Do You Need a $30 Paintbrush?

As simple as a paint brush seems, there is some thought that needs to go into buying one for the job. “Experts”, especially the guy at the paint store, will tell you that you should always buy the best paint brushes you can find. This is good advice until you look at the sticker above the hook in the store. Am I the only guy whose heart skips a beat when I pick up a $30 dollar paint brush?

Good paint brushes are an investment, and obviously not a small one. The real bad news is all too often that expensive paint brush will be ruined after a single afternoon’s painting.

I won’t deny that it is nice to use a high quality paint brush. If you’ll sit through another “sea story”, consider this illustration: in past decades, there was a business-woman in a tropical port, often visited by American Naval vessels. This enterprising lady would buy rags from the visiting ships. The crews of these ships would later contract with the same business-woman to have their ships painted before crossing the ocean back to the States. What did the native workers use for paint brushes? If you’ve guessed the rags that were bought earlier, move to the head of the class!

I guess the lesson here is that good paint brushes are very nice, and will make your paint job easier and more satisfying; but there is no need to spend more for the paint brush than you are spending on paint!

It is important that your paint brush match the type of paint you are using. When you look at the brush in the store, read the label, and it will tell you what type of paint the brush is intended for. Some paint manufacturers even have a line of paint brushes that match their brand of paint. This is more than just marketing- it allows the painter to be sure the paint and the brush are compatible.

Expensive paint brushes are a much better value if you can actually clean them and keep using them. Here is a tip that I just learned a few months ago, and it makes me very angry when I consider how many paint brushes I have thrown out over the years.

Usually when I start a paint job, I do all of the preparation steps, open the paint can, stir, then transfer the paint to the container I will use to paint from, and then reach into my hip pocket, where there is a fresh new paint brush waiting. I’ll unwrap the paint brush from its factory wrapper (saving the container, hoping I will actually be able to clean the brush and use it again), dip it in the paint, and start putting the paint on the wall.

Here is the important step I have been missing all these years. If I am using latex, which is water based, before I put the brush in the paint, I need to load the brush with water, then get most of the water out before I start painting. This is loading the ferrule end of the bristles.

Here’s what is happening: when we load the brush with paint, the liquid is held between the bristles, then forced out, hopefully onto the surface we are painting, by the action of the bristles as they bend and flex. The problem is that the paint can go two directions- the way we want, which is down to the tips and onto the surface; or up towards the ferrule and handle of the brush, where it gets gummy, hardens, and we are never able to get it out. Even after running the brush under running water for half an hour, massaging the bristles (by now your hands are not only pruney, but they are the same color as your walls!) the brush just doesn’t come clean.

If the ferrule/handle end of the bristles are filled with solvent (water) then the paint can’t move up there, and you will actually be able to get the paint out of the bristles when you’re done!





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