Brushes in boatyards
Whenever you mention brushes to a painter, you get a mix of pride, common sense and bull.
I have never met wooden boat painter, Jay Greer, but the Seattle craftsman is my online painting hero. In addition to 50 years’ knowledge and experience of painting and repairing classic wooden boats, he has varnish brushes older than me! Unlike me, the brushes are totally clean and in better shape than the day they were born.
The only professional advantage I have over Jay is that I own and use a Brushmate vapour box, whereas he keeps his prized brushes in an old mayonnaise jar full of thinners.
Brush cleaning is almost eliminated with a Brushmate, but it is debatable whether brushes are better off kept in a box full of horrible fumes, or cleaned regularly. From a practical point of view, the labour and therefore cost savings of not cleaning a brush every time you use it are undeniable and a powerful argument for the vapour box. But bristle brushes do seem to wear down more quickly than I recall before I owned a brushmate, so unlike Jay, I have no vintage brushes in my possession. What is not deniable though, it is much more comfortable to sit eating your sandwiches on a vapour box than sat on an old mayonnaise jar.
Until I entered a boat yard, I would have never considered using a “disposable” brush. Ordinarily, the bristles from a 50p brush fall out and ruin the paint finish, never cut a straight line, and splay like an unusable fan within seconds of use. However, commonsense prevailed when working in a yard. It is horses for courses, and I learned to use cheapo brushes for priming metal fittings and daubing copper-based bottom paint into awkward places. And then dispose of them in a hazmat bin.
Why not clean them out? There is something very satisfying about dropping a brush, barely used, into a dustbin, and going off to lunch, not stinking of brush cleaner. How extravagant!?
Forget extravagance, because most importantly, with labour at $40-$50 an hour, it makes total economic sense not to spend a second cleaning a crappy 50 cents brush.
I lost count of the bull I encountered from people, articles and videos about painting wooden boats. “Ooooh, the only way to paint a boat is rolling and tipping”. (For the uninitiated, you dilute the paint maybe 50/50 with thinner, armed with a roller you apply metre-wide bands and follow behind with a brush, very very lightly passing the bristles over the surface to remove the air bubbles.) Here is a video example.
Fair enough, quick and nice finish if done correctly.
Painter wanted, boaters need not apply.“
I am a painter, so I bought an Epifanes oval pure bristle brush, and with Jay Greer’s advice, added a tiny drop of paint conditioner and turpentine to the enamel and brushed on every single coat of paint. One person, one tool, a full coat, a beautiful finish, what is not to like, if you know how to handle a brush.
Best paint brush
In the USA, Purdy is the big kahuna, and traditionally, in the UK for oil paint for the longest time it was Hamilton Perfection. But times are a-changing Purdy Monarch Elite synthetic brushes or the Proform Contractor are highly favoured in UK now. The roll and tip technique, I don’t advocate any more than a 10% mix with paint conditioner, but I would happily apply oil paint with a dense black foam roller (Fat Hog or Wooster or Axus HD) and lay off with a Wooster Alpha, a combination that still takes some beating.
What brushes do you use, have you used, and would never use again – with pride? This is a post about some best paint brushes used by a master painter on dry land.
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