With the accessibility of great water based, low VOC, products such as FAT Paint, more and more people are rolling up their sleeves and getting painty in their homes with projects to feather their nests… BUT I’ve discovered something that I find a little shocking… paint brushes are not receiving the respect they deserve!
I’m talking about paint brush care and use… paint brush cleaning!… EEK!… paint up under the ferrule, paint all over the place, brushes left sitting bristles down on the bottom of a container of water!… double EEK!… This shocked me until I realized that not everyone grew up with a paintbrush in hand or with a mother who taught them proper paint brush care and use as a little… I had to show the brushes respect in order to get to use them… my mom went through a tole painting phase which means that she had some incredibly nice brushes… so she ensured that I had a good handle on paint brush care and use… pun intended
So consider me the collective paint brush mother, here to teach you how to properly care for and use your paint brushes to ensure they have a long, wonderful, and creative life… The following best practices are specific to the brushes that I use to paint furniture and home decor items, but much of it will apply to other paint brushes that you may have on hand.
Lets start with the break down of the anatomy of a paint brush
There are the bristles – there are options for you to choose from regarding bristles. There are synthetic bristle brushes and natural bristle brushes. Natural bristles can hold excess water which can dilute your paint if you don’t give the brush a good blot in a rag, or something absorbent, before dipping into your paint and the coarseness of most natural bristles will create more or heavier brush strokes in your paint. If you want the real brush stroked look work with natural bristles. If you buy a low quality natural bristle “chip brush” like the one pictured below be prepared to pick bristles out of your paint as you go. If you are going for a more smooth finish work with a smooth synthetic bristle brush. Personally I prefer to work with a synthetic bristle brush as it gives a great smooth finish to the surface. I also like working with a thin brush as I find I have greater control over the paint on the surface and the brush doesn’t hold a ton of extra paint.
There is the ferrule – the ferrule connects the bristles to the brush and keeps wood handles from splitting at the end that is in the most contact with moisture. Typically ferrules are made of a non rusting metal but if you don’t give it a dry off some may still rust and stain the bristles where they exit the ferrule. Dry your ferrule off after washing your brush and hang your brush up to dry completely between uses.
There is the handle – the materials can vary in paint brush handles, but you will find that the higher quality the brush the more likely it is to have a wood handle, or a painted wood handle. To determine what handle type you prefer pickup the brush and hold it in your hand, hold it as if you are going to paint with it and feel the balance of the bristles to the handle… does it feel comfortable?… if not try another!
Now how do you handle that bad boy?
To hold your brush for painting grasp the ferrule like you would hold a pencil with your index and middle finger on one side and your thumb applying pressure on the other. Pick up your brush and try this grip out… if it doesn’t feel comfortable try moving your hand back down the handle a little and test out that location. Play with hold positions until you find one that is the most comfortable for you. Pay attention to how the brush feels in your hand when you start to paint and adjust your grip as necessary.
When you are ready to get to work dip into your paint… now don’t get all dip happy… I’m talking about dipping just the tip of the brush into your paint. Ideally you want to not dip in past halfway up the full length of bristles… the general rule of thumb is 1/3-1/2 way up. You want to keep the paint below the ferrule as getting paint up underneath the metal can make fully cleaning the paint out of the bristles more difficult… if you get paint up under the ferrule and are unable to clean it out the paint can dry in there and distort the shape of your brush. If you are using a CLING ON brush dip the bristles in water first and give the brush a shake before your first dip into the paint as this will help with the painting process.
A general tip for any paint project where you are not going to use up all of the paint is to pour your paint a little at a time out into a secondary container and work out of your secondary container, adding more paint as you use it up. Using a secondary container keeps your paint can clean and free of contaminants from the water system. Introducing water into your paint can could introduce bacteria which will leave you with a stinky can of paint. Using a secondary container to dip into will also keep the edge of your paint can clean and enable you to get it closed nice and tight until your next project.
I’ve recently begun to work with the great line of paint brushes known as CLING ON… to learn more about CLING ON check out their page in my shop. These brushes are special and have a particularly great advantage over other brushes in that the bristles have a special coating which makes cleaning a breeze… if you’re respecting them during use that is 😉 And those strings that you see just below the metal ferrule!? those help the bristles maintain their shape over time. Taken care of these brushes should last you for years!
Once you have paint on your bristles try to resist the urge to scrape the paint off off the bristles on the side of the paint container!… if the urge is too strong then at the most give the brush a light tap on two opposite sides, inside the paint container, to help push the paint into the centre of the bristles.
Now holding your brush like a pencil and at a 45 degree angle, to the surface that you will be painting, press down while moving over the surface that you are painting, making the longest strokes possible back and forth. When you arrive at the end of your stroke gently lift the brush up off of the surface… don’t go too fast causing paint to flick from your project and the brush. Once the paint becomes less movable across the surface pickup more paint dipping only 1/3-1/2 of the bristles, and then applying the paint from the wet edge of the paint that was just applied out to the dry/unpainted surface.
Between coats of paint you do no have to wash you CLING ON brush! The magic of the CLING ON is that you can suspend it in a jar of water with paint on bristles… but be sure to suspend it… I use a chip clip and a mason jar. The special coating on the CLING ON bristles helps the paint to slide right off… especially when suspended in clear water. When you are ready to go onto the second coat give the bristles a shake and a pounce on some paper towels to remove excess water and get back into your paint. Resist the urge to wrap painty bristles in plastic until you are ready to apply additional coats of paint – this can distort the shape of the bristles and will cause unnecessary and premature wear. If you are using another type of brush be sure to give it a wash in between coats of paint so that the paint does not dry into the bristles.
Paint Brush Cleaning
When you are done painting rinse the bristles out under warm running water… you can apply little drop of dish soap to your hand and gently swish the bristles around your palm under the running water while pressing down gently. Don’t fret if you get watered down paint under the ferrule, it will rinse out. Swish and rinse until the water runs clear. Hang your brush to dry or lay it flat ensuring the bristles are not being pressed on. Even after cleaning you can suspend your CLING ON brush in a jar of fresh water and you may find that additional paint will work itself out. Hear my plea – please resist the urge to sit your paint brushes bristles down into your container of water… resting your paint brushes bristles down on the bottom of the water container can distort the shape of your bristles, and again lead to premature wear.
Here is my fave CLING ON suspended in a jar of water… the paint literally falls down off of the bristles… eaaasy peasy!
My Favourite Brushes:
So I’ve used my faves to shoot the photos for this post… The flat synthetics and the CLING ON brushes are really the only ones I have around the house now for furniture projects!… I’ve come to love these very flat, very smooth synthetic bristle brushes for large flat surfaces when I’m am chalk painting. They’re made by Royal & Langnickle. I do prefer less brush strokes… a more smooth finish, with very little to no distressing, for my finished pieces so these brushes have been great for helping me achieve that look.
When painting smaller pieces, and especially detailed items and spindles the CLING ON round brushes are a dream! I have and do use them for larger surfaces too, they hold the perfect amount of paint and the slick bristles make moving the paint around on the piece a dream.
Thoughts? Questions? What are your favourite brushes for painting furniture? Leave me a comment below!