Photo: Eric Piasecki
“Without a good brush, it doesn't matter how experienced a painter you are,” says painting contractor John Dee. “You can't control the paint.”

According to Dee, who has painted a number of This Old House projects, the search for a good brush starts with knowing exactly how it will be used. A thick, 4-inch-wide brush with long bristles would be perfect for coating clap-boards but useless on narrow window muntins. For windows, Dee chooses a thin, 2-inch-wide brush with a long handle and shorter, more easily controlled bristles. “I'm always trying to strike a balance between precision and productivity,” Dee says. “The more you have of one, the less you get of the other.”

A brush's performance depends on its bristles, which carry the liquid finish to a surface, distribute it evenly, and smooth out the imperfections. The old rule about never using natural-bristle brushes — meant for oil-based paints — with water-based formulas still holds; natural bristles soak up the water and go limp. But the newer blends of synthetic filaments can handle both types of paint with equal finesse. “More than anything,” says Dee, “it's essential to use the best brush money can buy.” That said, there are still times — small jobs where the cleanup would take longer than the work — when a throwaway foam or cheap bristle brush will do.
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