Studio Craft: Restoring Worn Brushes

Nearly every artist has at least a few brushes that have seen better days. Maybe you forgot to wash your brushes after working outdoors, or you rushed through washing too often. No matter how dry and crusty a brush becomes, we never seem to be able to part with it. With a little surgery, though, even the most worn and crusty brushes may be restored to a second useful life. They may never be like new again, but restored brushes are great for any task where you wouldn’t want to use new brushes.

Beneath the Ferrule

Only brushes of better quality can be restored as described here. Better brushes are made using hairs long enough that the ferrule can be clipped back to remove dry paint and lengthen worn bristles. Cheaper brushes are manufactured from short, clipped hairs, sometimes with a wooden plug for bulk. Removing the ferrule of a craft-grade brush will usually result in the hairs falling out.

Using a fine metal file, score a line 1/8” from the top of the ferrule, all the way around. It’s not necessary to cut all the way through.

Use small wire cutters to snip straight down to the scored line.

Use needle nose pliers to peel a strip of metal away from the ferrule, coiling the strip around the nose, to expose the plug of dry paint. Use the file to blunt the new, sharp edge of the ferrule.

Soak the brush in a cleaning solution that can soften dry paint. Depending on the composition and age of the residue, it may be necessary to soak it overnight. Don’t immerse the tuft beyond the ferrule, or you may remove the lacquer from the handle.

When the paint has softened, remove the brush from the cleaner. Use a soap designed for cleaning artist’s brushes and a stiff utility brush to scrub out the softened residue. Alternate lathering, brushing out, and rinsing until as much material as possible has been removed.

Once the brush is as clean as possible, apply a small amount of soap to help groom the damp brush to its original shape (or as close as possible). Leave the soap in the brush and allow it to dry flat.

Your brush is now ready for its second act! The newly restored brush may not be the equal of a new one, but it’s perfect for scrubbing in broad areas of color, lifting out corrections on an abrasive ground, and for any application that could put wear and tear on a new brush. And, by restoring a worn-out brush, you’ve saved some money!

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