Handle with care: the parts of a paint brush and how to clean them

Don’t let dirty paintbrushes hold you back from creating your next masterpiece!  Know what the various parts of a brush do and how to look after them.

In this quick article, I’ll look at the six parts of a paintbrush and how to keep them in tip-top shape.

The parts of a paint brush

The parts of a paint brush: Bristles (toe, belly and heel), the ferrule and handle.

The bristles: toe, belly and heel

The bristles of a paintbrush are the most important part of the tool.

They are responsible for holding the paint and transferring it to the surface you are painting.

There are three parts to the bristle section.

The toe: This is the end of the bristles from where you transfer paint to whatever it is you are painting.

The belly: The belly is the middle section of the bristles, usually the widest part of the bristles, and holds the majority of the paint. A good quality belly will have a large surface area to hold paint, and it should be flexible enough to create a variety of strokes. The belly should also be well-shaped, with no kinks or gaps in the bristles.

The heel: The heel is the part of the bristles closest to the ferrule (coming up next). A good quality heel will be firm and durable, able to withstand frequent use and cleaning. The heel should also be well-secured to the ferrule to prevent the bristles from becoming loose.

Paintbrush bristles can be made from various materials, including natural hair, synthetic fibres, or a combination of both. Natural fibres, such as sable hair, are my preference as these are more durable and have a longer lifespan than synthetic fibres, can hold more paint and I find they release paint more evenly and smoothly.

The bristles are in a variety of shapes as seen below but for modelling, the round is the most common and will be used for 90 per cent of the work although a flat and filbert are sometimes used.

Types of paint brush shape

The different types of brush shapes.

Whatever the shape, maintaining the bristles is crucial for the longevity of your paintbrush.

After each use, rinse the brush under warm water to remove any excess paint. I then use Master’s Brush Cleaner – reviewed here – which removes all the paint, stains, and other contaminants from paintbrushes and softens the bristles extending their lifespan. Swirl the brush around in the Master’s pot and then rub them with your fingers or in the palm of your hand. Do this a few times, you’ll be surprised how much paint comes out. Once done, rinse the brush in some more warm water.

The Ferrule

The ferrule is the metal band that connects the bristles to the handle.

It holds the bristles in place with a crimp and is usually made from aluminium, nickel, or brass. The Ferrule and crimp came about in the 19th and early 20th century – as James Gurney explains in his blog – and have been the standard method for attaching bristles to the handle since.

The ferrule should be seamless, with no visible gaps or joins. This ensures that paint cannot seep into the ferrule and damage the bristles. Typically, you’ll see joins in ferrules in cheap brushes and it’s a good indicator that they won’t last long.

After each use, wipe the ferrule with a damp cloth to remove any paint residue. Be sure to check inside the ferrule for any paint buildup that may have seeped inside. If the ferrule is damaged or loose, it may need to be replaced.

The handle

The handle of a paintbrush is usually made from wood or plastic. It is important to choose a handle that is comfortable to hold and fits your hand well. A good handle will be balanced, so the weight of the brush is evenly distributed.

To maintain the handle, avoid exposing it to moisture or extreme temperatures. Clean the handle with a damp cloth or mild soap, and avoid using harsh chemicals that can damage the wood or plastic.

How to store brushes

When finished cleaning, store the brushes upright – bristles facing upwards. Keep them in a cool, dry place, and avoid leaving them in direct sunlight or near a source of heat.

By keeping them clean and storing them well, your brushes will last for years. Share your best tips for keeping your paintbrushes in tip-top shape in the comments below, and don’t forget to give this post a share with your fellow artists!

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