As I mentioned previously, I was recently converted from an electric razor to wetshaving. One of the most crucial ingredients is the building of lather from traditional hard shaving soap or cream, instead of using a pressurized canned product. The primary tool for doing this is the shaving brush. Made of either badger hair or boar bristle, the brush allows the lather to be formed and spread directly on the face, producing vastly improved lubrication for the skin. Even through I bought a mediocre brush when I started, I wasn’t completely happy with it, and later stumbled upon a company, The Golden Nib, that sells the hair knots used to make shaving brushes. These knots, available for a fraction of the cost of a completed brush, require only a turned handle to be put into action.
Being a turner, I couldn’t resist the challenge of making one myself. This is a relatively simple project which I thought would be an excellent one to document for any beginning turners out there. Video would be a much better medium than still photos, especially since I’m not comfortable trying to set the timer for photos during the actual turning process. However, I hope my stills will give you enough information to try one on your own.
I started by ordering a 20mm Best Badger knot. This is the measurement of the diameter of the glued section at the base that holds the hair together. There is other terminology involved as well, but Golden Nib provides lots of information on their related page, along with a tutorial of one way of making a handle. This knot, with shipping ended up costing me about $20. The first step was to file down the slight flange visible at the bottom of the plastic. This is a leftover of the binding process, and would make fitting the knot more difficult.
The next step was to rough out the handle. I already had a piece of blackwood left over from the dough bowl knob still in the chuck, and decided to use this for the handle. I planned to pattern the handle in part after the one on my Parker brush, and started by establishing the rough diameter. I took a measurement of the largest diameter of the Parker knob, and transferred this with calipers and a parting tool to several locations on the blank. After this, it was a simple matter of connecting the dots with the gouge to create a rough cylinder.
Once the cylinder had been roughed out, I created the recess for the knot. I started by drilling a 3/4″ hole with a Forstner bit to the approximate depth. I already knew that a 3/4″ hole would be slightly undersize, but I wanted to sneak up on both diameter and depth, so that I got a close fit that still allowed enough room for epoxy. Once the hole was drilled, it was a matter of repetitive trial and error to fit the recess to the knot. My favorite technique for slightly enlarging holes is to take a small skew chisel, hold it flat with the edge parallel to the tool rest, and push the long point straight in to delicately remove material. The stiffness of the knot can be adjusted by means of the depth to which it is set, so it’s best to experiment with this in a scrap board to determine your preference.
My brush handle will have a simple waisted shape. To make this, I marked the location of the narrowest part of my Parker brush handle, and cut a groove to this diameter using the parting tool. Once this was done, it was a simple matter of shaping with a 1/2″ spindle gouge until I got the desired shape.
After arriving at the form I wanted, I sanded to 400 grit, and applied a coat of Myland’s Sanding Sealer, followed by a coat of Myland’s Friction Polish to the exposed surfaces of the handle. After this had dried, the knob was parted off.
I can hear you saying, “Wait a minute! How are you going to finish the other end? Don’t worry, the piece of wood left in the chuck will help us here. I used it to create a little holding appliance known as a jam-fit chuck. This is exactly what the name implies – a way to hold the piece by jamming it on to the fitting. I made this by turning a short stub-tenon on the end of the leftover wood. Once again, I started out a bit big, and carefully reduced its diameter until friction would hold the knob in place. This is a tricky operation, and can’t be rushed. Too loose and the piece flies off, too tight and you risk splitting it. Be patient, removing a whisker at a time until you get a firm fit.
Once you have the knob securely in place, you can finish the base. Remember, friction is the only thing holding the knob on, so use gentle cuts, applying light pressure towards the headstock, and avoid lateral force as much as possible. Occasionally, you won’t be able to get the piece perfectly centered on the chuck. That’s generally not a problem as long as you get close. If you’re a little off, a touch of sandpaper will usually blend things in so that you can’t tell – like here! Don’t worry about those few lines in the finish on the side – I stopped the lathe in mid-finish, and they were polished away when I resumed.
The last step is to glue the knot in place. I used one-hour epoxy, applying a generous amount to the recess. Be sure here that you don’t use too much. Epoxy is thick, and excess will tend to restrict the seating of the knot if the hole is fairly tight. Even if this doesn’t happen, the squeeze-out would be a real problem here. Let everything dry for 24 hours, and you’re in business.
As a follow-up, the Myland’s that I applied didn’t last past the first shave. I’m going back and using a simple tung oil finish to give a bit of build and protection from the water. I hope you enjoyed this project, and maybe were inspired to make one of your own, or as a gift. Believe me, any wetshaver would love one.