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Handles and Ferrules

To perform best, the head of the brush needs a good support system. This is the function of the handle and ferrule.

Traditionally, manufacturers have provided artists with two lengths and tapers of brush handles. Short-handled brushes are the choice when holding the brush close to the tip as you would manipulate a writing nstrument. Watercolor, tole and decorative, and craft and hobby brushes all have short handles, as paint is generally applied while working on a table or on a slightly slantedtable, such as a drawing board. Long-handled brushes are usually reserved for easel work, so the artist may distance himself from his work.

Traditionally, manufacturers have provided artists with two lengths and tapers of brush handles. Short-handled brushes are the choice when holding the brush close to the tip as you would manipulate a writing instrument. Watercolor, tole and decorative, and craft and hobby brushes all have short handles, as paint is generally applied while working on a table or on a slightly slanted table, such as a drawing board. Long-handled brushes are usually reserved for easel work, so the artist may distance himself from his work.

The ferrule of a brush is a metal tube designed for the basic shape and size of the brush. It is the connecting unit between the brush head which is glued in one end, and the handle which is crimped andlor glued in the other.

Metal ferrules are either copper, brass or aluminum. Brass, an alloy metal, is the strongest of the three. Though sometimes left plain or with a clear or gold colored coating, copper and brass ferrules are usually nickel-plated for appearance and corrosion resistance.

Aluminum ferrules are much weaker but cheaper to produce and appear on lesser quality brushes.

Quality brushes will feature a seamless ferrule, regardless of the metal type. Ferrules with seams tend to pull apart and allow paint, solvents, and water to accumulate, thereby causing loosening or damage to the handle.

In some brushes, a flexible natural or plastic quill is used in place of a metal ferrule. Quills from bird feathers were used in the first brushes ever made and their use today quite often is only in the interest of tradition and appearance. In china painting, however, a quill is sometimes necessary as contact with metal on particular types of china can cause black marks to appear after the piece is fired.

SIZES OF BRUSHES

Numbering brushes provides order for brushes within a series. The order is determined by the size of the ferrule opening and in many cases, the number on the brush is in fact the size of the ferrule opening.

In the United States, the English or the metric system of sizing is commonly used, depending upon the type of brush. Natural bristle brushes are measured using the English system, which means a size 12 is equal to 1 inch. In turn, a size 6 is 1/2 inch, a size 18 is 11/2 inches, and so on. Long handle synthetic filament brushes designed to be used as an alternative to bristle brushes are also sized this way.

Natural soft hair and other synthetic brushes are measured using the metric system. One millimeter is equal to a size 1, 3 mm to size 3, etc. This standard is effective, except that it is difficult to measure and assign a value to any measurement less than 1 mm. So, when a brush is sized 10/0, 3/0 etc. it becomes quite hypothetical. Roughly translated, 3/0 means 3 units less than a millimeter and 10/0 is 10 units less than a millimeter.

You may also find that many flat brushes in the U.S. are simply labeled in inches and fractions, regardless of their hair type.

Although we have discussed two of the most logical and more common systems of sizing, it is important to note that there is no industry standard that manufacturers must follow. Sizing for various types of brushes is often rooted in tradition and the country of origin, or set for any number of reasons when a particular brush line is first created. The best standard of measurement a consumer can use is to compare similar lines from various manufacturers size for size.

Brush Shapes
How to Choose a Brush
Copyright 1990 Loew-Cornell, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 3rd Edition 1998
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