not be much of a test. (More on that thought later in the review.)

As I found with the badger brush, it takes a bit longer with B&M to get a good load. It isn’t like some of the soft soaps that literally jump out of the jar without your input. That said, the load wasn’t overly difficult, and I was able to get plenty for the two-pass shave I was going to do. I would say that I swirled the brush over the puck for 30 or 40 seconds, starting with a dry and unbloomed puck.

When I went into the face lather…there was no great drama. I basically used the same technique I’ve used with my other brushes. One thing became clear right away. The Syntex brushes that I’d been using from Omega had been modeled after a boar brush, rather than a badger. And…they’d failed at trying to be a boar brush. Yes, they had the loft. Yes, they had the stiffness of knot, but what they didn’t do at all well was actually act like boar hair. Instead of splaying out on the face and giving you far more coverage than you’d imagine, they sort of fish tail around awkardly. At least I understand what they were going for with that fiber. I’m not saying that the brushes can’t work, but there are far, far better options. Literally everywhere. I see the Syntex fibers as an evolutionary stopping-off point that was needed before performance could be evaluated and tweaked.

Was the boar a bit sterner than the badger? Maybe a little, but in no way irritating. I didn’t get quite as much soap as I might have wanted from the Barrister and Mann, but considering that it was my first try with the SOC, it worked out just fine, and didn’t impede my shave at all. After the brush dried, all animal smell had been supplanted by the scent of bay rum. So it has that going for it. Which is nice.

After being run in a bit, the SOC splayed out to a rather tremendous radius. Something I noticed during the shave was that, once at work and splaying against skin, the brush covers a great deal of real estate on the face. The spread of the bristles rivaled my Plissoft Monster synthetic. Overall, very positive first experience. Without any of the supposedly-lengthy break in time, it’s already perfectly serviceable. If it’s all bound to be on the upswing from here, this will prove to be a heck of a brush.

The second shave was conducted using the Mitchell’s Wool Fat soap, a notoriously troublesome soap to load and lather. I did bloom the soap, and with the SOC, lathering it was no trouble at all. The learning curve for the boar brush has not proven to be one fraught with great suffering and messy crying on my part. It is a bit stiffer than the other brushes I have, a bit scrubbier, but in no way uncomfortable.

I’m glad to report that I don’t have any sense that this brush will be difficult to break in. With each shave, the knot appears to be finding its final shape. I’m already seeing the tips of some of the bristles curl into a “J”. Just as the badger version of the SOC did, it appears that it’s settling in. I’ve heard horror stories of these brushes taking months to break in. While it may continue to get better and better over time, right out of the gate, it’s working just fine, and is perfectly comfortable (for my skin, your experience may differ). My feeling – if it can tackle The Fat and do fine on its second shave, I don’t have any room to complain.

In terms of soaking the brush, I have not put aside any great length of time for that preparation. I put it in warm water for a minute or two, then get down to business. I don’t believe that the Semogue brushes, at least, require much more time than that. Provided that the handle isn’t in the water, I’m sure soaking them longer won’t harm anything, but if you’re concerned that using a natural hair brush will add a lot of time to your shaving ritual, I don’t think you should be too concerned. Just throw the brush into the water as you’re gathering your gear and wetting your face. Says me, anyway. Other, more classically trained shavers may beg to differ.

The final word on soaking. I think, once you have some shaves on a boar brush, soaking it may be a non-issue. I just swirled the SOC in the warm water for a few seconds, shook it out, and went right into bowl lathering a cream. What did I find? I found that it worked fine. Soak them, essentially, as long as you want to, as long as works best for you. Or not at all. Your choice.

(Editorial Note: After I finished the draft of this review, I more thoroughly soaked the brush. It wasn’t a world of difference, but I do feel that after a significant soak, the brush seemed to be just a bit softer and more pliable. It’s likely that there will be slightly less volatility in terms of unknown amounts of water being in the brush if you always do the same preparation. If you bloom your soap, throwing the brush in with the bloom water may be just the thing. All right, as you were.)

I’ve noticed that the SOC boar has lost hairs in just about every shave. I’m not to the point at which I become overly concerned, but for what is considered to be the Cadillac of boar brushes, I’m sort of surprised that it’s shedding this much. The trend of shedding has continued on as the brush breaks in, with two to four fibers being lost every shave. It would take a long time for the brush to lose enough hair for it to become significant, but I am a bit disappointed that this is a problem.

I’ve been using some creams lately, and I while the SOC is perfectly fine for bowl lathering a cream, I don’t think that it is necessarily the best choice to do so. With this usage case, I think that you notice the coarseness of the fibers, and it adds a bit of roughness to what would typically be a very smooth process. My sense – the boar’s advantages are sort of unimportant with a cream, and the softness of a badger or synthetic probably would probably suit the purpose better.

In the Final Analysis:

I remain somewhat on the fence about the SOC boar hair brush. There are equal and opposite pulls. On one hand, it has a very nice handle, both in shape and material. I am a fan of real hardwood. On the other, the boar knot is somewhat untidy, and has lost more hairs than I believe it should.

It lathers well enough, and has not seriously impeded my shaves, but I prefer the feeling on my face of a badger or synthetic knot, and I don’t think you get that much additional benefit from the stiffer boar bristles when loading.

In point of fact, I’ve had more lathering oddities with the boar than with any of my other brushes. The SOC in badger was, once I understood a bit about its water requirements, no real problem, and I did find it to be very nice on the face. Of course, the Plissoft synthetics are super easy, as well as being pillowy soft on the face. The SOC badger felt both dense and soft.

I’ve also noticed that, no matter how much I load, I often have to go back to the puck for the third pass. It only requires a few swirls to get enough lather to create a great final pass, but this is not a step I’ve had to take with my other brushes. This doesn’t appear to be tied to the particular soap at all – every formulation appears to suffer from it, and typically only with this brush. This isn’t a deal breaker, but it isn’t a check mark in the win column.

I was concerned about leaping to conclusions, so I have given this brush a try in most of my soap formulations. The data I have is that, for me, it’s a bit harder to load, a bit trickier to lather, and doesn’t hold as much soap as a synthetic or dense badger. It’s a little scrubbier, but as it wears in, that has become less and less of an issue. With soaking, it gets fairly soft.

The SOC boar brush is completely serviceable, and I’ve gotten many really good shaves with it. At the same time, it’s just not quite as good as other options. If I could get the same handle, but with a Plissoft/Plisson knot, I’d prefer it. And that’s the news. For me, the technology of the synthetic fibers has outstripped what can be had with a natural one. They’re easier, cheaper, and don’t require any special treatment.

Cheers, and happy shaving.

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