Published Jan 27, 2021
There are countless types and styles of brushes on the market that can be used in the pottery studio, but sometimes it can be hard to find the right brush for the job. So it can be a fun challenge to make your own pottery brushes. By making your own homemade pottery brushes, you can control the brushstroke qualities that are important to your work.
In today's post, David Gamble explains how he makes his own custom homemade pottery brushes. From selecting the right kind of bristle, to adding a hanging loop so the brushes can be stored properly, David walks us through this easier-than-you-think process. –Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.
Using the right tool for the job is always a good idea, but in ceramics, using the right brush is critical for creating certain marks on your pots. You'd have a difficult time trying to use a short flat brush to create a long thin line, yet when using the right brush, you can create that line without any effort at all.
Brushes are made from a wide variety of either animal hair or synthetics. The material affects how the brush loads and disperses a medium. For example, red sable hair is the best choice for watercolors and washes even though less expensive brushes can be made from camel, squirrel or horse hair. Stiff boar or hog bristles are good for oil paint, while in ceramics we tend to use hairs that load a lot of glaze, so we choose goat and China bristles (the industry term for hog hair). China bristles are normally longer and stiffer than goat hair.
By making your own brushes, you can control the qualities that are important and unique to you. Though manufactured brushes are made to perform well with certain media, as artists we tend to use whatever will work to make the marks we want.
For more fabulous mark making ideas, check out Amy Sanders’ DVD Creative Forming with Custom Texture in the Ceramic Arts Network Shop!
- Bamboo: Select pieces 1/4 - 1/2 inches in diameter. There are more than 1450 species with 450 species sold in the US, so there's a wide variety available! If you cut fresh bamboo, allow it to dry for a month before using for handles.
- Hair: I've found that deer and squirrel tail hair work well to hold and disperse the glaze. Squirrel and deer tails can be purchased at any fishing store that sells fly fishing materials to tie flies. Deer tail is packaged natural and in a variety of bright colors to imitate the color of insects. Also try dog, skunk, elk, fox, goat, etc. Note: Human hair is too limp to use.
- Dental floss: Use strong dental floss to tie the hairs together. Waxed dental floss is a bit more sticky and easier to tie. Non-waxed dental floss is a bit harder to tie but accepts the glue better. I prefer the waxed dental floss.
- Masking tape Sandpaper Hacksaw with fine blade White glue Needle tool Small drill bit (1/8 - 5/3 inch in diameter) Cotton thread/string
To begin making your brush, select the hair you're going to use and get an extra long piece of dental floss to wrap the bottom of the hairs. Four hands work best for this so get someone to hold the hairs as you tie them (figure 1). Do not trim the floss yet. Next, cut the hairs at the base. Start with at least one inch of hair. If you want a longer brush, deer tail hair can be 3–4 inches in length or longer if you use most of the tail.
Remember that you'll need to leave about 1/4 to 1/2inch of hair to glue and wrap together (figure 2), so if you want a 1-inch-long brush tip, cut the hair to 1 1/2 inch. Dip the cut end of the brush hair into a puddle of white glue (figure 3). Allow the hair to soak up the glue. Wrap and tightly tie the rest of the floss, forcing the base of the hairs together into a tightly bound tube-like shape (figure 4). Allow to dry before gluing into the handle. Choose a piece of bamboo that your brush hair will fit into tightly. Hold the bamboo behind a node like a brush to make sure it's comfortable. Bamboo is hollow between the nodes so decide how long you want the handle, and leave about 3/4 of an inch before you reach the node to create a natural ferrule you can fill with glue.
Wrap masking tape around the end of the bamboo where you plan to cut and use a fine-toothed hacksaw or jeweler's saw to cut the bamboo (figure 5). The tape keeps the bamboo from splintering. Sand both ends smooth (figure 6). Test fit the brush hair in the handle then fill the ferrule space with glue (figure 7) and force the brush hair into it. Use a needle tool to shove it in tight so that the dental floss wrapping cannot be seen (figure 8). Let it dry.
Drill a hole through the bamboo at the end of the handle using a small drill bit so you can add a thread to hang the brush up (figure 9). You can also sand flat a section at the top of the handle so you can write your name on the brush with a permanent marker. Tung oil can be used on the handle for a finishing touch. No other finishing or waterproofing is needed. Over time, the oils from your hand will give the brush handle a nice patina.
As an alternative, you can also split the bamboo ferrule with an X-Acto knife deep enough for the brush hair to fit in (figure 10). This works well if the opening in the bamboo is a bit too small for the brush hair to fit in. Place glue inside and insert the brush hair. Wrap the end tightly (figure 11) then place the end of the thread through the loop you have left at the top and pull the bottom thread until the end is pulled into the wrapping (figure 12).
Trim off excess thread and add a thin amount of white glue over the wrap. I've also heard of thin copper wire being used. With either method, once you've secured the brush hairs into the ferrule and the glue has dried, thread a piece of ribbon, twine, string or a leather strap through the hole at the end to create a hanging loop (figure 13). This finishing touch is just one more way to create your own special brushes.
**First published in 2015.