Anatomy of a Paintbrush
Had Michael Angelo known as much about paint brushes as is known today he probably could have completed the Sistine chapel in half the time and with half the work. You may not be planning a ceiling mural, but if painting is on your mind then this week’s offering may interest you.
If you’ve been following our column for any length of time then you know we regularly preach that 80% of a good paint job depends on preparation. You can bet that paint won’t stick very well when applied to a dirty wall. And it doesn’t look very good when used to cover a damaged wall.
But, once you’ve properly prepared a surface and begin painting you want the job of brushing to be as simple and effective as possible – well, don’t you!?! If the answer is yes, then you will want to take advantage of the following tips on paintbrush anatomy.
Good paintbrushes are available in natural and synthetic bristles and the use for which each type was designed is either marked on the brush package or somewhere on the brush itself. The message is usually pretty specific (i.e. “for use with oil base paints” or “for use with water base paint”, etc.) meaning – exactly – what it says. Generally, natural (animal hair) bristles are used with oil base paints and synthetic bristles are used with water base paints. There are some bristles designed to work with both types of paint. The brush package is very important. Don’t throw it away. It is designed to keep the bristles properly shaped.
Besides selecting the proper bristle type, you should study the brush’s overall construction very carefully as well. Besides the bristles better quality brushes have several other important components: the handle, ferrule, divider plug and the metal insert.
The ferrule on a good quality brush is attached with screws, rivets or brads. On the other hand, an indication that the brush is not so good is evidenced when the ferrule is the “slip-on” type – nothing holds the ferrule in place except friction. Imagine the friction-fit ferrule as a loose fitting pair of pants – with no belt. Now then, think about those consequences for a moment or two. Is your underwear clean – well – is it? As easily as a loose pair of pants can drop to the ground, so can a friction fit ferrule slip off the handle of an inexpensive paintbrush. Here’s a way to test the ferrule. Slap the side of the brush against the palm of your hand. If the ferrule is properly attached it will feel solid and won’t wiggle. If the ferrule moves chances are buying that brush will prove to be a mistake. If during the test several bristles fall out of the ferrule then you should steer clear of making a purchase. There is no more irritating experience than trying to remove paintbrush bristles from a freshly painted surface. In fact, in our opinion it’s worse than fingernails being swiped across a chalkboard. Yuck!
Having plenty of bristles also is very important. This can be easily checked. By separating the bristles in half (in a line parallel with the width of the brush) the divider plug can be observed within the ferrule. In a good brush the divider is smaller leaving room for more bristles. In a cheaper brush the divider is larger leaving less room for the bristles. This is important because a brush that has more bristles will hold more paint. This means fewer trips from the paint bucket to the surface being painted – and less fatigue for the person doing the painting. Also, when there are more bristles to hold the paint there is less chance that the paint will run down the bristles and onto the handle – and ultimately – your freshly manicured hand.
Finally, it is wise to test the bristle memory. Part of what give the painter the ability to paint straight edges is the shape of the brush. Good bristles do have what is known as a memory or the ability to flex back to their original position once bent or twisted in some other shape. Less expensive brushes don’t have a very good memory. Kind of reminds us of the older members of our family. But that’s another column. Anyway, to make the test simply hold the paintbrush by its handle and with the other hand bend its bristles over at a right angle. If the brush is of good quality the bristles will immediately spring back into place. Remember that a good paintbrush will retain its shape after many uses.
No we aren’t painting snobs. There are times when a cheap throwaway brush can be useful. However, we don’t believe that such is ever the case when painting fine wood finishes and trim.
Once you are finished using a fine paintbrush make sure to get it completely clean. Don’t soak the brush in a can of solvent (water or thinner) over night. The paint will settle to the bottom of the can and stick to the bristles and additionally the bristles may also be permanently bent.
Nothing can make a paint job more difficult than a crummy brush. Do yourself a favor, be sure to get a good one before your next paint job. And hey, if the brush fits – buy it! And, good luck!
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