Best lathering bowl—the search
This is a complete revision, and tells the full story—thus far.
My first lathering bowl was a soup cup that I had used as a bowl for shaving soap. I took out the soap, and it seemed to work well—and it even had a handle. I later realized that it’s proportions and dimensions were just right for me: hemispherical in shape, about 5″ across and 3″ deep.
- Heat capacity: thick (1/4″) stone walls absorb a lot of heat to keep the lather nicely warm.
- Size: 5.75″” in diameter, 3″ high–interior 5″ by 2.75″ deep: not too big, not too small.
- Shape: comfortable to hold, works well with brush.
- Feel: the stone feels nice. They suggest curing it (coat with oil to sit overnight, then put into a cool oven and turn it on to 300 degrees for 30 minutes, then let it cool in the oven), but do NOT do that for a lathering bowl: the lathered soap will remove the oil from the interior—and until it’s removed, you don’t get good lather.
But… the search continued.
The heat retention idea, to keep the lather warm, is one approach. The Moss Scuttle uses hot water as an alternative (but has a working bowl that doesn’t meet the shape and size requirements). This Thai mortar, with its thick granite walls, looks good—the 8″ size seems to have the right bowl shape and size. (I suspect the bowl depth of the 7″ size is insufficient.) And look at the size of the thing! I started thinking that, if I left it in a 200 degree oven overnight, then brought it to the bathroom with oven mitts…
Then I remembered Dave Barry’s column about lighting charcoal for the grill, and how some engineering students gradually escalated from using a hair dryer to liquid oxygen. Maybe I’m going overboard here. I pictured dropping the hot granite mortar on my bare foot…
One shaver has had good success with a steel bowl. It doesn’t have much heat capacity, but that means that it absorbs very little heat from the brush and lather. What is absorbed is slowly lost to the surrounding air by convection and radiation, but for the duration of a shave, the heat loss is not that extreme. That is another approach to try.
Another shaver writes:
The whole idea of using a thinner walled bowl is to transfer the heat from the water through the bowl into the cream in the brush. A thicker walled bowl and a denser material would retain heat longer but would take much longer to heat up. I have been using a nickel bowl and a wide mug. I fill the mug with hot water, whip up the cream in the bowl that sits atop the hot water with all the heat going into the cream and brush. If the water gets too cool then I dump the water and refill hot. Then you have heat all over again.
I also tried a Target cereal bowl (made in China, brandname “Home”) in heavy ceramic, hemispherical, exactly the right size. But it comes only in white, and that’s a terrible color when you’re trying to develop and judge the lather (which is also white).
Then I got a brushed stainless double-walled bowl, interior dimensions just right, holds a pint—but it really doesn’t stay warm enough.
The search for heat led me to get a Sunbeam Hot Shot for the bathroom, so I can quickly get a pint of boiling water—not for the brush (water that hot will ruin the brush), but to heat the lathering bowl. With boiling hot water, I gave the Moss Scuttle another go.
With boiling-hot water in the reservoir, the Moss Scuttle does keep the lathered brush hot—but the heat seems to break down the lather. Also, having both a lathering cup and the Moss Scuttle (along with umpty-ump soaps, creams, brushes, razors, and aftershaves) was crowding me too much.
So: I sold the Moss Scuttles (I had tried two, a large and a small), and the Hot Shot has been moved out of the bathroom. I’m back to using just hot water from the tap and the original soup cup.
Nevertheless, I continue to keep an eye out for something better… The shaving forums regularly have stories of guys who have found their ideal lathering bowl in a Goodwill or Salvation Army store for twenty-five cents.