Click to Download our Brush Information Sheet
Brush Demonstration Video
Brush Hair. Brushes are made from natural hairs, synthetic fibers or both. Some natural hairs commonly used include sable, ox, squirrel, pony, goat, and hog bristle.
Ferrule. This is the metal tube connecting the brush to the handle. The ferrule shapes the head of the brushes and determines its size. There are two types of metal ferrules, seamless and seamed. The highest quality ferrules are nickel-plated brass tubes which are tapered, cylindrical and seamless. Seamed ferrules are soldered and usually found in lower quality brushes. Swelling of the handle or accumulation of paint in the seam can cause a seamed ferrule to split.
Handle. Seasoned handles make the best brush handles. A brush with a loose ferrule may have a handle made of new or uncured wood which shrank and warped after construction. A loose handle can be retightened by lightly tapping the ferrule in three or four places with a blunt nail, without puncturing the metal. Most brush handles are enameled or varnished.
- Brushmakers begin their process with pre-made bundles of natural hair or synthetic fibers. The exact amount of hair needed to snugly fill the ferrule must be picked in a single pinch.
- The brush is shaped by placing the hair in a shaping cup -- with points down -- and tapping the cup on a marble surface.
- High quality natural hair brushes are bound with nylon cord at the root before being inserted into the ferrule. The butt end of the hair bundle is then trimmed square.
- The hair bundle is inserted into the ferrule tip first and measured against a rule for proper length. The visible part of the brush hair is usually less than half the total length. This gives a brush spring.
- The brush hairs are set into the ferrule with a setting compound. The cement used depends on the brush fiber and the paint, solvent, or thinner used with the brush. The brush head is heated to cure and harden the cement. Some compounds are solvent resistant while others are not. A brush with a properly selected and prepared setting compound should not shed hairs.
- The ferrule is machine crimped (pinched) onto the handle to securely fasten the brush head. The base of the ferrule is dented into the wood by ringed dies.
- For transport, the brush tip is often shaped and protected with a coat of gum arabic or starch. This holds the hairs stiffly in place until you wash it out.
The Don'ts of Brush Care
- Don't dip a dry brush into paint. In a natural hair brush, especially, it is best to dip the brush first into medium or water. This distributes the natural oils, allowing each hair to respond fully.
- Don't use strong paint solvent, lacquer thinner, shellac remover or acetone to clean brushes. These can dissolve the setting compounds which hold the hairs in place.
- Don't soak your brushes overnight resting on their ends. This bends the hairs or bristles permanently out of shape and can cause wooden handles to swell and loosen the ferrule.
- Don't let brushes dry on a heating element. The brush hairs can lose their natural oils and the wood handle is subject to shrinkage.
- Don't use the same brush for different painting media.
- Don't use a brush to mix paints on your palette. Use a palette knife.
One main point can be stressed for all brushes: if paint is left to dry in a brush, a solid mass will form in the brush heel (near the ferrule) and will be impossible to remove. Eventually, the brush hairs will be impaired beyond use. This process a particularly important with Oriental brushes, which often contain wool hairs. Swishing the brush for several minutes in a very weak solution of watery ink makes the brush hairs more recpetive.
- Wipe off any excess paint with a rag, paper toweling, or newspaper.
- Fill a container with turpentine, mineral spirits or brush cleaning solvent. Rub the brush gently against a hard surface, such as a brush coil or the container bottom or side.
- Submerge the brush into a container with a solution of lukewarm, soapy water Any mild soap or shampoo will work, but special brush soaps, like Masters Brush Cleaner, are best for cleaning and conditioning. Strong or grease removing detergents should be avoided.
- Work the brush back and forth against the palm of your hand, rinsing and reworking until all trace of color is removed. Excess pressure can cause damage to the hair or bristle. Continual rhythmic motion removes all paint from the brush heel.
- Shake any excess water from the brush. "Dress" the brush by wiping it against a paper towel to bring it to its original shape.
- Watercolorists can ensure the longevitiy of fine kolinsky sable brushes by using them only for watercolors.
- Do not use the same brushes for gouache, India ink, acrylic, casein or other media.
- Delegate one brush for use with whites, as this color is difficult to remove from brush hairs- especially Chinese White.
- Do not use a kolinsky sable for rejuvenating dry watercolors on your palette. A stiff natural or synthetic bristle brush is better suited for this task and can withstand the scrubbing.
- To clean, wash brushes after use in cool water. Do not use soap, as it dries out the natural oils in the brush hairs.
- Shake any excess water from the brush.
- "Dress" the brush by wiping it against a paper towel or between your fingers to bring it to its natural shape.
- A brush soap like Masters Brush Cleaner can be used once or twice a year to recondition brush hairs, replenish their natural oils and for brush "dressing".
It is important to clean acrylic brushes immediately after a painting session is over. Acrylics are rapid driers and form a rock-hard mass very quickly. For intermittent work, use a brush washer which suspends the brush in water, preventing them from resting on their hairs. For cleaning, follow steps 3-5 under oil brushes.
Brush Drying and Storage
Brushes should be dried in a horizontal position or in a suspended vertical position with tips down. If left to dry in an upright position with the hair ends up, excess moisture runs down into the ferrule causing swelling of the wood handle and chipping it of its enamel finish.