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How to Pick the Perfect Paint Brush for Your Project

  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Well, painting is one of the do-it-yourself projects that probably seems the simplest to do. I mean how much harder can it be than dipping a brush in a can and slapping some paint on a wall?

    TOM: And that’s exactly why it’s even more frustrating than ever when a seemingly simple project like painting comes out badly, which can happen if you start with the wrong paintbrush. Here to talk to us about that is a guy who’s had a chance to brush up on a lot of his own home improvement skills in the last eight years as host of TV’s This Old House, Kevin O’Connor.

    Hey, Kevin.

    KEVIN: Hi, guys. Great to be here.

    TOM: And Kevin, the painting aisle at the average home improvement center provides a lot of options for brushes; it’s overwhelming. How do you know which one is right for you?

    KEVIN: It can be overwhelming; there are definitely a lot of choices out there. It comes down to picking the right paintbrush and by that, I mean actually the right type of bristles on the paintbrush for whatever type of job that you’re doing, based on the paint, the stain or the finish you’re applying.

    There are two big categories: natural bristles or China bristles. These are designed for oil-based paints.

    TOM: OK.

    KEVIN: And they’re going to give you a nice, sturdy finish, an even finish. And you’re going to have to clean them up with paint thinner and turpentine.

    TOM: Now, you don’t want to use those for latex paint, because they don’t perform quite the same way, do they?

    KEVIN: No, you don’t want to use those for latex paint. For latex paints, you want to go with a synthetic bristle; those are definitely going to be best.

    And what I would say for both of these, whether they’re natural or synthetic, you definitely get what you pay for. You want to buy yourself a high-quality brush to get the best results. And you’re also going to have a lot of choices out there: what length are the bristles going to be, how many bristles are in each brush, are they angled or not? So think about those based on the job that you want to do. But splurge a little bit; get yourself a nice brush.

    LESLIE: Is the goal that you’re going to buy a brush that you hope to use over and over again rather than sort of a one-project wonder and pitch it when you’re done?

    KEVIN: There are some projects that you’re really just going to do a one-project wonder. I can imagine, as you’re going to try to stain a piece of wood and you’re probably never going to stain anything else in your house that color again, well, you might just want to get a cheap brush because it’s going to be a one-time use.

    But if you’re painting a house – interior paint, trim work, walls and stuff – you’re probably going to do that a lot over the course of many years and one brush can serve you really well. So it’s really a small investment to buy a high-quality brush if you’re going to be using it over the course of 2, 5 or 10 years.

    LESLIE: How do you best care for these brushes to ensure that you’re able to do so over time?

    TOM: Yeah because half of the time when you finish the project, no matter how hard you clean them, they seem to be stiff and crusty the next time around.

    KEVIN: Yeah, it always seems like that for us but I’ve been on a lot of job sites and I’ve seen professional painters whip out a brush that looks brand new. And then you ask these guys and they’re on their fifth or their seventh year of this thing.

    TOM: Wow.

    LESLIE: Wow.

    KEVIN: It means that they’ve been taking good care of it. So there are a couple tips to think about in terms of taking care of your brush. Get as much paint off the brush as possible before you even start thinking about cleaning it. Take an old piece of newspaper and scrape all that paint, pull all that paint off the brush.

    Now, if you’ve got a China-bristle brush that you’re using with oil paints, you’re going to need to use a paint thinner. Stick it in the paint thinner for a few minutes and then actually use a dab of dish soap and some warm water to get the paint thinner off of the brush. And then hang it with the bristles pointed down, to dry.

    TOM: Now, that’s a good point because gravity really does help you out here; it drains out any leftover remains of that paint and makes sure it gets out as much as possible. If you hang it with the bristles up, I would imagine the bristles can start to sort of lean over and fall and sag.

    KEVIN: Yeah.

    LESLIE: I think it’s more than that. What happens is the water or whatever that you’ve used to clean the brush sort of goes into the tine, which is that metal area that’s wrapped around, connecting the bristles to the brush handle itself. And that will expand and then the tine opens up and the bristles start to fall out, so it’s really important to hang them with the bristles down.

    KEVIN: And it’s just as important to do that with a synthetic brush, as well. With those, however, you’re not going to be using paint thinner. A little bit of warm, soapy water is going to do the trick, because it’s going to be working with latex paints. You just want to make sure that you give it a good shaking and let it dry out and also hang those things with the bristles pointing down so they dry out.

    TOM: And storage-wise, I think it’s always a good idea to put them back in those cardboard sleeves that they come in when you first buy them, because it really keeps them in good shape.

    KEVIN: Yeah, it’s a good point, Tom. I mean those cardboard sleeves, they’re not just packaging; it’s actually part of the tool and they’re designed to keep that brush in good shape, to keep their form. So make sure it’s not the first thing you throw away.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. Which is generally what I tend to do when I buy a brush.

    TOM: Kevin O’Connor, host of TV’s This Old House, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.

    KEVIN: Thanks for having me, guys.

    TOM: And you can read more about the projects taken on by the This Old House team in This Old House Magazine, which is proudly brought to you by Trex. Trex, how outdoor living should be.

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