More in Painting

The Right Brush

For the perfect paint job, invest in the best.

Photo by Eric Piasecki
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“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.
“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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Painting

 

Painting

Paint Brush 1
Photo by Eric Piasecki
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Cleaning and Storing

 

Cleaning and Storing

Dipping the paint brush in water before painting
Photo by Eric Piasecki
Before dipping a brush in paint, dip it into water (for water-based paints) or paint thinner (for oil-based paints) to wet the bristles in the ferrule (the metal base) and prevent paint from building up there. This makes cleanup easier and extends the brush's life. Spin out the excess; then comb out the bristles with a brush comb (sold at paint stores).
Cleaning with Solvents
  • Solvents are toxic — wear rubber gloves.
  • For the first rinse of your brush, it's fine to re-use old, dirty solvent. (See below for directions on saving solvents.) Use about a half-cup, working the solvent through all the bristles and up into the ferrule, then drain and spin dry.
  • Next, rinse the brush in a half-cup of clean solvent, drain, and spin dry. Do this at least twice more, reserving the dirty solvent each time in a separate container.
  • Water-based exterior paints need a solvent rinse too; the paint leaves a residue on bristles that soap and water won't remove. Before the final rinse, run clean paint thinner through the filaments. Store this solvent separately.
  • To save dirty solvent for reuse, let it sit for about a week and the solids will settle out, leaving a decantable liquid that's clean enough for second, third, or fourth rinses. Store the solvent in sealable cans or jars — well labeled — in a cool, safe place.
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Dipping the paint brush in water before painting
Photo by Eric Piasecki
Dip the bristles in the paint a bit less than halfway; paint any higher up the brush won't get onto the surface, and will be harder to clean out. To prevent drips, slap both sides of the brush against the inside of the bucket.
Quality Bristles
Solid — synthetic filaments won't deform easily. Bend a filament at the base, and solid springs back, hollow doesn't.
Densely packed bristles that taper to a chisel edge, help with painting straight lines, cutting in, or tipping off.
“Split ends”, or “flags,” hold more paint and spread it more smoothly.
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Where to Find It

 

Where to Find It

Start a paint brush stroke on a dry surface.
Photo by Eric Piasecki
Start each stroke on a dry surface, working back toward any wet edges. Spread full brushloads evenly, using the sides of the bristles. Then lightly drag the ends across the wet coating in one direction. This final “tipping off” erases any brush marks.
2 ½-inch black China bristle #CB-FS
J.R. Edwards Brushes & Rollers
Kankakee, IL
815-933-3742
www.jrbrush.com

Natural bristles
2-inch white China bristle #CB-WRU
J.R. Edwards Brushes & Rollers

2 ½-inch black China bristle Duke #10470
Corona Brushes Inc
Tampa, FL
800-458-3483

2½-inch angled sash brush with China bristle/ox-hair blend #PTOXA25
The Painter's Trademark Ltd
a private label of J.R. Edwards Brushes & Rollers

Synthetic filaments: 2 ½-inch polyester angled sash brush #PT-FA25
The Painter's Trademark Ltd

2 ½-inch nylon brush #GNFS25
J.R. Edwards Brushes & Rollers

2 ½-inch angled sash brush XLGLIDE #152325
Purdy Corporation
Portland, OR
503-286-8217
www.purdycorp.com

John Dee's must-have brushes: all from Purdy Corp
 
 

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