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Bart Torfs (Bart)
Associate
From: Belgium
Posts: 5001
I have a good friend who lives in Berlin. I believe the term "comrades in arms" applies, since we're both using a cutthroat razor for our daily shaving routine. It creates a bond. But there's more to our friendship. Robin hates mendacity. So do I. And we share a certain affection for perfection. In Robin's case, that's a blatant understatement. His strive for perfection seems existential for him. I don't think there is a single typo in the many e-mails I received from my friend over the years. I also know that if Robin sends me a parcel with the cryptic message "You ought to check this out', the package either contains something so outrageously poorly build and designed that he had no choice but to send it off before he fails to resist his urge to strike the item with his sledge hammer (obviously forged in Solingen). Not that he would mind about demolishing the fruit of any maker's mediocrity. Yet his state-of-the-art coffee table, however solidly build it is, does not digest blows of the sledge hammer well.
It is, however, equally possible that said parcel contains something so perfect that he just has to share his boyish enthusiasm for so much splendour...


In this particular case, the parcel contained a brush. A shaving brush to be precise, and to be specific: a fan shaped shaving brush in "two-band" badger hair by the German brand Thäter (do mind the punctuation, it is pronounced like "later", but with a T).

Thäter is a manufacturer like you will typically, although in decreasing commodity, find in Germany and Japan. These - usually small scale - companies do not compromise the quality of their product. And if they ever abandon tradition, or rather: if they ever alter the tradition, it's for having an indisputable reason to do so. Thäter makes shaving brushes and they don't make anything else, since a couple of generations now. They make them the best they know how.
That, however, does not mean this review ends here. Even with an essentially simple concept as the shaving brush, there are several parameters in the design of the brush that each will have their influence on performance. And that is merely a good thing. There is no such thing as "The best brush. Full stop." Individual wishes differ. And therefore, a brush review must be descriptive by nature. This review will also be scrutinizing. A brush that claims to be of superior quality and reflects that in his price tag (don't know, but it's *well* over 100EUR), deserves no less than a thoroughgoing assessment.

THE BRUSH



(note about the picture: this photo was shot after 4 months of enthusiast brush use, the handle shows some minor marks from hitting the structured inside of my shaving bowl)

This brush has a fan shaped knot.
I always wanted to try a fan shaped brush, having a bit of a weak spot for things that are somewhat rejected by a ruling majority, certainly when there is no rational reason for such a rejection. I know, I know, if males have to choose from 2 object shapes, they will always go for the one that resembles the most a boob. Hence the popularity of the bulb shaped brush. But that can hardly be called a rational reason.
Robin suggested that the fan shape might offer better control over "lather alignment" I see his point, but nonetheless, I still can't manage to shave without getting lather on my earlobes.
There is however another consequence sprouting from the fan shape. If you place a fan shaped brush on your face, even with minimal pressure, the knot spreads out in a circular direction, with the outer hairs bent away from the middle axis. Whichever direction you move, there are always many hairs being pushed against their orientation. That lends a fan shaped brush considerably more friction than a bulb shaped brush. That can be both blessing *and* curse, as I will explain later in this review.

Thäter does not trim their brushes to shape.
They stuff them to shape. According to CEO Harald Schuldes, they are the only manufacturer doing it that way. Because the hairs are not trimmed, they retain their natural tips, and by consequence the brushes have an unrivalled softness right from the start. As I wrote earlier, they do not compromise.
But does it also make full sense? The brush comes with a small manual that holds several cautionary do's and don'ts. There is a warning that the natural tips will curl when exposed to temperatures above 40°C. After reading this, I immediately went to inspect my trusted Semogue#730 (a silvertip badger), that has been soaked in water of 55 - 60°C for numerous shaves. No curled tips. Hmm... Natural hair ends split easier than trimmed hair ends. I believe that to be a fact. Women with long hair often visit the hairdresser to trim the hair tips for no other reason than to prevent splitting.
I understand Thäter's desire to work with the natural tips of the badger hair. It should deliver a brush that feels softer from day one. I doubt that it makes much difference in the long run. Unlike plants, hair does not grow at its tip. It grows in a follicle underneath the skin and is pushed out as it extends. The tip of a hair is the eldest part of a hair, and it is thinner by no other cause than natural wear. The tip is not a kind of sealing cap, irrevocably removed if the hair is ever trimmed. I would expect that a trimmed shaving brush will eventually wear more or less the same as when the hairs were still attached to the animal. And so will the untrimmed tips of the Thäter brush. Of course, it remains a special feature that a high-end brush such as this Thäter arrives in peak performance, where other brushes may require a break-in period. I submitted my wife and 2 daughters to a blind test, where I touched their cheeks with both the Semogue (used for well over 200 shaves and the Thäter (used twice at that time). Both brushes were dry. They all identified the Thäter as slightly more prickly. So did I. This further convinces me that the natural tips do not necessarily hold an advantage over trimmed tips, when assessed in the long run.

This bush is densely packed.
I think they have as much badger hairs in the knot as the physical laws of time and place allow for. It almost seems a race is going on, at least during recent times, perhaps decades - I don't know -, among various manufacturers to stuff more and more hairs in one brush. There is a certain logic behind this: more hairs means more backbone. Everyone loves a brush with backbone, right? Enter the fakir's logic: the more hairs, the softer the surface will appear.
Nevertheless, the woodworker in me wonders about the consequences of "glue starvation". Glue starvation occurs when a joint is fitted so tight that there is not enough space left for the glue to bond it properly together. Of course it all depends on the glue, the material and the future amount of stress the joint will be exposed to. Thäter's brush manual makes me further apprehensive about this. They seem to not recommend anything that exposes the hairs to stress. Face lathering for example. ("Face lathering" is the process of building the lather directly on the face, instead of whipping it in a bowl first). Luckily, the brush refuses to "face-lather" anyway, so this is a non-issue for this brush. But more about that later.
I can say that I have used the Thäter extensively for about 4 months now, and it has yet to shed a single hair. I have not spotted any curled tips either, even though I am getting more confident by the day, in trespassing the 40°C barrier...

This is a 2-band badger brush
"2-band" badger hairs come from specific parts of a European Badger (Meles Meles) body. "European Badger" is actually the name of the species, for it is nowadays most common in Northern China. The two-band hairs have an atypically long dark part of their shaft, and they are known for their resilience. Because of this longer darker portion, the resulting brushes have only 2 shades, instead of the usual three shades. The white tips of the hairs are as soft as the more common "silvertip" grade, and it is the striking combination of firmness with softness, that makes these difficult to source hairs so popular in current times.

The handle
The handle is the typical hexagon cylinder model that Thäter uses on many of their brushes. It's a premium grade black polymer object, with good ergonomics. It will never rot, nor wear, crack or weather. It's as ergonomically functional as the handles on my set of German screwdrivers. And equally unlikely to ever inspire a spark of emotional delight that a simple piece of olive wood would have earned at first touch. But that is just me. The handle is perfect.


PERFORMANCE




Let there be no misunderstanding. This is a top shelf shaving brush. Or, to put it more controversially: this brush is much more than a tool to paint lather on one's face. To the reader who seeks no more in a shaving brush than just that, I say: look elsewhere. Go buy a boar brush or so.

Lather up
While the Thäter can whip up generous amounts of savory later with little effort, I wouldn't refer to this brush as a fool proof lathering machine. A lathering machine it is, and a very fine one at that, yet fool proof it is not. The brush depends on the user to find a sweet spot in the water and cream (or soap) ratio, which it rewards with a sybaritic explosion of finely structured lather that is fluffy and firm at the same time. This is somewhat different for each soap or cream, and especially with unfamiliar makes, I have found myself in need to start over on occasion. In that sense, I would not recommend this brush for a starting wetshaver. I would not recommend a Porsche for a first car either, if you catch my drift here. But for arresting a small flare of Mid-life Crisis, a Thäter while less expensive than a Porsche, may proof equally effective.
Anyway, when it comes to delivering lather, the Thäter, given proper use, will leave nothing to be desired. Which is, of course, as it should be.

Riding the brush
This is where things really start to become interesting and where the Thäter makes the difference with any other shaving brush I've tried so far. This brush takes the concept of beard preparation to the next level. Like no other brush, the Thäter creates an air seal on the skin. Forgive me the hyperbolic lingo, but this brush feels like a thousand angels kissing your face while gently sucking the individual whiskers to erect and lift them from their facial pockets. I realize this is a somewhat erotic description. My wife confirmed this brush' sensuality when I lathered her legs a couple days ago. The Thäter is a million miles away from "painting lather". A million miles ahead, I might say.

Does it make a difference for the shave? Well, if you shave after a shower, I doubt it will. The same probably applies if you soften the beard with hot towels and all that jazz. But for my usual 15 minutes shaving routine (I'm the type who's always running late), the Thäter does provide me with a better beard prep. And a more luxurious one too.

Face-lathering
Face-latherers are a breed of men who like to massage their beard area with a soap- loaded brush. They expect the lather to form right on their faces. They expect from a shaving brush that it can withstand such use. Full stop. Those brushes exist. Before the Thäter lured me into bowl lathering, I was mostly a face-latherer. And my trusted Semogue #730 never failed me at that. If the Thäter can't handle it, it still could be the World's Best Brush, but not for face-latherers. This I aspired to find out, in spite of the manufacturer's dissent to such use. On paper, the 2-band badger hairs promise a firm brush with soft tips, which is - quite literally - every face-latherer's wet dream. At least, that's what I thought...
It didn't work. I tried at least a dozen soaps and creams, including some of the most celebrated brands on today's market, and failed miserably. The brush refused to glide. It felt like rubbing over my face with a short-haired wet dog, against the fur. Lather production was extremely poor. I can only attribute this bold rejection of the brush to do any face-lathering to two properties: the fan shape, which makes the brush brace itself in all directions, more so than a bulb shape. And the densely packed knot, in which the badger hairs find so much support from each other that they refuse the bend in any other direction than their original orientation. That makes this brush too rigid for face-lathering.
Once it becomes properly saturated with lather, this behaviour changes rather drastically. At that point the above praised little angels emerge. The individual hairs are now sufficiently lubricated with lather and the brush starts to behave like I described it in the "riding the brush" paragraph. But you can only arrive there by whipping lather in a bowl. There's no need to mash the brush or to force the lather deep in the brush. It all takes place spontaneously. But not without a bowl. And not without using enough product. This brush easily demands twice as much "load" as the aforementioned Semogue. It probably contains twice the amount of hairs as well.
But for building lather right on the face, the 2-band badger, fan-shaped Thäter is not apt.

Capacity and a word about heat retention
As already mentioned, the Thäter holds a liberal amount of lather. Plenty more than I can use during a three-pass shave. Because it holds so much lather and because it keeps it well stored within its knot, this brush offers excellent heat retention. I've measured the temperature in the brush knot, right after whipping the lather and exactly 10 minutes later. The temperature actually rose with 0.1 degree, because the water in the scuttle was slightly hotter than the lather.(see the pictures) The environmental temperature was 18°C. This demonstrates how well the Thäter keeps its temperature.



Another advantage of its densely packed badger knot is that the Thäter operates remarkably cleanly: it holds a fully moisturized lather without the splattering galore of my Omega boar brush or the occasional dribble you get from most middle shelve badgers. If you're occasionally shaving while dressed, in between one meeting and the next, a mess-less brush can be most welcome.


CONCLUSION



Many shaving aficionados tend to see their shaves as time-capsules of perfection, a bubble in which they can withdraw for a brief while, indulging the delights of perfection: a razor that culminates both form and function, carrying a flawless edge, wielded with cultivated skill. Unequivocally, the peripherals must strive for the same perfection: the strop, the brush, the shaving soap,... the aficionado constructs his bubble with care and it's to be expected that he occasionally upgrades a part of the equipment with something better. Otherwise, it wouldn't be a quest for perfection.
In that light, I have tried to describe this Thäter brush as accurately as possible, even if it took lyrical language to do so for some of its properties.
If you are looking for a brush that's build to perfection and combines outstanding beard preparation with a ravishing lathering experience, and if you can live with the knowledge that price curves are always steep at the highest end of any product line, then I can warmly recommend the fan-shaped 2 band badger by Thäter.
Then the light shone, trumpets sounded and I got to the other side, where men shave with smiles on their faces, razors pop hairs, and a continuous choir singing «~~Keen and Smooth~~» is heard everywhere. (Matt)
2011-10-06 00:59
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Matt
Associate
From: Poland
Posts: 1047
Talk about a thorough review...

Too late for me to read this with a proper attention. The photos with thermometer made me smile, though. :)

So, tomorrow.

regards,
Matt
"Very interesting indeed :) I did something similar with cheese a while ago" - Dr Ralfson
2011-10-06 01:25
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Paul
Advisor
From: United States
Posts: 1388
Excellent review, but I'd suggest one correction: "Thäter makes the best brush on the market. Full-stop." :love: :lol:

In all seriousness, I have had a bulb shaped one for long several months, and I have, quite literally, not used another brush since getting it (with no expectation of changing that any time soon). Interestingly enough, I don't have any problem at all face lathering with mine, which leads me to think you may be on to something with your conjecture related to fan vs bulb shape. I do have some Rooney Finest brushes that are fan shaped that face lather well too. So, that leads me to think that the combination of fan shape with densely packed knot may be the culprit... hmmm...

As you know, I'm really opposed to hyperbole in all of its forms, but I get kind of giddy describing this brush to people. This pretty much sums up how I feel about this brush, but I just couldn't make myself say it for fear of vomiting all over everything in sight...

iconbart:
Forgive me the hyperbolic lingo, but this brush feels like a thousand angels kissing your face while gently sucking the individual whiskers to erect and lift them from their facial pockets


Thanks for the excellent review. I have to get my hands on a fan shaped one to see what the deal is with face lathering...

Regards,


Paul
Paul
"Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it" - Greg Anderson
my blog- and it works again :p
2011-10-06 01:56
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Bart Torfs (Bart)
Associate
From: Belgium
Posts: 5001
iconPaul:
I have to get my hands on a fan shaped one to see what the deal is with face lathering...


Well, if anyone would have wanted to get this brush work well for face lathering, that would be me. I was a face-latherer in heart and kidneys, as we say in Dutch (I only used a bowl on Sundays), before the Thäter converted me to bowl lathering.

Let me know your new address and I'll throw it in the mail for you to try.



Kind regards,

Bart.
Then the light shone, trumpets sounded and I got to the other side, where men shave with smiles on their faces, razors pop hairs, and a continuous choir singing «~~Keen and Smooth~~» is heard everywhere. (Matt)
2011-10-06 02:17
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Jim
Posts: 20
Very thorough; very excellent. I'm still puzzled about how choosing boob-shaped items is not considered rational. :confused:
One punctuation mark is sufficient to end a sentence.
2011-10-06 02:25
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Paul
Advisor
From: United States
Posts: 1388
I'll do that, Bart, but only if you allow me to send my bulb your way ;)

Mine hasn't shed a single hair yet either, by the way :)

EDIT: Obviously, I wasn't doubting you or questioning your abilities... just curious as to why it's behaving that way is all
Paul
"Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it" - Greg Anderson
my blog- and it works again :p
2011-10-06 02:32
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Torben Pedersen (torbenbp)
Advisor
From: Denmark
Posts: 1024
Splendid review Bart.

Robin speaks very higly about the Thäter`s..

And your description of Robin is spot on :rolleyes:

Thanks
Torbs
Torben Pedersen
Moellevaenget 15 2th
7900 Nykoebing Mors
Denmark
"If it works dont break it..?"
2011-10-06 07:45
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Matt
Associate
From: Poland
Posts: 1047
Great read, thanks.

iconBart:
It felt like rubbing over my face with a short-haired wet dog, against the fur.

That gave me a chuckle. :)

Now I need to move to Germany, where such reviews would come to any use (read: earn way more money to be OK with myself to ever buy such brush).

regards,
Matt
"Very interesting indeed :) I did something similar with cheese a while ago" - Dr Ralfson
2011-10-06 08:27
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Torben Pedersen (torbenbp)
Advisor
From: Denmark
Posts: 1024
Matt,I do believe Thäter has much cheaper alternatives..this is quite obvoiusly state of the art.

Robin once talked about a 30-40,-EU Thäter.. (?) Should be very good for a brush at that price.

Torbs
Torben Pedersen
Moellevaenget 15 2th
7900 Nykoebing Mors
Denmark
"If it works dont break it..?"
2011-10-06 08:34
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geruchtemoaker
Associate
From: Belgium
Posts: 693
very nice revieuw :thumbup:
The Bible and several other self help or enlightenment books cite the Seven Deadly Sins. They are: pride, greed, lust, envy, wrath, sloth, and gluttony. That pretty much covers everything that we do, that is sinful... or fun for that matter. - Dave Mustaine
http://www.artisanshaving.org
2011-10-06 08:47
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Robin
Posts:
What an utterly delectable review. I'm really glad you like the brush.

As for the fan shape, yours will probably never hit the market. From what I have seen so far, the final product (yours being a prototype like mine) will look less flat. As for face lathering, mine works (I just tried again with Mitchell's Wool Fat, the most difficult to handle soap I own), but less effectively than lathering in a bowl.

And I think it is fair to stress again that everyone who has used one of these so far agree that it has the potential to outperform even the much more expensive Simpson Polo or Rooney Finest. Which, truth be told, is no small feat, given that it is far less expensive, albeit still at the very top end of what I would be willing to pay for a shaving brush.

As for the cheaper alternative, this is it. An unsung hero of shaving brushdom, really.

Best regards,
Robin
2011-10-06 09:17
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Wim Decraene (decraew)
Insider +1
From: Belgium
Posts: 447
Splendid review Bart, wish I had you gift with words :blush:

ps: nice pictures as well, I'd like to see your photographic set up one day
[Last edited by decraew, 2011-10-06 11:07]
2011-10-06 09:31
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Dr Ralfson Bwhahaha (tat2Ralfy)
Associate
Posts: 3610
Now you see this is why I havent written my own review of this brush, I could never even come close as far as descriptive writing goes, wonderfully written indeed :thumbup:

I have had mine for the same amount of time as the good Sir Bart I believe, and can honestly say it is the nicest brush I own, it has never shed a single hair, and after being treated to very hot water, abused by bowl lathering, and worked hard against my rugged facial features, it is still as good as new.

I believe mine too is fan shaped, certainly when compared to the bulb shaped New Forest I have:





And I face lather with it almost every time I use it, and it works very very well indeed, even better than the New Forest (the only other 2 band I own) mind you the Thater does retail at around 10 times the cost, so one might expect it to work splendidly, speaking of face lathering, it has taken the place of the New Forest, which used to be my "go to" brush, when I found it difficult getting a new product to perform how I would like, I might be able to produce a short video of it in action later today.

If I had to choose only one brush (god forbid) it would be the Thater, without question

Wonderful Brush, Wonderful review, and thank you for taking the time, and having the talent to write it
Of course a very special thank you to Sir Robin, for sending me mine, I will treasure it forever, it has had the same effect on my desire to buy more brushes, as my Otto Duestch Hans had with razors, I simply dont look anymore, and thats a very good thing indeed

Regards
Ralfson (Dr)
We Are All Pioneers In Our Own Right.
The Infamous Coticule Crew
Pip Pip Old Bean
2011-10-06 09:58
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Matt
Associate
From: Poland
Posts: 1047
iconRobin:
As for the cheaper alternative, this is it. An unsung hero of shaving brushdom, really.

Well, that's even less than a men-ü brush that I got for my birthday... :|
"Very interesting indeed :) I did something similar with cheese a while ago" - Dr Ralfson
2011-10-06 10:26
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king
From: Croatia/Hrvatska
Posts: 229
Excellent.....great review Bart. I am in time of buying new brush and this review definitely "show the way".
Now I just have to find place to buy one of these (the shop that Robin provided has ridicously hig postage cost for outside EU countries :( ).
2011-10-06 10:42