You know the word “artisan” is overused when Subway start slipping it into the titles of their sandwiches. Another word which used to mean something, now beaten to death by marketing executives the world over, trying to position their offering as something it isn’t.
I actually debated whether to use the word “artisan” at all, given that my immediate reaction is to cringe whenever I hear someone say it now, but the term legitimately applies to Marco Finardi and his small (but growing) company, Marfin. He’s an artist and a craftsman, creating beautiful things on a small scale, but in a significant way.
Marco (image courtesy laprovincia.it)
Marco is from Martignana di Po, a small country town in the province of Cremona (Lombardy).
He studied Greek, Latin, history and philosophy in Casalmaggiore and obtained his Diploma in piano in Parma before attending the University of Parma to study Law, which he abandoned just before completion, describing it as “nonsense”. He then worked with the newspaper of Cremona “La Provincia” as a journalist, as well as being Editor-In-Chief for a local cultural publication. He went on to open his own graphics studio and publishing business.
Unfulfilled by the above, he decided to combine his three passions (traditional shaving, tobacco pipes and woodwork) to create a product which was completely unique and wholly Italian. “Marfin” was born.
Marfin shaving brushes are completely handcrafted by Marco, using only hand tools and natural materials.
Italian briar (famous for its use in tobacco pipes) is used, which Marco selects personally by travelling to Tuscany and the knots are made from pure silver-tip badger hair (more on that later).
At around 240 euro for each brush, the price is not insignificant, but given the quality and time involved in the creation of each brush, it’s money well invested.
Italian briar blanks
Marco is a gentle soul and his passion for his product is infectious. I asked him to outline both his thought and production process. His response is below:
“A Marfin shaving brush has a soul. Each brush is different because it comes from the emotion and inspiration that the single piece of briar suggests to me through its veins, its edges, its peculiarities.
First of all then the root should be scrutinized, observed and interpreted. Only after this “first phase of the study,” I can begin to imagine the shape of the brush to achieve.
The design of the handle follows, with the ergonomics of the brush being extremely important because I want my brushes to be convenient and comfortable to use and more pleasing to the eye.
The root is then cut and trimmed with rasps and files, before being sanded with increasingly finer grades of sandpaper. The cavity for the knot is drilled, then the handle is coloured. The coloring of my brushes can be simple (one color) or complex (two or three colors). I use only natural pigments, some of them I buy, others I make myself.
I then seal the handle and water resistance of my brushes are obtained by dipping the handles in pure tung oil. This phase takes place at a controlled temperature for a specific number of days, before it is dried over two weeks in an airy room.
Finally the brush is polished. At this point a Marfin brush undergoes four different stages of polishing, in each of them I use a natural increasingly fine abrasive powder. I then paste the knot and hand polish the handle with pure carnauba wax; I apply this protection to protect the brush during transport and use. The base of each brush is marked with the Marfin logo. The entire process takes an average of three weeks.”
My brush, carved and sanded back
Badger hair is graded in order of softness, bristle strength and fineness, with “silver-tip” being the highest grade of hair. Silver-tip is taken from around the badger’s neck (no wonder they’re angry), made into a “knot” then inserted into the handle. Marco has his knots made by hand by a small team in Florence.
Marco and I had been speaking throughout the year and he got in touch again a little while ago to say he’d found a particularly unique piece of briar and he asked if I’d like my brush made from it. I was happy to give him the go ahead and when I arrived in Florence he had it waiting for me in our hotel (we’d hoped to catch up in person, but by that point he was away on holidays).
The presentation of the brushes are superb, each coming with its own box, with the individual number stamped onto the handle and a signed note from Marco alongside a Marfin wax seal.
I’ve used the brush every day for a few months now and, accompanied by my Santa Maria Novella shave creme, shaving each morning has become one of my favourite parts of the day.
Where a badger brush really needs to perform is in the knot. As long as a handle fits well in your hand, it’s doing its job (though I see value in and am happy to pay for a handle that has been hand made from such a beautiful wood), but if the knot is of poor quality, the brush will constantly give a poor lather.
I’d previously used a “pure” badger brush from Parker (“pure” is a lower grade of hair) and it did the job well enough, although I’d have at least one or two hairs falling out of the knot on every shave. I’m yet to lose a single hair from my Marfin and the softness of the hair is levels above my Parker brush.
The only hiccup I’ve had was the base of the brush left a small stain on the basin, after I’d left it there to dry (the basin was wet, which caused some of the oil to transfer from the handle). Not a concern really as it’s almost now invisible and the brush hasn’t done it since, so it’s just something to be aware of while the brush is new.
An earlier Marfin brush
Another earlier Marfin brush
From here, Marco’s focus is on continuing to refine his brushes with each successive creation. He is also now making razor handles, tabacco pipes and will soon begin making hairbrushes, all from Italian briar. Next year he will also start his own range of shaving products (pre-shave creme, shave soap etc).
In one his biggest wins to date, Harrod’s of London will start stocking his brushes in time for Christmas, in addition to other stockists now taking on Marfin products in Hong Kong, Spain, Australia, NZ and Canada.
It’s such a positive thing to see such a nice guy in Marco, focused so much on truly authentic craftsmanship having his products attain the recognition (and sales) they deserve.
Marco (and his brushes) can most easily be found at his facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/marfin.it