Sunday, January 17, 2010

Kimson Handcraft - Horn Combs from Vietnam

For the old readers of this blog, you guys probably know that I have been using horn combs for as long as I can remember, I like them not only because they don't break easily or cause static electricity but also the fact that they are handcrafted into beautiful shapes and (just like my jade accessories)which is quite unique to certain culture and traditions.

I have blogged about my collection already last year, at the beginning of September of 2009 I was asked by the sales manager of Kimson Handicraft whether I want to try out some horn combs from Vietnam and blog about them. I have never tried hand comb from Vietnam before so I though it would be nice to take a look at those. And frankly, it's not like bust enhancement cream (that I have to put a before and after picture of my "airport") I have nothing to lose trying out new combs.

First Impression- The package arrived safe and sound 3 months later (Long story...) and there are 3 combs along with a bangle bracelet as a gesture of friendliness. My first impression is that appearance wise, these are buffalo horn combs are indeed quite different from the combs I have seen in China.

I have collected many different types of combs, most of the lighter colored one are semi opaque and have the same texture and color through out the whole piece. The combs from Kimson Handcraft actually have some kind of marbleized texture in which there are both semi opaque yellowish part as well as completely opaque white bone-like sections. This might have something to do with different types of ox being the supplier (By the way, people don't kill buffalo just for the horn, it's more like a recycled good). Since the higher opacity indicates that these combs have composition closer to bone than to cartilage, they could be potentially harder and more likely to break than the less opaque ones. I have experienced no pain or scratching from these comes as they are smoothed out at the tips (but apparently these are supposed to be the "premium" ones according to the sales manager) , as of the breaking problem, I haven't sat or slept on those so I don't know yet...Now let's head to in depth review for each of the three.

Rat tail combThis is the narrow comb that's meant for parting and teasing the hair.(The pattern of this one piece is the prettiest of the three) It's just a standard comb with shorter teeth and a tail to part the hair, I personally find the end of the tail not sharp enough to give a clean part so I just ended up using my normal combs to do the job anyway, I guess the good thing is that there is no poking hazard.
As a teasing comb, the short and relatively wide teeth (see the unsmooth surface?) do a good job giving texture, making my hair looking like a fuzz ball for style like meatball bun. Anyway, I don't get the point of teasing with a horn comb (since the main reason that I use them is that I don't like frizz caused by friction.): If I really want to give texture through back combing, why don't I just use those dollar store plastic one or the 10-dollar black rose rat tail from Anna Sui, which is not any more expensive but a lot prettier than this one.

Maybe styling with horn combs gives you less damage, who knows?

Handled comb
The comb with handle seems much better made than the first one as the surface is completely smooth and the tips of the teeth are polishes so it feels comfortable on the scalp. However, I have a minor complain about the appearance of the comb: The material looks well picked but the proportionality seems a tad bit off: I want the handle to be shorter than the body, am I asking too much? (I am not asking for a 1.618:1 ratio, aka Golden Section. )

As you can see, the body, part that contains the teeth, of Kimson comb is a not very long ( I can certainly deal with a few more runs through the hair.) While the length is not that much of a problem ,the proportionality is: It just seems weird, and not very visually pleasing to me that the handle is 1.5cm longer than the body, it's like seeing a size 1 pocket on a size 0 pants or holding a large handle on a normal sized tea cup. Is it cultural difference that I am not supposed to assume that the body of a hair brush should be at least a tad bigger than the handle? The complain is minor but it became a major reason I don't like to use this as much.

Handle-free comb
The handle-free comb is my favorite of the bunch, there is no handle (for me to fuzz about) and the slightly shorter overall length makes it a perfect candidate for me to put it into my little pouch.There are two different teeth width at each side and there is a little widow's peak at the center the separate the two. I wouldn't mind if they get rid of the little divider in the center but I am guessing that the triangular geometry makes it less likely to break.

As of the function of the two different teeth widths, I am guessing that you can use the use the wider side to quickly comb through hair and use the other side for parting, clean up little tangles and get rid of some big(huge) flaky dandruff. (But the difference of the width is not great enough for me to detect a difference when used on my hair anyway, I personally just glide the whole thing through.)

Now I am done with the individual review, here comes the very important conclusion part (I know this post is pretty long but keep reading if you consider buying one of these) and some very quick comparison between the Kimson hair combs and the combs I have.
Appearance: One of the main reason I like horn combs is the fact that they are also like a art piece. When I received these combs, I think they look more like a piece of tool than a piece of art: From the surface glitches, unconventional handle-body ratio and the unwanted widow's peak. I think that with the good raw material, the combs could be prettier.

Functionality: If you look back at the pictures, you will see that I have listed the measurement for the thickness as well as the length. While these combs are thicker than the plastic one you find in drugstore, they are 2-3mm thinner than most of my other horn combs. The thickness actually matter a lot since horn has similar composition as human nail. It can get bent as time passes, the truth is that the handled Kimson comb is already bent a tad bit after a month, at the same time, all my other combs are fairly straight (I use my own all the time, even with wet hair.) as they have thicker body.

Beside the resistance to bending, another advantage of having thicker comb is that the weight of the comb would make combing thicker/damp hair easier, thin combs usually just get caught in the fuzz or broken in the process. Last but not least, thicker combs look more substantial and can be held more easily in the palm. A little bit more weight makes it easier to maneuver.

Side Effect: It seems to only happen with the Kimson combs that every time (I have tried them for 10-20 times) I try to run these combs through my hair when it's damp, the friction creates an unpleasant smell (it stinks!) on the comb and hair which reminds me of burning fibers. I switched shampoo and all that good stuff, it seems to happen if and only if I am using this combs (my other horn/wooden combs retains the fragrance of shampoo). I am not sure if it's the chemical on the surface or the composition of the comb. Anyway, and it's a bit of a bummer since I only comb my hair at most twice per day, and that one time is right after shower...

Price: The so called "premium combs" I have reviewed, which have rounder tips cost anywhere from 8 to 14 something dollars. And the standard ones, presumably with sharper teeth (but they are prettier!) all cost 8 bucks. I think the prices are fairly reasonable as it similar to the no-bargaining-involved price if you were to get a horn comb in similar quality in China. (I buy them for cheaper since I know how to chop prices, even though I do speak Chinese with an weird accent lol.) Keep in mind that big cooperate brand Carpenter Tan combs are all rounded and decently designed but the starting price is probably higher than 15 bucks.

Shipping: I went to take a stroll at the website and it seems that there are several types of shipping methods available. The express cost an arm and a leg, and the ground is calculated based on the number of item purchased. My package was sent by the manager through air-mail and it took a little over two weeks to arrive (accounting for the Thanksgiving break). I guess if you don't mind waiting, the rate is not too bad.

Overall: They are decent combs(beside the stinking part) but I have had probably more than 10 horn combs myself (and I hand picked many of them) so I am a little picky. Anyway, the big Chinese cooperate brand Carpenter Tan does seems to be the best out of all I have tried (even it's only available in store and a bit expensive). You know, it's kind of hard for some one to go back to Covergirl when she is used to Chanel, right?

Anyway, I did some window shopping at the site and I found some other interesting stuff made of horn, like Butterfly hair pin , Tree Branch hair pin (use two of them and you will look like a moose.) as well as gecko hair pin and other stuff like necklaces, bracelet, chopstick holder. etc...I would ask for these hair pin instead of his friendly gesture (a huge bracelet, from the e-mail, the manager seems to mistook me for a middle aged, big, white male...I was too lazy to correct him) but then again that would be bribing...

P.S.I never ever buy hand craft stuff (jade or quartz bracelets) online as each piece looks totally different from others and I personally want to pick the exact one I like.


  1. thanks for your advice and this in depth and informative review!

  2. Dear Citrine!
    I read your blog regarding horn combs while I was searching for a supplier for those tems. I'm located in Switzerland with several shops. We sale horn combs, horn hair accesssoires, horn jewellery. So could you recommend me a manufacture with a great quality? I try to find since 2 years (philippines, china). Now I'm in contact with a indian company. But quality that came was terrible. Not easy to find the right people. Maybe during your searching, you found the right adress.
    with many thanks in advance and best regards

  3. Marianne (I replied the same thing to your e-mail but I will post it here for people with similar questions):

    I personally am just a shopper myself so I don't really know what are the reputable manufacturers of horn products, most of the time I purchase from various individual retailers in Guandong Province. Anyway, if you are looking for a certain brand name, Carpenter Tan ( is an established company known for their horn/wood craft . The good part is that their combs (I have tried) are usually very well-made, nicely designed, weighty, polished (so it doesn't scratch the scalp) and the quality is rather consistent within the brand. The bad part is that it's already a company so their name is usually etched on them (I am not sure if you can ask them to make for your own label, but you can ask them on the contact page). Another down side is that the various product from them is normally 2x that of a no-name-brand you would get from a mall vendor, but I think it shouldn't matter (or might work to your advantage since everything is clearly labeled and not negotiable) that much since I assume when you buy from other stores, they (It's more like if you are Chinese and know how to haggle, you can negotiate to a much lower price) would charge a higher price for any foreigner.

    If you still want to get products directly from a manufacturer, I am sorry I can't help that much(I am in US so I can't see anything personally) but I do have some experience shopping for those. When you look at the sample/make order, always make sure the comb is at least 5mm thick (the body/flab) and each tooth of the comb is around 1.5-2mm thick (after all, they are quite similar to cartilage so they are not as res as plastic) so they won't break easily. Also pay attention to the color of the horn (I believe while they are all from water buffalo, there is transparent-faint yellow, black, reddish brown, marbleized) , the ones with more transparency is usually less rigid (likely to fracture or break) and less scratchy on skin. Dark (especially black) ones are also more likely to scratch each other (during shipment if they try to save space and not use enough padding between each piece) so it's the most high-maintenance of the bunch.


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