The Care of Your Wood Finishing Brushes

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And a question from Wayne Caskie: "I got one of those very nice (and very expensive -ed.) badger blender brushes. It starts out working great for softening glazes and faux marble, but after awhile the bristles clump and get stiff with glaze and actually begin to leave marks behind. What's the answer?"

If you're using the brush more or less constantly, you can occasionally brush the bristles lightly across a rag or paper towel to remove some of the excess material that accumulates. In fact, you have to do something similar anytime you want a dry brush for some technique; dragging is one that comes to mind, but I'm sure there are several more.

But if you lay the brush down for more than a moment to pet the dog, yell at the kids, have a couple of cookies, or any other fun things, the tip of the brush will get stiff. (Keep in mind that you're only using the tips of any brush that you're using for blending, the rest of the brush should be staying clean and dry.)

Assuming for the moment that you are working with oil-based paints, the answer is to dip the tip (only, not the whole length of the brush!) into some fairly clean mineral spirits, let the excess drip back into the container, then lightly shake out most of what is left. Finally, wipe out what's still on the brush with a rag. You should now have a clean, and almost dry brush which will work almost like new. That is Answer A.

Answer B works better, but some people won't like it. It involves exactly the same technique except with lacquer thinner instead of mineral spirits. Lacquer thinner is much "hotter" than m.s., it will clean the paint faster and evaporate out of the brush much faster leaving it virtually dry in a few moments. The bad part about l.t. is that it's more flammable and worse smelling and harder on your system than paint thinner. But it mostly stays tightly contained in a covered coffee can and I wear heavier rubber gloves (nitrile, available at paint stores) if I'm going to be getting it on my hands. I prefer it for cleaning oil-based materials from brushes.

And finally, Answer C, for those who are softening or blending water-based stuff. About the only thing that works very well is to do a preliminary dipping and flinging off the excess like above, except with water. You can really get a lot of the water out by shaking the brush out with your wrist, but it will still be pretty wet, and hence, useless for blending. But if you will then repeat the same procedure with the lacquer thinner, it will displace the water to a large degree, and dry very quickly.

- Dave

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