Tool basics – paintbrushes

When it comes to painting, it pays to choose the right tool for the job

By Douglas Thomson


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Thankfully, the old adage, “You get what you pay for” still applies to paintbrushes. If you’ve ever used a cheap brush and been disappointed with the results, you know a lousy one can make it almost impossible to get a finish that’s free of unsightly brush strokes. Although softer bristles make for the smoothest finish, they can also make the brush harder to control and require more refined technique. On the other hand, a stiff-bristled brush, while allowing for more control, compromises the smoothness of the finish. Weigh the needs of the job and your expectations when looking for a reasonable balance of the two.

At one time the synthetic bristles of economy paintbrushes tended to require a fair amount of force to get paint onto a surface and would therefore leave deep brush marks behind. But advancements in synthetic brushes in recent years have yielded polyester and nylon brushes with performance (and price) that put them almost on par with their natural-bristle competitors.

Essential brushes

[1] A quality two-inch synthetic angled sash brush is a good choice for interior trim, and is ideally suited for applying water-based finishes. One way to judge the quality of a paintbrush is to examine its bristles for split ends, known as “flags,” which enable the brush to retain more paint and spread it more uniformly. On high-quality brushes, at least half of the bristles should be flagged.

[2] A higher-quality (and softer) two-inch angled brush with nylon bristles and flagged ends is a good choice for both water- and oil-based paints. Natural-bristle brushes work well for applying oil-based stains and varnish.

[3] This high-quality three-inch china-bristle brush is an ideal choice for both interior and exterior work with oil-based finishes.

[4] Brush spinners save a lot of labour when it comes time to spin out the solvent during cleanup.

[5] For medium-sized areas such as cupboards, floors, picket fences and tabletops, use a flat sash brush, two to three-inches wide.

[6] Modern fine-bristled paint pads like this corner-painter can make short and tidy work of difficult-to-paint angles and trim.

[7] When painting large surfaces (ceilings, floors and decks), use a three- to six-inch wide flatting brush to make relatively short work of large flat areas.

[8] Small foam applicators, like this inexpensive one-inch model are ideal for touch-ups.


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