Shared on Lean Green DAD with permission from The Craftsman Blog

There are so many different types of paint brushes out there today. So, how do you know which one you need for your project? Should you buy a bunch of different brushes specific to each use or maybe just one all-around brush? What about cost?

I’ve got so many bite marks on my tongue (biting my tongue to avoid piping up) from watching homeowners pick out the wrong paint brush. They just don’t know. But not anymore (at least if you read this post!) Let’s talk about Scott’s 5 Laws of Paint Brush Selection.

1. Price

Expensive paint brushes are better paint brushes. It’s that simple. Just like a BMW is a better car than a Ford Fiesta, a quality paint brush will cost several times that of a low-quality one.

High quality brushes will:

  1. Hold more paint
  2. Release paint more evenly
  3. Hold their shape longer
  4. Not shed bristles
  5. Last much longer

There is a time for a cheap paint brush. These are called chip brushes usually and I use them as disposable brushes for tasks like primer touch up. For example, I have a bunch of siding that has been pre-primed and it is now being cut and installed onsite. Every time I make a cut I reveal fresh wood that needs to be primed. I keep a chip brush sitting in a cup of oil-based primer to dab on the end cuts. Perfect use for a chip brush since it gets pretty gummed up by the end of the day I can just trash it and move on.

2. Oil vs. Latex

What you plan to paint with will determine what kind of brush you need. Natural bristle brushes were designed to work best with oil-based paints. Synthetic bristle brushes are for water-based latex paints. It’s a matter of how the bristles are able to hold onto and release the paint.

There are brushes that can do both and they do a decent job of it, but if you plan to use a lot of one type of paint over the other the best paint brush is the one designed for your type of paint.

I keep both types of brushes in my shop since we go back and forth between different paints.

For Oil-Based Paints Use:

  1. China Bristle
  2. Ox-Tail
  3. Other Natural Bristle Brushes

For Water-Based Paints Use:

  1. Nylon/Polyester
  2. Other Synthetic Blends

3. Angled or Flat

This one is pretty simple to discern. Angled (sometimes called “Sash”) brushes are designed for cutting in. Cutting in has to do with painting straight lines or in tight corners. Angled brushes really shine here and do a great job at painting a perfectly straight line with no wandering bristles.

Flat brushes are designed for coverage on flat surfaces. You’ll cover more ground with a flat brush in this type of application. Today, most of us use rollers to paint wide flat surfaces so a big flat brush isn’t as useful as it used to be before the roller was invented.

In general, an angled brush will be the most useful brush to have in your arsenal.

4. Size Matters

A smaller brush means more control but slower production. Do you know how long it would take you to paint a fence with a 1″ brush? Forever! Go get a 3″ or 4″ flat brush for something like that. On the flip side I would never try to paint a wood window with a 4″ flat brush. I’d make a total mess of it.

The best tip I can give you about selecting the right size is this:

Find a brush that will cover in as few strokes as possible. The larger the brush the less often you have to reload (dip into paint) your brush. Also, if you are using a 1″ brush to paint a 2″ wide surface like a window sash that means you have to make two strokes instead of just one with a 2″ brush.

Less strokes makes for a better and smoother finish.

5. Hard or Soft

Last but not least, is firmness. Hard brushes make it easy to paint a straight line. They hold their shape and won’t wander like a soft brush. But soft brushes make for a super smooth surface because they don’t leave nearly as many brush strokes. So which do you need?

This is the place where I compromise. I buy medium-stiff brushes so I can have most of the control of the hard brush, but avoid deep brush marks. If you can learn how to “tip off” your paint you can virtually eliminate those brush strokes even when using a harder brush.

What’s the best paint brush?

Are you throughly confused about what kind of brush to buy now? Probably so. You have all the info you need to find the right brushes for your needs, but unless you’re a professional painter you don’t really need an arsenal of brushes for every specific task.

Here’s what I recommend:

I own 3 brushes to do the bulk of my painting. One for latex paints, one for oil-based, and one for big surfaces.

I only use Purdy brushes which are probably the finest in the industry. If I keep them clean they will last for over a decade. You can buy any of them from my affiliate links below which are honestly the cheapest prices I’ve found for these brushes.

Purdy-Cub

1. Latex: Purdy 2″ XL Cub Medium Stiff – The small handle makes it easy to get into tight spaces. Overall, this is the best paint brush in my opinion.

Black-Bristle

 

2. Oil-Based: Purdy 2.5″ Black Bristle Medium Stiff – The 100% natural black china bristle is great for oil paints and gives me a super smooth finish. This version is 2.5″ wide only because I use it to paint interior trim usually, but you can get whichever size fits your needs.

big-brush

 

3. The Big Brush: Purdy 3.5″ XL Medium Stiff – For anything and everything where I need to cover wide areas and a paint roller is not feasible. This big boy holds a ton of paint and makes short work of it.

 

Scott Sidler

Scott Sidler

Scott is a historic preservationist and licensed contractor. He helps old house lovers understand & restore their homes so they can enjoy the history and character that surrounds them more everyday! When not working, writing or teaching about old houses Scott spends most of his time fixing up my own 1929 bungalow with my wife Delores and sons Charley and Jude.
Scott Sidler