Paint Brushes, Brushing Basics
How to select the right paintbrush for the job. The key to a good paint job is to get the paint on the surface as fast as you can. One of the biggest mistakes painters make is only using one brush on certain jobs.
by Stacey Enesey Klemenc
first start out, they tend to choose brushes — mostly small ones-that are easy to handle. Soon, however, it becomes evident to most that the smaller the brush, the less productive the painter. This is especially true where window sash and door casings are concerned because painters find they’re dipping into the bucket of paint more often and also brushing the coated surfaces excessively-which doesn’t make for a very pretty finish.
Ron Franklin of Ron Franklin Painting and Decorating in Sacramento, California, says the key to a good paint job is to get the material on the surface as fast as you can — and that’s what a larger brush can do. One of the biggest mistakes painters make, he contends, is only using one brush on certain jobs. “Many times when I’m doing doorjambs or trim I’ll use a combination of brushes, like a 11⁄2 or 2-inch angle sash and maybe a 3 or 31⁄2-inch flat brush. The larger brush holds a lot of paint and I can get the product on the surface faster. Then I use the smaller brush to work the material in and lay it off. I find I can control the material better with a smaller brush and get a smoother finish.”
He notes, “Certain latex products are good materials but you don’t have much time before they start to set up. So you have to get it on quick and lay it off quick. Don’t keep going back into it; you’ll never get rid of the brush marks.” If he’s painting a flat door, in lieu of a bigger brush sometimes he’ll roll the door with a good synthetic roller sleeve that doesn’t shed lint. And when he has a lot of doors to do, it’s not unusual for him to use a 6-inch wall brush to make the job go very fast.
Overall, if you want to improve productivity and the quality of your finishes, choose a quality brush that is a little larger than you might normally care to use. This may feel awkward at first but you’ll soon realize that you’re dipping your brush into the paint bucket less and you’re covering the area faster.
In addition to choosing a larger-than-anticipated brush, many seasoned professionals lean toward brushes with longer wooden handles. “The longer the better for me,” says Franklin, who’s been painting professionally for nearly 30 years. When he first started out, he remembers, he was taught to hold the brush closer to the heel but in time he became skillful enough to wield a longer brush that gave him extra reach, which he finds useful in some tight areas.
As for the filaments, Franklin says he prefers to use stiffer brushes because the latexes he uses tend to be heavier in consistency than others on the market. And, as the manufacturers suggest, he doesn’t thin paint unless he absolutely has to. “I find most paints work well at can consistency if you learn how to work them,” Franklin says. “When you have textured surface and you’re using a limber brush, it’s difficult to get the material into the pores. I think it’s just like using a rag. If the brush is stiffer, I can work the paint in better. It comes down to the touch of the operator and how much pressure is put on the bristles.”
Basically, there are two types of filaments: natural bristles made out of hog or oxen hair, and synthetic made out of nylon or polyester. The hog hair variety, also known as China bristle as most of the product is imported from China, is the perfect choice for oil-based products and fine quality work because its natural flex keeps it from becoming too floppy or stiff. It absorbs water and shouldn’t be used with water-based products.
Nylon, a synthetic that’s been around since World War II, forms softer and smoother bristles than polyester and is a great choice when painting exclusively indoors under climate-controlled conditions. Nylon brushes tip very well and release the paint easily, allowing it to flow smoothly onto the working surface. The filament tends to absorb a little bit of water so it will get softer the longer you use it. Nylon brushes clean up easily and are excellent tools for good quality latex paints, acrylic and oil-based paints.
Polyester isn’t as durable as nylon and leaves brush marks. “The thing polyester has going for it is it’s stiff,” says Bob Ricksecker, Wooster Brush Co. advertising manager, and it can be used with any type of paint. But it doesn’t tip well and you don’t get nice flags on the ends of the bristles. However, if it’s blended into nylon, it makes for a stiffer brush that doesn’t pick up a lot of water.
Overall, most professionals will agree that nylon/polyester blended brushes give the best overall performance
Most paintbrush manufacturers differentiate between brushes that are made for professionals and those geared for do-it-yourselfers. The Ohio-based Wooster Brush Co., a company that produces more than 2,400 products for painters of all skill levels, touts its Ultra/Pro® brushes for the serious professional.
“Ultra/Pro is the fullest line that we have with 83 different items,” Ricksecker says. He explains that the line offers all of its brushes in three different blends: a soft 100 percent nylon, a firm nylon and polyester blend, and its newest addition, an extra-firm nylon blend called NylonPlus, which was just introduced in February.
“It’s a very stiff blend of nylon that’s excellent for applying thick body coatings such as 100 percent acrylics,” Ricksecker says. “It picks up a lot of paint and it makes it easier to spread out thicker paint.”
Purdy Brush Co. out of Portland offers a synthetic filament that is a Chinex/nylon/polyester blend that reportedly cleans up quicker than just a nylon/polyester blend. Chinex, DuPont’s newest “solid-round-tapered” filament, is a modified nylon with an irregular surface that is available in a wide variety of lengths and taper ratios.
“If I have a new set of cabinets to do, I tend to buy new brushes for the job. I find once they’re used they’re not the same. I think they perform better new, especially on trim work,” Franklin says.
This doesn’t mean Franklin uses a brush and throws it away. Quite the contraire: “I have a huge box of brushes,” he notes. Once a brush starts to get to a certain point, it inherits a new type of work. “These older brushes are great on exteriors with rough surfaces. A lot of times the heel is choked up with paint and the bristles seem stiffer. In this case, it’s better than a new one and you’ll get a lot more mileage out of the brush.”
He notes he has four or five of each type so that if he wants to change colors, he just grabs a different one. “At the end of the day, I wash them up — I mainly just use cold water to clean them; soap when I have it — and wire brush them out real well. Then they go back into the keeper and into a box in my vehicle. I like to hang them if I can so the moisture can run out of the heel but I don’t always have the time.”
On average, Franklin says, he spends between $15-20 a brush but has some in the $25 to $35 price range. “I look at brushes like masking tape; it’s something you use and then you get more. My advice to new painters is not to get so attached to a brush. There are thousands of them out there.”