Sheepskin rollers have many fine qualities, but new synthetics — cheaper and more consistent — are nipping at their heels.
by John Strieder
before VOC regulations, water-based paints and ever-improving synthetics, painters had to make do with oil-based paint and sheepskin rollers.
But how does the sheepskin stack up in today’s marketplace, with its dizzying number of choices in both coating and roller material?
A sheepskin roller is different, first and foremost, because it starts as a piece of a living creature. Sheepskin is hair and tanned skin, often from the same young lamb sold in supermarkets. It is manufactured by Nature, not in a factory. It stays more or less the same until Nature intervenes.
“Sheepskin is still held up as a standard by which a roller cover is measured,” says Sharon Dentz, spokesperson for Wooster Brush Co.
Sheepskin rollers are prized for their thick fur. Most shearling rollers have naps ranging from 1⁄2 inch to 11⁄2 inch.
The hair is firmly attached to the tanned skin, making for a much stronger bond than one often gets with fibers stapled or woven into the fabric net of a synthetic. Even the most carefully knit and woven fibers can come out; these fibers are integrally attached. “The best part of sheepskin rollers is that the hair on the skin itself is an integral part of the roller,” says Michael Norton, vice president of operations for Elder & Jenks, a division of Muralo Inc.
The hides of many sheepskin rollers are wrapped around a phenolic core — a paper core saturated with phenolic resin, then baked.
A synthetic material with long fibers is not sheepskin. Neither is mohair, which has a short, velvety pelt. Lambswool roller covers, like wool sweaters, are woven from sheared sheep hair, generally mixed 50-50 with polyester, and attached to their cores artificially.
Sheepskin is special because of hair length and density, says Sherman Weiss, CEO of Great American Marketing Inc. The fibers are longer, and there are more of them per inch. And that means faster painting, he says. “It’s going to pick up a lot of paint. It will give you maximum paint pickup and release. It’s also going to provide greater coverage.”
What’s more, the long fibers on a sheepskin roller will reach into the crevices of a textured wall, such as stucco, or an uneven surface. It’s ideal for painting textured exteriors, says Norton. “An exterior surface is pretty abrasive, and wool seems to hold up pretty well.”