Inside the Tool Box: Brushes 101

Getting to explore and learn how to properly use all the tools of your trade is pretty awesome. I have my favorite tools no doubt- and you should absolutely have your favorites too that make life easier. A huge component of refinishing furniture is an arsenal of great brushes. Not all brushes are created equal of course, so today I'm going to break down some options that you can regularly use. They're great to get your hands on as a beginner and can be saved through many projects.


The 'Disposable' Chip Brush

Good old Mr. Chip brush is often only branded as disposable but can certainly be saved if properly washed out and dried after use. A chip brush is a natural bristle brush with a short-medium handle and flat brush head. They are inexpensive, $2.00 each maximum at most stores (and you can usually buy packs of five or more). This makes them a quick and easy grab for a basic project. No worries if you are working with materials that make the brush unsalvageable, like with some shellac. Natural bristles can give some texture to your coats of paint, especially for rustic looks. I use mine for anything, from painting to applying oil for distressed techniques.

*Beware, most brushes shed, and natural brushes even more so. The cheapest of chip brushes can shed like no one's business!


The Synthetic Brush

Synthetic bristles are obviously not natural- many artists even prefer them simply because they are vegan (which is always great by the way). They're great for applying smooth undercoats/primer coats. The one I have pictured here is a short and angled brush by Wooster. I prefer it because the handle is made of flexible plastic for comfort, and the bristles are angled to reach into difficult areas. I prefer this brush for more tricky finishes- like with high gloss paints that need perfect application. However there are so many wonderful synthetic brushes on the market for you to discover. Most run in the $7-$15 range.


The Smooth Top Coat Brush

This kind of brush stands out because while it is made of natural bristle (or a blend of natural with some alternating synthetic), the bristles haven't been cut at the tip. This means the bristles shouldn't fray or shed out often. Mine is from Artisan Enhancements® and was formulated to apply their liquid soya-based alkyd sealer. However I also like it when I'm painting a smooth finish, especially with milk paints since this brush can absorb liquids in a controlled manner! High quality means the prices of these brushes will be $20-$40, which is an investment but will last years. This is my absolute preference over a purely synthetic bristle for a finish that feels like velvet.


The Wax Brush

If you are working with paints that are porous (like Chalk Paint® or any milk paints) then I'm sure you know you are supposed to wax your surface as the final finish. But how do you do this evenly? The key is the wax brush. Many people think that this is a step they can skip and just apply furniture wax with a rag, which is unfortunately a misconception. This route will mostly cause uneven application of wax on flat surfaces, and since rags absorb a lot of the wax you will waste much of your can and end up throwing the rags in the trash. The wax brush holds a fine amount of wax so you don't apply too much at once. Its dense bristles help to push the wax down deep into the pores of the paint, creating a wonderful, durable seal. And please note that wax brushes are easily cleaned with lye soap as it is a super degreaser. The wax brush is a necessary investment, costing between $15-$45, and will last forever if you care for it properly.

*I don't recommend soaking your wax brush in mineral spirits for long to clean, since the mineral spirits can eat away at the bristles and the glues holding them in place. I only recommend a slight swish of mineral spirits if wax has hardened on the brush and you need to bring it back to life! 


An artist can have great talent and skill, but if he or she doesn't have a good selection of tools then frustration and re-dos can be in the mix. Some of these are necessary, some of these are merely preference. But regardless, building your arsenal is crucial to practicing all the techniques you desire. Now go ahead and acquire your own favorite painting tools to work with!