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Care and Storage of Brushes : Article or Project

So many kinds of brushes and manufacturers. Which one is right for you?

How can you extend their usefulness?

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A ceramist’s brush is their best friend. With proper care they will serve you well. This guide will give you some hints as to how to care for them and increase their service life.

A brush is anything from several straws banded together or any number of fibers, hairs, or synthetic strands that have been clumped together and bound tightly, usually attached to some kind of stick. It does not matter the quality, if you give your brushes good care, they will obviously last longer than if you don’t.

Brushes come in three parts, the bristles, the ferrule and the shaft or stick. When made, the bristles are glued together at one end and bound to the shaft by a ferrule, which is usually a piece of metal - copper, tin, etc. Some ferrules can be made of plastic or rubber. It is important that you know the construction as it will help you to avoid cleaning and handling mistakes which will damage them.

When you begin to use a brush, it is important to wet the bristles - all the way to the ferrule - with water. Keeping in mind, there are exceptions to this rule, it is the basic means to keep your brushes from wearing out. Some exceptions are when using mineral spirit stains, china painting, over glazes - golds and lusters, and dry brushing techniques. Know your products and techniques before using your brushes.

Soft bristled brushes are most often used for fired products, ie. Glazes, under glazes, over glazes. These products usually cause least friction and thereby less wear and tear on a brush. These products are usually applied with a light pressure.

Stiff bristled brushes are usually used for the non-fired paint products. These products inflict greater pressure and friction and cause the bristles to break or wear down at a fairly rapid rate. Using a lighter pressure does extend their life. Dry brushing techniques are the hardest on the bristles and have to be replaced most frequently.

It is preferred that when you use a brush for non-fired paints, you not cross-over and use the same brush for fired paints. Exceptions to this can be made for small detailing brushes, however if you can have separation there, it would be ideal. The primary reason you want this separation is that stains can contaminate your glazes. No matter how well you clean them, there are usually particles that will remain in the brush.

When cleaning your brushes, you will want to use whatever product is designed to clean up the paint you use. Glazes and under glazes are water soluble. That means they clean up with water and soap. Most acrylic stains are also water soluble.

When applying paint, you should not dip your brush into the paint up to the ferrule. You should unload your brush of paint before adding more. Should paint build up around the ferrule, take a moment to wipe it out of the brush or swish it in a bowl of water, blot it and continue painting. The reason is that you don’t want the build-up to get IN the ferrule as it is difficult to remove it and it can cause your bristles to separate and split. This can also cause your bristles to not apply smoothly, create more friction and break prematurely.

If you are using several brushes during a painting session, rinse them in a bowl of water and lay them to the side or up-end them (bristles up) in a container. Never leave them sitting in water with the bristles down. This can cause great damage. Sitting in water can cause the bristles to separate, curl and lose their shape. It can also cause damage to the joining glue and the wooden shaft. A block of Styrofoam is great to have on your worktable. You can press the brush handles into the Styrofoam to hold them up right when not in use. Do not scrub your brushes against the bottom of your water container when cleaning or rinsing them. This can cause the bristles to bend against the ferrule and break/cut off.

When you are finished painting, you should rinse your brushes in cool water with a little soap. NEVER use warm or hot water. Doing so can cause the glue holding the bristles to soften and thereby loosen. Make sure all paint is out of and cleaned from the ferrule area. Most problematic for cleaning from brushes is the acrylic stain. Once it gets into the ferrule, it is near impossible to remove. There are a couple of brush cleaning pads on the market that can help, or you can take a plastic Curley Cate (you know, the scrubbers to clean pots n pans - THE PLASTIC ones, not the metal ones). Add a small amount of cleanser like Comet to the scrubber/pad wet it and draw the wet brush and ferrule across it repeatedly. It should clean most if not all of the solidified built up paint out of the ferrule area. Do not bend the bristles against the ferrule when doing this.

Keep in mind, that when using stains, they will discolor your brush bristles, so they will show the memory of the color last used. Just use your fingers to feel the brush is clean and that the water rinses clean.

Cleaning Brushes Used for Specialty Products

If you use gummy products like mask n peel, or wax resist, work a drop or two of liquid soap into the bristles BEFORE using the product. This will make it easier to clean out when through. If you do have difficulty removing these materials, try dipping the brush in nail polish remover (banana oil). Wipe the brush clean and then use the soap and water and rinse well.

Cleaning Brushes Used for Metallics and Lusters.

When using metallics or lusters, you will want to clean your brushes with essence. You should NOT use the same essence for cleaning both. Swish your brush in the essence until clean, blot it dry. There is no need to use soap and water. Essence is reusable, so make sure containers are clearly marked as to their being for metallics or lusters. If you use the same solution, you will contaminate your brush and you will see the contamination on your next fired item. If you do not have access to essence, you can also use Mineral Spirits (Paint thinner). Make sure it is Mineral Spirits and not just any kind of paint thinner.

Cleaning Brushes for Non-Water Based Stains.

DO NOT use soap and water. Use Mineral Spirits or brush cleaner provided by the paint manufacturer. Swish the brush through the cleaner, blot with a soft cloth or paper towels. Repeat as necessary. The mineral spirits can be reused, but do not use the same Spirits to clean brushes used for fired over glazes.

Cleaning China Painting Brushes

To clean china paint from brushes, it is recommended to work in some oil and press/squeeze out the paint with a soft cloth. Repeat oil as needed until the brush is clean. This oil will condition the bristles and keep the brushes shape when not in use. Please do not use cooking oil.

Storage of Brushes

It is best to store your brushes in a flat tray/box when not in use or in a container with the bristles up. A closed container is best as it will keep the brushes clean and less likely to have hands fumbling with the bristles when looking for a particular brush. It is also recommended that brushes be stored separately as to their use. Glaze brushes in one area/section/container, stain brushes in another, and over glaze brushes in another. A fishing tackle box is great for storing brushes and tools.

You might also want to label those specialty brushes (metallics, lusters) so that you don’t mistakenly cross-over. This can be done with a permanent marker, paint, or tape.

If you are going to store brushes for any length of time, you may want to work a drop or two of liquid soap into the bristles (excluding the over glaze brushes or china painting brushes). This will help keep the bristles together and in shape until you use them again. Use a drop of linseed oil in the bristles for China painting brushes.


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