I hate cleaning brushes

  • Advertise with us

« back to Woodworking Skill Share forum

Forum topic by Shay posted 03-03-2008 04:45 PM 2069 views 0 times favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Shay's profile


59 posts in 3770 days

03-03-2008 04:45 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question finishing

How many of you just go with foam brushes? It’s such a pain to put a coat of varnish on, clean the brush, then a few hours later put another coat on and again clean the brush. I’m not a fan of finishing in general but the brush cleaning just annoys me. I’m thinking of stocking up on a ton of foam brushes for small projects and Trim.


-- Centerville, MN - Hobbyist and DIYer

14 replies so far

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 3957 days

#1 posted 03-03-2008 04:47 PM

Anytime I see foam brushes on sale I buy a bunch of them. I usually average 10 cents each.

If you want an interesting brush for water based finishes try these:

You hook up a hose into the handle for cleaning.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View Shay's profile


59 posts in 3770 days

#2 posted 03-03-2008 04:55 PM

:) If you do it I know I’m ok doing it..

I’m planning on ripping out all the trim in my house and doing Craftsman/Mission Style Trim throughout. I was NOT looking forward to all that brush cleaning.

-- Centerville, MN - Hobbyist and DIYer

View Peter Oxley's profile

Peter Oxley

1426 posts in 3843 days

#3 posted 03-03-2008 05:16 PM

Yep, foam brushes and spray equipment. You might want to consider spray cans of varnish – with a handle attachment and a little practice you can get a respectable coat.
handle attachment

If woodworking is a business, spending 20 minutes cleaning a $10 brush means you’re losing money – it makes more sense to do work that will earn money and just buy a new brush. If woodworking is a hobby, you should probably spend the time you have on the aspects you enjoy.

-- -- --

View tenontim's profile


2131 posts in 3713 days

#4 posted 03-03-2008 05:32 PM

I don’t know if you would get as good of finish with a foam brush. I use them to put stain and dye on, but that’s about it. Pour your varnish in a larger can and store the brush in the can until you finish the job, then wash it or toss it.

View che's profile


123 posts in 3995 days

#5 posted 03-03-2008 05:50 PM

Keeping a brush clean…

Take a clean 1 gal paint can and cut a hole in the lid a little larger than the handle of your varnish brush. Drill a hole in the handle of the brush so the brush is 1/4”-1/2” off of the bottom of the paint can with a piece of wire, drill bit, nail, etc supporting the brush on top of the lid. When your done with a coat of varnish slide the handle through the hole in the lid, slide the wire through the hole in the handle and place the brush in the can with thinner. The varnish will settle to the bottom of the paint can (which is why you suspend the brush). The lid will keep the thinner from evaporating too quickly (you seal the can with a rag or plastic if you want). This will keep your brush ready for a couple of days between coats without worry. When your done finishing the project clean the brush fully.

-- Che.

View Shay's profile


59 posts in 3770 days

#6 posted 03-03-2008 05:53 PM

Don’t you have to clean the thinner off with water though before doing another coat of varnish?

-- Centerville, MN - Hobbyist and DIYer

View TampaTom's profile


74 posts in 3722 days

#7 posted 03-03-2008 06:02 PM

For me, well, I’ve given up on brushed finishes (unless I’m painting). Just too damed hard to get the brushes clean, prevent brush marks and sags, etc.

Now, I thin everything and apply with a rag. Wipe on finishes have saved my sanity. I wipe the stuff on (shellac, oil/poly blends, thin poly) and go to town.

And, when I’m done, I just dry the rag out and chuck it in the trash. No fuss, no muss!

-- Tom's Workbench -

View Greg3G's profile


815 posts in 4054 days

#8 posted 03-03-2008 06:05 PM

That’s why I use a wipe on finish. I find that when I use a wipe on tech, I usually have to double the number of coats but each coat dries a lot fast, avoiding most dust nibbs. I can probably put on 6-8 coats in the same about of time it takes to put 2-3 coats of brush applied finish. I also avoid drips and runs by using this method as well. When I do use a brush, I still thin down the finish to wiping strength and use a foam brush. I’m with you, I hate cleaning brushes, almost as much as I hate brush marks in my finish. It just means more work rubbing out the finish.

-- Greg - Charles Town, WV

View che's profile


123 posts in 3995 days

#9 posted 03-03-2008 06:20 PM

This applies to oil based finishes.

No need to remove all the thinner from the brush. I usually shake (beat) most of the thinner from the brush but the brush doesn’t need to be dry. I usually add a little thinner to the varnish anyway. First coat is 50:50 varnish thinner to get a little more penetration into the wood. Additional coats are up to 25% thinner depending on the weather (usually about 10%). If your going to brush I suggest picking a varnish and thinner and playing with different mixes to see how it behaves. A brush is like any hand tool it takes a little practice to get proficient. A lot of marine (spar) varnishes have two thinners one for spray and one for brush. The brushing thinner takes longer to evaporate and allows more time to self-level and makes it easier to keep a wet edge.

-- Che.

View Harold's profile


310 posts in 3816 days

#10 posted 03-03-2008 06:22 PM

I use brushes, if you are going to be applying several coats during the day, wrap the brush up tightly in plastic wrap, you can even use a plastic grocery bag, the brush will be fine. At the end of the day clean your brush. I don’t have anything really bad to say about foam brushes, other than the do tend to tear and shed at times. I may just be cheap, A good brush will last several years and I do prefer the way the brush flows, but I think of brushes, just like a chisel. If I take care of it, it will perform predictably.

-- If knowledge is not shared, it is forgotten.

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3791 days

#11 posted 03-04-2008 12:50 AM

My vote is with Che, if you are going to brush. The brush doesn’t have to have all the thinner removed, in fact it should have a mineral spirits residue on it (if you are using an oil based finish) before dipping into the varnish. You should never try to apply a varnish or poly with a dry brush. Foam brushes, while they are cheap, introduce air bubbles into the finish. If you are going to brush a good china bristle is good for oil base or nylon for water based finishes. In this case, much like any other tool, you get what you pay for. A good oil based brush should run $20 on the low end to $60 on the high end for a German import.

But if you are not going to spray then wipe on is by far quicker to apply (even with the multiple coats that are necessary), is self-leveling and dries very quickly so there is less chance of dust contamination.

But given a large project I would opt to spray.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View Al Killian's profile

Al Killian

273 posts in 3722 days

#12 posted 03-04-2008 03:53 AM

I soak the brush in thinner in between coats or wrap it in plastic wrap. Afte I am done for the day, the brush goes into the garbage. It is not worth my time to clean a brush that only cost me $2. If it is water based you can soak it in water between coats.

-- Owner of custom millwork shop

View Betsy's profile


3391 posts in 3865 days

#13 posted 03-04-2008 04:07 AM

I’m with you, I hate to clean brushes. I do the plastic wrap trick. You can keep a brush this way for quite a while. While I know, no one here would paint wood—- but if you were to do so. You can keep a brush with latex paint with no problem at least a week. Of course, after I wrap in plastic – I also store it in the fridge. They stay supple and clean up pretty well at the end of the project. But honestly, even as cheap as I am, my time is more important, so nine times out of ten I throw the brush away when I’m done.

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

View Sam Yerardi's profile

Sam Yerardi

244 posts in 3864 days

#14 posted 03-04-2008 02:44 PM

One good method you can use to help with cleanup is to first saturate the brush with whatever solvent the material uses. For example, if I’m doing shellac, I’ll first saturate the brush with alcohol. I’ll pad out the brush with a cloth so it’s not dripping, etc. The alcohol gets wicked up into the brush and will help you later when you are trying to get the shellac out of the brush. The alochol won’t cause a problem as it is shellac’s natural solvent and will evaporate anyway. It will actually help the application go on a little smoother. With varnish, you can use mineral spirits, etc. With lacquer you can use lacquer thinner. Just make sure that the brush is damped out as much as you can before proceeding with it. I’ve done the same thing with water-based paints but I’ve never tried it with water-based finishes. I don’t think it will work the same. Water-based finishes are actually a lot more complex than oil-base finishes.

-- Sam

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics