and Feeding of Sword Brushes
by Annabel Sherwood
to Choose, Trim, and Maintain A Striper's Best Friend
up a favorite striping brush with paint, only to have it shed hair
all over the palette; or reaching into the trusty kit, only to
discover a bunch of gnawed sticks. Believe it or not, many
products stripers have sworn by in the past can actually cause
brush hair to fall out or be eaten by mice.
While these are
worst case scenarios, poor maintenance can ruin a brush. However,
with the proper care, a brush will last indefinitely - or at least
long enough for its owner to make a reasonable profit with it.
aspects of pinstriping, the basic rule for choosing, trimming and
maintaining brushes is whatever works. As one painter puts it,
"Ask 10 stripers and you'll get 11 different opinions,"
Although this is true, there are several commonly agreed upon ways
to ensure sword brushes have a long and prosperous life.
A good craftsman
takes proper care of his tools. For top performance, nothing beats
a properly trimmed, cleaned and stored sword striper.
|There are two
main tools to choose from when it comes to pinstriping - swords or
daggers. Often referred to synonymously, each brush is distinctly
different. " The sword's longest hair is on the top and then
it slowly tapers back to a short length on the underside. A dagger
comes to a point and is double-edged, explains Rick Glawson, owner
of Wilmington, Calif.-based Fine Gold Sign Co. and Esoteric Sign
Supply. Although daggers are useful for small, curved work,
versatile swords remain the brush of choice for most stripers.
The sword brush
originated on the early assembly lines, used mainly for automotive
paint touch-ups. Over the years, brushes have evolved to better
suit pinstripers' needs, with short and long handles, large and
small bellies (the middle section where the paint is carried), and
different kinds of hair - squirrel hair being the most commonly
used. Brushes range in cost from about $6.50 to $25, depending on
their style and manufacturer.
Each company has
their own scale for sizes, usually designated by numerals or a
series of zeroes. The bigger the number, the more hair in the
brush, the more paint it holds, and vice versa.
brush is largely a matter of personal preference. " It
depends on what fits into the person's hand and what they have the
greatest comfort with," says Wappingers Falls, N.Y.- based
striper Howie Nisgor. However, he does suggest a shorter handle
length for beginners, since it gets up inside the hand for greater
different brands and types is an ongoing trial and error process
for most painters. " You don't really know what kind of brush
is right until you've got it wet and you're actually using
it," says Nisgor.
Peter Millar of
Quill Hair & Ferrule, a brush distributor in Columbia S.C.
agrees. " Its highly individualized as to what works for the
individual person. It also depends on what kind of work they want
to do," he says.
curves, Millar recommends brushes that have little hair in the
belly section. " If you have a lot of hair in the belly and
you go to make a tight corner, the hair kicks out and causes your
line to go fat," he explains.
pulling long lines requires a thick belly. "Ideally, you want
something at least five or 10 feet at a time or more," says
Julian "Mr. J" Braet, a Lyndhurst, NJ. based striper and
inventor of the Xcaliber brush. "Everybody has their own
favorite," he adds. And what do stripers do after finding a
favorite? What else, they customize it.
painters are divided on the subject of trimming brushes. Although
most brush companies discourage trying to reshape any part of the
brush, trimming is widely practiced.
every pinstriper isn't happy with the brush when they get it,
" says Mike Fast, owner of Jonesville, Mich. based brush
manufacturer, Andrew Mack & Son Brush Company. "We don't
advocate trimming, because you take the softness away if you trim
it to much," he says. Even so, he accepts the fact that most
stripers work with trimmed brushes. "That's the way a lot of
stripers do it, and that's fine," says Fast.
Brushes are made
of three sections - the root, where the ferrule (the wire band or
thread that keeps hairs attached to the brush) is located, the
belly section in the middle, and the end tip. Most artists either
blunt the normally pointed tip of the brush, or slightly alter the
water-soluble sizing is used to keep brushes stiff during
shipping, they need to be cleaned right out of the package. "
A lot of people don't know what to do with sizing, so they throw
the brush into a bucket of water and let it soak until the hair
floats free, and it starts losing hair when they take it
out," says Glawson. Instead of soaking it, he suggests
holding the brush under a stream of water, putting a dab of dish
soap in, washing it out, and then drying and oiling it.
After the sizing
is rinsed out, the brush is ready to be shaped.
procedure for trimming the tip is to wet the hair, lay it flat
down on the palette and put the razor blade straight down through,
with a small, quick clip off the tip. "I blunt the tip on a
45 degree angle, going from top left to bottom right, aiming back
towards the handle."
Calif. based striping veteran Jim Bradley also trims up the point
of the brush, cutting off about 1/16 of an inch. "I like the
intersections of my lines to be really square," he explains.
In addition to
trimming the tip, some stripers take a little hair out of the
belly to achieve tighter lines and sharper curves. This is usually
done by taking a few hairs off at the root of the brush.
Both of these
techniques must de done very carefully. "If you take to much
out of the belly section, the brush will lose its snap and the
ability for the paint to flow out of the brush in a consistent
manner," explains Millar. When this happens, painters get
what are called dry stripes, which means the paint isn't flowing
out smoothly because there's too much hair at the tip of the
mistake people make in trimming a brush is in trying to cut too
much hair out of the brush to re-shape it," agrees Nisgor.
"If you try to alter the belly of the brush, you alter the
entire flow of the paint. I think you're better off trying to get
a brush you don't have to modify much," he says.
|After a quick
rinse, a careful trim and some serious striping, it's time for the
most important, and least exciting step- cleaning the brush. How
this is done depends on when the brush will be used again and the
type of paint - lettering enamel, acrylic lacquer, or urethane
paint with lettering enamel, since it wipes off easily and is less
harsh on the brush. Expect a much shorter life span from a brush
when using lacquers and urethanes. These paints dry faster and
their solvents can eventually dissolve the glue holding the brush
Millar, the trick is to use a nice blend of solvents that are
strong enough to loosen up the paint, but mild enough not to
damage the glue compound, and that varies from brush to brush.
As a rule, it's
best to use the brand of reducer or thinner prescribed for the
paint. For lacquer-based paint, use lacquer thinner, for urethane
enamel, use urethane reducer and for lettering enamel, use the
same brand of reducer or mineral spirits.
striping with lettering enamel, most artists don't entirely clean
out the brush. " I just put it in a mixture of half brush
conditioner and half mineral spirits, and lay the brush flat down
in a pan," says Nisgor, crediting Blairstown, NJ based
painter Alan Johnson with the method.
clean a brush, Nisgor gives it a quick rinse and suspends the
brush from a clothespin in a tall container of thinner, so the
paint is drawn out of the brush to the bottom. He picked up this
trick from Canonsburg, Penn.- based striper, Bill Beckner.
Once the paint
is out of the brush, Nisgor puts it in a mixture of thinner and
brush cleaner, and gives it a final rinse with thinner before
Mr. J opts for a
slightly different method, using dirty reducers to get the
majority of the paint out of the brush, then cleaner reducer, some
new mineral spirits, and lastly, Xcaliber brush preserver. "
I get as much of the paint out as possible, not scrubbing it, just
washing it out well. Then I drag it across a paper towel and then,
of course, oil it well," he says.
been known to use Neatsfoot (beef oil), linseed oil, olive oil and
vegetable oils, but any type of food based product tends to either
lose its viscosity or get gummy.
lard oils also pose problems. " Painters have stored brushes
in transmission oil and motor oil, and that was okay in 1930, but
there have been so many strong detergents and other additives put
in the oils that make them better for cars, but worse for brushes,
" explains Millar.
The trouble with
lard oil is that, besides coagulating on the brush in cold weather
and making a watery mess in the summertime, it can also go rancid
or attract vermin like mice and cockroaches.
Millar, stripers should find an oil that washes out easily,
doesn't contain abrasive cleaners and is stable in hot or cold
recommends using a light-bodied oils like Xcaliber. He also has a
trick for brushes that get bent out of shape. "Clean the
brush out thoroughly, use hand soap and lather the hair well,
shape it, lay it out flat for about a week, rinse the soap out and
the brush will be re-trained."
Ask a striper
what kind of oil they use to retain the shape and moisture of
their brushes, and the answer is likely to include anything from
Vaseline to Johnson & Johnson.
oils are better than others, for a variety of reasons, Xcaliber,
Sapphire, and other oils specifically formulated for brushes have
the highest recommendation.
For a Dead Brush
|Even with the
best of care, there comes a time to say goodbye to Old Reliable.
Fortunately, there are some imaginative uses for spent brushes.
striper was really clever, they could trim it up and see what they
could do with it," suggests Bradley.
If that doesn't
yield any useful results, there's always the fine art route.
"I have a magnificent sculpture Pooch (Andy Cappuccio)
epoxies, painted, mounted and made out of a single dagger striping
brush," says Nisgor.
find more practical uses for old brushes. "If it's to the
point where I really can't work with it, but it's still pliable,
I'll hand it over to one of my body shop guys and they can do
touch ups with it, " say Mr. J. But for the most part, he
just tosses them.
Whether they end
up as tribute or trash, well-maintained sword brushes are
essential to good pinstriping. Just remember what Nisgor points
out: "If you don't take the time to take care of that brush,
the brush can't take care of you when you go to use it."
Preserving Oils & Cleaners