ewwww, what’s that smell?

As a furniture makeover artist, one issue that I have to deal with regularly is furniture with bad odors.  Nobody wants a piece of furniture that stinks, right?  In fact, I’d say “does it smell OK?” is the most frequent question I am asked by potential buyers.

Bad smells can run the gamut from cigarette smoke, to mouse pee, to just plain old age.  The fact is, furniture that is over 75 years old (which is mostly what I work with) is going to have some smells.

Eliminating bad odors is especially important in pieces that are going to be used to store clothing.  You don’t want your clean clothes coming out of the drawers smelling like someone’s old cigarette smoke.

There are all kinds of tips out there on how to get rid of bad smells, so when I brought home a dresser that previously belonged to a heavy smoker a while back I decided to do some serious experimentation and figure out what really works and what doesn’t.

Baking soda:  I placed open bowls of baking soda inside the drawers for about 10 days.  Initially I used an older box of baking soda, so when that didn’t work I went out and bought fresh baking soda, just in case that was the issue.  Nope, after another 10 days the drawers still smelled smoky to me.  Cross this one off your list.

Fresh Wave:  This is a product that claims to remove odors with all natural ingredients.  I’ve tried the spray as well as the odor removing packs in the past and not had much luck with either.  With this smoky dresser I tried spraying the drawers both inside and out with the Fresh Wave, as well as the interior of the dresser while the drawers were removed.  I sprayed heavily directly onto the wood.  It made no difference at all, don’t waste your money.

AtmosKlear:  Another product that claims to eliminate odors rather than just masking them, and another product that did not work on cigarette smoke.

Water and Vinegar:  This is something I’ve been using recently for cleaning furniture before I paint it.  However, I recently read that vinegar is not a good de-greaser, so I’m going to go back to my TSP substitute again.  And the vinegar/water mixture was powerless against the smoky dresser.  I even tried the vinegar/sunny day combo by wiping each drawer inside and out with a mixture of vinegar and water (about 1/2 cup vinegar to a gallon of water).  Then I spread the drawers out on the lawn on a sunny day and left them out for about 8 hours.  Like I said, powerless against the smoky smell.

Dryer sheets:  I like using dryer sheets to add a pleasant scent to a drawer that just has that sort of ‘old’ smell.  But dryer sheets are really just masking a smell and are not helpful for something like cigarette smoke or the dreaded mouse pee.  I’ve also had some potential furniture purchasers say that they hate the smell of dryer sheets, so they can definitely backfire on you.

Vodka:  Although I didn’t try vodka on this smoky dresser, I did try it a couple of years ago on another smelly piece.  I’d read somewhere that Martha Stewart recommended it, but I’m beginning to think that might be an urban myth.  I basically wiped the drawers down inside and out with straight up vodka.  I didn’t even dilute it with water (or cranberry juice, ha!).  It did nothing except waste some really good vodka.  I suppose you could just drink the vodka, and then you won’t really care whether or not the dresser still stinks.  That’s one way to solve the problem.

Newspaper:  After trying numerous solutions that really didn’t work for my smoky dresser I was starting to despair and think that I was going to have to go to my last resort solution (more on what that is in a minute).  But my friend Terri suggested I try newspaper.  And guess what?  It did a pretty good job!  Here’s the trick, you have to give it time, and you have to keep changing out the paper as it absorbs the smells.  This is not a quick fix, but it is a cheap fix.  Just crumple up sheets of newspaper and place them in each drawer.  Then change them out every couple of days until the smell is gone.

But if you don’t have several weeks set aside for the newspaper method, I’ve found that the one technique that eliminates bad smells every single time is … drum roll please …

Paint:  Paint works every. single. time.

Do you remember the fabulous cupboard I bought last year?

It wasn’t until I was unloading it from the truck at home that I noticed it had a bad smell.  I don’t know what to attribute the smell to, other than just old age, although it may have been stored in a barn for too long.  I cleaned it thoroughly and sprayed it heavily with Fresh Wave inside and out.  I brought the piece up to my bedroom and put all of my clothing in it, along with a few dryer sheets for good measure.  A few days later I pulled out a t-shirt and put it on.  As the t-shirt started to warm up with my body heat I noticed that it had taken on the smell of the cupboard.  Do you know that feeling?  You think ‘ewwww, what’s that smell?’ and then you realize it’s you (or your t-shirt anyway)!  The Fresh Wave definitely had not worked, and the combination of old barn smell mixed with dryer sheet was positively nauseating.  I immediately had to take the shirt off.  I re-washed all of the stuff I’d put in the cupboard, and then I spent the next six months piling my clothes on top of the cupboard instead of inside it (I’m not proud of it, but it’s the truth)!

Clearly I had to come up with a better solution.

So I decided to just go with what I know works for this one.  Paint.

I emptied everything out, and then I painted all of the surfaces inside the cupboard with Fusion’s Inglenook.  And when I say all of the surfaces, I mean all of them including the undersides of the shelves and the back sides of the doors.  This is the secret to successfully blocking the odors.  If you’re working with drawers you have to paint them inside and out as well.

This might sound like a drastic measure, but it really didn’t take that long.  Maybe 20 minutes or so per coat (and I did two coats).  The nice thing about using Fusion paint for this is that I didn’t also have to add a topcoat, plus once the paint is cured it will be fully washable.  Once painted, I left the doors open for about a week so that the paint could cure a bit before I put anything back in.  Then I gave it the sniff test.  Ahhhh.  The stink was gone!

My clothes have been back inside the cupboard for over a month now and they still smell fresh and clean when I pull them out to wear.

By the way, I really like using a cupboard like this for my clothes rather than a dresser with drawers.  I can open those doors and grab everything at once.  I use locker baskets to hold scarves, underwear and socks.  It works great.

And now it smells great too!

So the next time you have a serious odor problem consider reaching for either the newspaper or the paint.

copper patina.

In Monday’s post I mentioned that I used a new (to me) technique on the hardware for the blue alligator dresser.

The original drawer pulls on the two bottom drawers of the dresser (which I kept) were a very well aged brass, but my 4 replacement knobs for the top drawers were a kind of tacky new ‘brassy’ color.

I realized this would be the perfect opportunity to pull out the Modern Masters Metal Effects patina kit that I purchased last year at Hobby Lobby and use it to unify my old and new hardware.

(By the way, I used the rust kit on my rusty bull last year)

The copper patina kit comes with a small jar of primer (which I ignored), a small jar of copper paint and the activator.

I started by painting my knobs and the original drawer pulls with the copper paint.

Before the second coat of paint was dry, I sprayed on the “green patina aging solution” that came with the kit.

As it dried, I could see the patina beginning to form.

Which made these knobs just about perfect for the blue alligator dresser.

They blend quite nicely with my custom Blue Alligator milk paint color, thus allowing that gorgeous transfer to be the star of the show.

The only thing I’m not sure about is how well the finish will hold up to use over time, and whether or not I should be sealing it with something.  Here is what the Modern Masters website has to say about it:

Applying Sealer Effect, a protective sealer and top coat is highly recommended over the Iron/Rust Finish. Particularly on interior surfaces where there may be contact or exterior surfaces to prevent runoff of the rust finish caused by rain or sprinklers onto surrounding areas. It is not necessary to seal/topcoat the Copper/Green Patina or Bronze/Blue Patina finishes, except if the patina surface is subject to repeated hand contact, such as hand rails.

So … yes?  no?  maybe?  Do any of you have experience with how these finishes hold up over time?  If so, please share your knowledge in a comment!

methods for transferring graphics.

After reading some of the comments on Monday’s post about my ‘specimens de la decoration’ cabinet, I realized that a post comparing rub-on transfers, gel transfers, stencils and hand-painting might be worthwhile.

Are you a fan of adding words or other graphics to furniture?  Or even perhaps to your walls or other items of décor around your home?

I’m sure I’ve already established that I am definitely a fan, and I think I’ve tried just about every method there is to get them on there.  There are pros and cons to each.

Are you familiar with the project management triangle?

The theory behind it is that you can’t have all three things on the triangle at once;  fast, good and cheap.  You can only achieve two out of the three on any one project.  You can have cheap and fast, at the expense of quality.  You can have quick and high quality at the expense of low cost.  Get the concept?  It applies well here.  The cheapest options are also the most time consuming.  The most expensive are the easiest and produce the highest quality result.  But let’s go ahead and evaluate each one, shall we?

Rub-on transfers.

Not to be confused with gel medium transfers, which I’ll discuss in a minute, a rub-on transfer is a ‘dry transfer’ that is on a ‘backing material such as paper or plastic sheeting much like a transparency’ (Wikipedia).  They are applied by placing the sheet with the transfer down over your intended surface and rubbing the sheet with a tool of some kind until the transfer is adhered to your surface.  Rub-on’s will give you a high quality appearance and are fast to apply, but they cost more than other options.

Pros:  I think rub-on’s have the most professional look.  The designs can be much more highly detailed than stencils; in fact they are absolutely gorgeous.  They are easy to apply.  You can use them on painted surfaces, wood, metal, glass, plastic, paper … have I missed anything?  Until now I was only aware of rub-on’s for small craft projects, but I’m thrilled to have found large transfers for furniture!

Cons:  They are expensive and can only be used once each.  There is a little bit of a learning curve if you’ve never used them before because you have to get used to making sure the entire design is properly adhered before you remove the backing.  I wouldn’t use a rub-on transfer on a surface that will get a lot of wear such as on the seat of a chair or a table top.  I don’t think it would hold up well under that kind of use.


Stencils are usually made out of a piece of Mylar with the design cut out of it, although sometimes they are made with heavy paper or even metal.  They are applied by placing the stencil over your intended surface and using a stencil brush and paint with a pouncing motion to fill in the design.  Stencils will also give you high quality and fast, but not cheap.

Pros:  Stencils also have a very professional look when done well.  They are very quick and easy to apply.  You can re-use them over and over and over, thus lowering the cost per use.  You can easily use a painted stencil design on a chair seat or table top as it will wear the same as any other paint treatment.

You can get creative with stencils using just a portion of the design, or pairing up multiple stencils to create a larger design.  Another big plus to stencils is that you can use them on fabric, one of my favorite techniques.

Cons:  Stencils are also rather expensive.  Especially if you are only going to use it once on a specific project.  In addition to the cost of the stencil itself, you’ll also need to purchase a stencil brush and paint.  The price of stencils really only makes sense if you are going to be able to use them multiple times.  In addition, there is a bit of a learning curve with stencils.  Some people I’ve talked to claim they have never been able to develop the knack for getting a clean line with a stencil.  It does take some practice.  A sloppily done stencil is not a good look.  Also, stencil designs aren’t quite as delicate or detailed as a rub-on can be.

Gel transfers.

A gel transfer is made by printing a mirror image of your intended design onto paper with a LaserJet printer, then applying transfer gel to it and placing it face down on your surface being careful to eliminate any bubbles or creases in the paper.  You wait 12 hours, then use water to gently remove the paper leaving the design behind.  This method is cheap and creates a good quality transfer, but it isn’t fast since you have to basically wait overnight before removing the paper.

Pros:  This is a very cost effective way to add transfers.  A container of the transfer gel is under $20 and will last quite some time.  I haven’t even gotten halfway through my jar of Fusion Transfer Gel and I’ve done countless projects with it.  I’ve had the best success using transfer gel on freshly painted surfaces such as wood, cardboard, or metal.  I’ve read that you can use this method to transfer images onto fabric as well, but I’ve never tried it.

Cons:  I’ve also had some failures trying to use transfer gel on metal.  It always works over freshly painted metal, but I’ve had the gel peel right off both unpainted metal and metal with an old paint job taking the design with it.  It would also not work on unpainted cardboard or paper, or anything else that can’t get wet.  I’ve read that people use it on glass, but I’ve never tried it (do any of you have experience with this?), I wonder whether the gel can peel off the glass in the same way it did for me on unpainted metal.  Transferring a design larger than the letter or legal size available on your home printer will require having it printed at a Kinko’s or other print shop, adding a little bit to the cost and a bit of extra time to the process.

Tracing and hand-painting.

There are two ways to trace a design onto your surface and then hand paint it.  The first is to print your design on paper, then use tracing paper (in either white or black depending on the color of your intended surface) to trace the entire design onto your surface.  Then go back with a small artist’s brush with paint and fill in the design.  The second option is to print your design on a letter sized piece of paper, then use an overhead projector to project the image onto your intended surface.  Trace the design using a pencil, then go back and fill in with paint by hand.

Pros:  If you happen to already own a projector and you have excellent painting skills, this is a cost effective way to add a graphic.  Using a projector is also a good way to add a really large graphic to a piece of furniture and be able to size it correctly.  The alternative tracing paper method is very cost effective.  I still use this method for chalkboard designs, to be filled in with chalk, but I almost never use it for painting a design anymore.

Cons:   Back in the day though, this was the way I did all of my graphics.  Can you imagine?  Looking back I am astounded at how time consuming it was, and I was never entirely happy with the end result.  If you don’t have a steady hand and a couple of spare hours, this option is definitely not for you.

Cutting vinyl.

I almost didn’t include this option because it’s not exactly a ‘transfer’, but since I tend to use it fairly frequently I decided I should throw it in.  I use a Cricut machine to cut adhesive backed vinyl, but there are other types of machines out there as well like a Silhouette.

Pros:  Once you’ve made the initial investment in a machine, it’s relatively inexpensive to buy the adhesive vinyl and then the sky is the limit for the quantity of stuff you cut out.  Once you’ve learned how to use your machine, it’s relatively easy and quick to do.  The vinyl will adhere to painted surfaces, glass, metal and plastic.  It is flexible as well, so it works well on surfaces that aren’t flat.  Also, you can print out any word or saying that you can think of.

Cons:  You have to invest in a die-cutting machine like a Cricut or Silhouette, and they aren’t cheap.  You also have to spend some time learning how to use it.  The investment is not worthwhile unless you are going to do a fair amount of cutting.  In my case, with a Cricut that is not attached to my computer, I am limited to designs on font cartridges that I have purchased.  The cartridges themselves can be rather expensive.  If I was starting from scratch I’m not sure I would invest in a Cricut and multiple cartridges, but since I already had them for scrapbooking I’m now finding that I get a lot of use out of them for home décor projects.

That wraps up my synopsis of the various options available to you for adding graphics to your projects.  I don’t have an overall favorite, different projects are better suited to different techniques and aside from tracing and hand-painting I’m sure I’ll continue to use all of them.  How about you?  Do you have a favorite?  Or maybe you have another method that you like to use.  If so, please share with a comment.

general finishes milk paint.

There are several furniture refurbishers out there whose work I really admire and they extol the virtues of General Finishes Milk Paint.  So when I ended up in a shop that sold this product while out shopping with some friends recently I decided to pick some up and give it a try.

The first thing you need to know about General Finishes Milk Paint is that it isn’t really milk paint.  I know, confusing right?

Here is what they say about the paint on their website:  GF’s Milk Paint is not a true Milk Paint – it is premixed and does not contain any casein based ingredients. We named our product Milk Paint with the intention of putting a clear, bright, contemporary spin on an old fashioned furniture paint tradition. It is designed to mimic the low luster finish of old world paints.

So if you are buying this paint and expecting to find a powder you’ll mix with water inside the can, guess again.  And if you are used to using this ‘milk paint’ and then you buy some Miss Mustard Seed or other true milk paint, don’t be surprised to find that it’s totally different.  Also, just know that you won’t get the chippy look that milk paint is known for with this paint.

The fine print on the can says that this is an acrylic paint, and for that reason it didn’t surprise me to find that it is very similar to Fusion paint.  Much like Fusion, it does not require a top coat (whereas chalk paint and milk paint require a top coat to be water resistant).  It also has the same self-leveling properties as Fusion.  It also distresses in a similar fashion, and by that I mean that neither of these paints distresses as easily as a chalk or milk paint.  These paints are meant to be very durable, so the longer you wait between painting and distressing, the harder it will be to sand off the edges for a distressed look.  Just be sure to distress promptly, if you plan to distress at all.  For those who prefer a non-distressed finish, both of these paints are perfect for that.

OK, so now that we have all of that info out of the way, let’s see how it looks.

I started with this petite desk that a friend gave me a while back.

I have to admit, I thought this desk was kind of hideous but it was either me or the Goodwill so I took it.  If nothing else, it provided a great canvas for testing out a different brand of paint.

You got a little sneak peek at this one in my post about my painting chair

Yep, this is where I paint in the winter.  Smack in the middle of my house.  And that chair was the perfect height for painting all of those spindly legs.

And now that it has a couple of coats of General Finishes Milk Paint in Queenstown Gray, well …

it’s kinda cute now, don’t you think?

As you can see, I did distress this piece and I did it about a week after I painted it.  So it can definitely still be done, it just takes a little more effort.

I lined the drawer with some pretty map paper.

Although I’ve called this piece a ‘petite desk’, it’s definitely too small for me to use as a desk.  It would be perfect for a youngster’s desk, but I think it would also work really well as a console table in a foyer or behind a sofa.  It also is the perfect height to be used as a nightstand.

Back in the day, it would have made a great telephone table, but nobody needs those anymore, right?

In the end I think this paint is very comparable to Fusion paint.  It’s just a bit more expensive (at least at the shops where I buy my paint), but not a lot.  If you love working with the General Finishes Milk Paint, you will also love Fusion paint and vice versa.  But obviously, if you’re looking for a true milk paint you aren’t going to find it here.

If you noticed in my first photo, I also bought a can of General Finishes Flat Out Flat topcoat.  I did not use that on this desk.  I have heard really good things about it as well, and I hope to test it out on something soon so stay tuned.

In the meantime, this little desk/nightstand/telephone table is for sale.  Be sure to check my ‘available for local sale’ page for more details.

keep it clean.

I am about to give you some advice about taking care of your brushes, but first I have to admit that I tend to be fairly bad about that myself.  This is partly why I prefer working with the more affordable Purdy brushes.  If I end up ruining one I don’t feel quite so bad about it.  But it’s not hard to clean your brushes, especially with the right products.


I have a few favorite non-toxic products that I keep on hand for cleaning my paint brushes.

My first go-to product for quick everyday cleaning of a freshly used paint brush is the Miss Mustard Seed Brush Soap.  This soap will clean and condition your brush.  A while back I wrote about the pretty ironstone covered soap dish that I purchased just for my brush soap.


This dish with the MMS soap inside sits right next to the faucet on my kitchen sink for easy brush washing.  My theory is that if I have the brush soap right there ready to go I’ll be more likely to get my brushes cleaned promptly.  Obviously getting your brush cleaned before the paint has time to dry and harden is the best option.  To clean my brush using the MMS Brush Soap I simply rinse the brush first in running water removing most of the paint, then I swish my wet brush over the cake of soap a few times.  Finally I massage that soap into the brush using my fingers and get it nice and sudsy, working it into the bristles.  Then I rinse well and hang to dry.

But, I gotta be honest, that’s what happens in a perfect world.

In the real world I keep a supply of cheap plastic sandwich bags on hand (the fold over kind, not the zip lock kind) and when I am in between coats of paint I wrap my brush in the sandwich bag so it doesn’t dry out.  Unfortunately, sometimes I get distracted and that brush sits in the sandwich bag overnight.  When this happens I pull out some slightly more serious cleaning tools.


I really like the Fusion Brush Cleaner.  It’s 100% natural, non-toxic, made with linseed oil and I like the mild scent.  There are just two reasons I don’t just use this product every time I clean a brush.  First, it doesn’t fit in my adorable ironstone soap dish and second, it’s a little hard to squeeze out of the tube.  So, it’s just slightly less convenient than the MMS Brush Soap.  However, when I have a bigger brush cleaning job I pull it out of the cupboard.

  I just purchased that pretty new tube shown above at Reclaiming Beautiful (so locals, you can find it there if you want to try it) because the tube I had looks like this …


Yep, it’s almost gone and it’s totally beat up and well used and that’s because … well … I forget to clean my brushes promptly with some frequency.

To use this product I again rinse my brush under running water and then squeeze a dab of the brush cleaner onto my fingers and massage it into the brush.  If your brush has lingered in a plastic sandwich bag overnight you are likely going to find some globbier bits of dried paint on it, so while the brush is still all sudsy from the brush soap you can use a small steel brush to remove hardened paint bits from the outer bristles.  I got mine for less than $3 at Menards.  A brush cleaning comb will help remove residue from the center of the bristles.  Once clean, rinse the soap off your brush and hang it to dry.

By the way, the Fusion Brush Soap is also great for cleaning paint off your hands or off your sink.  Just rub the soap on and then rinse with water.  I’ve heard you can also use it to get paint out of carpet, but I don’t have any carpet so I’ve never tried that.

Now, sometimes things get really out of hand and I totally forget about that paintbrush in its sandwich bag for several days.  Ugh.  This is a great way to ruin a paintbrush.  This is the only time I will resort to soaking a paintbrush.  Soaking your brush is not a good practice.  It will loosen up the glue that holds the bristles in place.  Not only that, but just leaving your brush standing bristle end down in a jar for very long will bend your bristles ruining the shape of your brush.

But if you’ve completely forgotten about your brush and you are at the point of either soaking it or throwing it away, you can try soaking it in a container with a capful of Murphy’s oil soap and warm water.


This will help, but it won’t work miracles.  All of the products I’ve mentioned so far are safe, natural, non-toxic cleaners.  That’s where I draw the line personally.  You could resort to using things like mineral spirits or one of the toxic heavy duty brush cleaners out there but I prefer to work with products that can be washed down the drain rather than products that have to go to the hazardous waste facility when I’m ready to dispose of them.

One thing I’ll note here about working with milk paint specifically is that if you don’t clean your milk paint brushes thoroughly and promptly, the paint starts building up near the metal ferrule of your brush and it will harden like concrete.  Here’s an example of what that looks like …


For this reason you should especially try to be more conscientious about getting your milk paint brushes cleaned promptly.  Unfortunately I do not take my own advice and I’ve ended up with a few brushes like this.  This brush was a good candidate for an experiment on how well these cleaning methods work.  I started with Fusion’s Brush Cleaner and my wire brush.  After cleaning with those two items, that same brush looked like this …


It certainly looks cleaner and I got a good bit of the hardened paint off the outside of the bristles, but deep inside the bristles it’s still hard as concrete.  So next I soaked the brush overnight in the Murpy’s Oil Soap.  The next day I took it out and cleaned it again with my steel brush and some Fusion Brush Cleaner and it looks like this ….


You can see that it’s gotten a little bit cleaner with each step.  The metal ferrule is definitely cleaner, and the outside bristles have cleaned up fairly well.  But there is still a hardened clump of milk paint inside the bristles up near the ferrule.

But this brush isn’t a total loss for me.  I definitely got it cleaned up well enough to continue to use it for milk paint until it’s a complete goner.

By the way, you can also use the Fusion Brush Cleaner to clean your wax brushes.  I don’t bother with cleaning my wax brushes every time I use them.  That’s probably a bad practice too.  They do harden up a little, but if you work them a bit with a clean cloth the bristles will become pliable again and the old wax will mostly flake off.  But especially for this post I decided to go ahead and clean mine.

Here they are before cleaning.


To clean them I just ran them under warm water, massaged some Fusion brush cleaner into the bristles and then rinsed.  For the black wax brush I had to rinse and repeat with a second washing.  Here are my nice clean wax brushes.


Once your brushes are clean, you should always hang them to dry.  That’s why they have that hole in the handle.  Hanging them to dry serves two purposes.  First, any excess water can drain out of the brush rather than being trapped in the ferrule.  Second, the bristles won’t get misshapen.

Finally, once dry you should go ahead and put them back into the protective sleeves that they came with (if indeed they came with one).  Yeah, don’t throw those sleeves away!  This is the best way to protect your brush and help it keep its shape when you’re not using it.  

If all else fails and you’ve ruined your brush but you just hate to throw it away, you can always add some rub-on graphics to your ruined brush and hang it on the wall as decor 😉


To summarize, do as I say, not as I do and clean your brushes promptly.  Or, go ahead and do as I do and don’t lose sleep over the occasional ruined brush.  We all need an excuse to periodically buy a fresh new paint brush, right?

brush week, part two.

Welcome back to part two of brush week (still not a clever name)!


On Monday I wrote about the brushes I use for painting furniture, today I’ll share some info on brushes I use for other things like waxing, stenciling and applying a sealer.

Using a brush for waxing.

When I first starting using wax I always applied it with a rag and it does work out perfectly well to do so, but there are a couple of downsides.  First of all, you’ll waste some wax that will be absorbed into your rag.  Then you’ll throw that rag away (I have found that they don’t wash up well).  We all know that a good wax isn’t cheap, so I prefer not to be tossing any of it in the trash.  Secondly, it’s hard to get into creases and crevices with a rag, a brush works much better for that.  On the plus side, an old rag made from your worn out t-shirt is free and a good wax brush isn’t.  If you are only ever going to wax one or two things in your lifetime, don’t bother investing in a brush.  But if you do a lot of waxing, I highly recommend getting a brush.

I have four different wax brushes.


My wax brush collection is sort of a Goldilocks and the Three Bears situation.  The first brush I purchased was this one …


I purchased this at a local paint shop, Hirschfields, because I wanted it ‘right now’.  I suspect that this brush is meant more for painting than for waxing.  It’s not really big enough for waxing a large piece of furniture and the bristle are just a tiny bit too long and not quite stiff enough for a good waxing.  Now I mainly use this brush for white wax, and recently for the grey wax that I custom mixed.

Next I purchased this Purdy brush for waxing.


I thought the angled bristles would help get the wax into crevices more easily.  In reality the bristle are far too soft for waxing.  This brush is pretty much useless and I never use it anymore.

My next wax brush purchase worked out a little bit better.


Unfortunately, I don’t remember where I got this one or what brand it is and there are no markings on it.  This is like Mama Bear’s brush, it’s almost right but it isn’t perfectly right.  It’s a little smaller than I would prefer for waxing a piece of furniture, but I still use it exclusively for antiquing or black wax.

I finally found the wax brush that is ‘just right‘ with the large Miss Mustard Seed wax brush.


It’s the perfect size for waxing a piece of furniture efficiently, and it’s also the perfect size for dipping it right into the larger jar of Miss Mustard Seed wax.  It has shorter, stiffer bristles that work really well for applying your wax in a circular, scrubbing sort of motion.  You have to use some pressure to work the wax into your painted finish and this brush is perfect for that.

If I had to do it all over again I would skip wasting my money on all three of the former brushes and just buy more of these.  For any of you locals, it sells at Carver Junk Co for $26.  If you do a lot of waxing, it’s worth every penny.

Using a brush for stenciling.

I always use a brush to stencil.  I have tried both a small roller and a sponge applicator in the past, but in the end I prefer a brush.  In my opinion it gives you the most control over the amount of paint you are using and that is crucial if you want your stenciled design to be nice and crisp.  Remember to dip the brush in your paint, and then remove most of the paint on a paper towel giving you a nearly dry brush for stenciling.


It’s also important to have a variety of brush sizes available when you are stenciling.  With a big openings in your stencil you’ll want a big brush to cover that large area more quickly.  If your stencil is smaller or has tiny details, you’ll want a smaller brush.

You definitely want to use a brush that is intended for stenciling.  You need a brush with short stiff bristles and a completely blunt end for pouncing or stippling the paint on.

I purchased my set of Martha Stewart stencil brushes a few years ago and as you can see they are beginning to fall apart.  But I’ve done a lot of stenciling with them and I’ve also forgotten to wash them out right away and had to resort to letting them soak overnight which really is hard on a brush.  So this is not entirely the fault of the product, more my own user error.  I would definitely buy these again.  They aren’t expensive and are available at most craft stores.  In fact I may need to buy another set soon since this one is on its last legs.

Other brushes.

I do have a mishmash of other brushes on hand for some miscellaneous uses.


I like to use inexpensive flat brushes for applying sealers such as the Rachel Ashwell Clear Coat or the Miss Mustard Seed Tough Coat Sealer.  Let me specify that I mainly use both of these product to seal pieces before I paint them to prevent bleed thru of some kind.  At that point I’m not too worried about the quality of the finish, so an inexpensive flat brush will do.  I will also use this sort of brush to apply Fusion’s Ultra Grip or Transfer Gel or to coat a piece with stripper.  I write the use on each brush (sealer, stripper, ultra grip, transfer gel) and keep a separate brush for each product just to be on the safe side.  These brushes don’t last forever, but I don’t spend much on them so I’m OK with tossing them and starting fresh every now and then.

Let me warn you here against using the really super cheap ‘chip brushes’ that you find at most hobby stores for less than a dollar.


These things are awful.  They are not even worthwhile as a ‘disposable’ brush because they just lose too many bristles.  You’ll be constantly picking bristles out of your project with these.  Don’t waste your money.  When purchasing an inexpensive flat brush be sure to give the bristles a good tug first, if lots come off in your hand then pass that one by.

Finally, I’ll mention tiny detail brushes.  I always keep these on hand for a couple of uses.  First of all, I use them to touch up details on stencils.  Basically all stencils leave gaps in certain letters in order to hold the stencil together.  For example a “D” will have some gaps because otherwise that middle would fall right out of the stencil.  Does that make sense?  Well, I usually fill in those gaps to make the design look less stenciled and more hand painted.  This is a personal preference sort of thing.  And of course some designs are meant to look stenciled.  But sometimes you want to fill them in.  You can see an example of that here …


See how the A’s, the P and the D in Esplanade don’t have any gaps?  I filled them in with a small detail brush like the two on the left…


I use small flat brushes like the two on the right for painting details like the spoon carving on this dresser which is painted in a brighter white than the rest of the dresser to help it stand out …


These sorts of brushes are nice to have on hand and easy to find in any hobby shop.

You’ll notice that I’m not sharing any information about what kinds of brushes to use for applying a poly finish.  I rarely do a poly finish, but when I do I use a wipe on poly rather than applying something with a brush.  So I have no knowledge to share on what kinds of brushes to use with poly.  You’re on your own with that one.  Unless any of you want to chime in with a comment about your preference for a finish brush.

Otherwise, I hope you’ve found some of today’s information useful!  Be sure to check back on Friday to learn more about cleaning your brushes.

tools of the trade.

Recently I’ve had several requests for a post about brushes and what kinds work best for which tasks or products.  At first I demurred because I don’t consider myself an expert on brushes, and in fact don’t really have any technical knowledge about them.  But then I realized that I could certainly do some research, much like I did with my post about waxes.  Plus, I really have to give myself credit for the fact that I have painted well over 200 pieces of furniture … all with a brush!  Surely that experience counts for something.


As I started to think about it, I realized in fact that I had way more info to share than I could include in just one post so welcome to brush week!  Yeah, that’s a terribly lame name, but I really couldn’t come up with anything more clever.  Maybe you guys have some suggestions?  Anyway, today we’ll be talking about paint brushes.  Wednesday I’ll dive into brushes for other tasks such as stenciling and waxing.  And finally on Friday, the best ways to clean your brushes.

My goal is to keep this information completely unbiased so I’m not including any links for purchasing products, etc.  I’m sure that if you want to try something I’m writing about you’ll be clever enough to figure out where to buy it, right?

OK, so let’s get started.

I don’t know about you, but when I walk into my local hardware store to buy a new paint brush I am quickly overwhelmed by my options.


For goodness sake, look at them all!  And that’s just the Purdy’s.  There are so many options, so let’s talk about a few of them.

Natural v. synthetic bristles.

Somehow it seems like natural should always be better than synthetic, right?  That’s not necessarily so with paint brushes.  When using water based products like Fusion paint, chalk paint, milk paint or even just latex paint, you need to go with synthetic bristles.  Natural bristles will absorb the water in these products causing the bristles to swell and lose their shape.  Natural bristles are best reserved for use with oil based products.

Phew, that one was easy.  Just choose synthetic.


Nylon v. polyester.

Now that the synthetic decision is made, of course there is more than one type of synthetic bristle.  Nylon or polyester.  Both will work fine with water based products.  Nylon bristles will be softer than polyester.  When working with heavier paints, like a chalk paint, I like to use a stiffer bristle (ie. polyester).  I also prefer it with milk paint because I feel like it gives me more control over the paint.  In fact I really prefer a good stiff brush overall (wink, wink).  Except when using Fusion paint, then I reach for the softer Purdy Nylox brushes.  They give a smoother finish and are less likely to leave brush strokes.

 Angled v. flat.

Another choice you’ll have to make with a traditional paint brush (we’ll talk about those round brushes in a bit) is whether you want an angled brush or a flat brush.  I use an angled brush about 99% of the time.  It’s easier to get into those corners on the paneled side of a dresser like this one with an angled brush.


I do own one flat brush, but the only time I use it is when I’m painting something with lots of big flat expanses, like maybe a table top or a large chalkboard.

Does size matter?

Of course it does!  If your brush is too small it will take forever to get your piece painted, and if it’s too big you’ll have trouble with those little detail-y bits.  Plus the larger your brush, the more paint it holds and the heavier it gets.  In the end, my hand just gets too tired wielding a larger brush.  So I mainly use just two sizes of paint brushes.  I’ll use a smaller 1.5″ brush for painting narrow things like a mirror frame for example.  For most pieces of furniture I use a 2″ brush.  I almost never use anything larger than a 2″ brush for furniture.  I do have a couple of bigger brushes, but I use them for painting the house.

And what about those fancy round or oval brushes that are all the rage?

Yep, that brings me to the big round or oval brushes that you see so many furniture painters using.  They look so appealing in those youtube videos or in those really pretty pictures on blogs, don’t they?  I’ve tried to find some definitive data on whether or not they are preferable to a traditional paint brush for applying paint to furniture but the only reason I have found for using them is that they hold more paint and thus reduce the numbers of times you have to dip your brush to reload.  Theoretically they shorten the time needed to paint your piece, and perhaps that is true.  But as I mentioned above, the added weight of that paint on the brush is a problem for me.

I’ve never painted with these brushes, but I have used them for wax (more on that Wednesday).  However, I have this smaller 1.5″ version that Fusion sent to me quite some time ago that I’d never used (mainly because the 1.5″ size seems a bit small for painting furniture).


So I opened it up, got out some Fusion paint and painted this small clay pot just to try it out.


This is a mix of Fusion’s Algonquin and Casement that I happen to have stored in a Talenti sorbetto container.  The brush does live up to my expectations regarding the quantity of paint that it holds.  I was able to paint the entire outside of the pot with one dip of paint.  However, as soon as I started using this brush I felt like it was too stiff for Fusion paint.  It gave me a lot more brush strokes than I’m used to.  It was also tough to get into the interior bottom corners of the pot with that big round blunt end, an angled brush would have worked better for that.  Bottom line, I think these round brushes are best reserved for use on projects where you want to see some texture (ie. brush strokes) and/or are using a heavy bodied paint such as chalk paint.  If you want a smoother look, stick with a traditional synthetic brush.

One last note.  You might be wondering why I use Purdy brushes and not some other brand.  The honest answer is that the first brush I bought was a Purdy and I loved it.  So now I just keep going back to them without really trying any other brand.  They aren’t overly expensive and they are a nice quality brush.  I have lots and lots of brushes.  In the summer I’ve been known to have half a dozen projects going at once, which means I need 6 brushes unless I want to wash a brush between each coat.  And on the other side of the coin, I am also not very good at caring for my brushes properly so I don’t want to spend a lot of money on a brush and then have to toss it because I forgot to clean it (more on that Friday).

I hope you found some of this information helpful.  I can sum everything up by saying that if I had to pick one brush that I use the most it would be a 2″ angled polyester brush for chalk and milk paint, or the nylon version for Fusion paint.  You can get a good quality brush for $12 to $15.

  Be sure to check back on Wednesday for a post about brushes used for other tasks.