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General info on brushes


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Established Member
13 May 2005
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South Croydon, Surrey
Thought I'd share some info on brushes following one of Alan's earlier posts.

1. Brush shape.

Brushes with square cut end are generally best for thick paints or where you want brush marks to show.

Brushes with a chisel shape (imagine a chisel with a bevel on both sides) are easier for applying thin finishes like shellac and varnish without brush marks. The bristles should be set in tiers and not just cut to shape.

Better brushes will have longer bristles, which allows the finish to flow out more smoothly.

2. Bristle shape.

Bristles chopped square at the end. Better for thick paints or where brush marks don't matter.

Bristles tapered to a point. Good for a smooth finish and for waterborne finishes.

Flagged bristles (like split ends in hair). These leave the smoothest finish. However, the do cause tiny air bubbles in waterborne finishes.

3. Some bristle type.

China (this is more common). Springy medium soft. Good for varnish.

Fitch. Thin and soft. Good for shellac.

Badger. Quite stiff and springier than China. Good for oil varnish.

Sable. Good for fine work and they can be shaped to a super fine point (00000). I use them for fine work on restoration, e.g. applying grain lines on patches.

Synthetic. Generally used for waterborne finishes as the bristles don't splay like natural hair. Nylon is softer than polyester and better for thinner finishes; polyester for thicker finishes.

4. Tips for using brushes.

Before you use a brush soak the bristles in the thinner/solvent for the finish you are going to use then squeeze out all the excess. This is really good because it helps the finish to flow better from the brush. It also really helps when it comes to cleaning up because the finish doesn't stick so readily to the bristles (I do this now and it makes a big difference).

During use only dip the bristles to one third their length. If the finish starts to creep up to the ferrule and then starts to dry (when doesn't this happen! :) ) you can scrape this off then soak the brush in the thinners, squeeze off, then carry on. This helps cleaning up and if you have a good brush keeps it in better shape.

Once you've finished scrape off all the finish onto some scrap paper or card. Massage the correct solvent into the bristles, I then squeeze out the excess. Then you can spin the brush (put the handle between your palms then roll) to get rid of the excess solvent. Once you've done this wash the bristles in warm water with soap (shampoo is good for natural bristles) - this is beneficial for all brushes. Squeeze out the excess water and wrap the bristles in something absorbent, brown paper is good, as this sets the bristles in shape while they dry - you can use a rubber band or some tape to gently hold the paper in place.

You'll now have a perfect finish and your brush will be in top nick for your next job.