So what goes into making your very own shaving brush?
The short answer? A lot.
The longer answer is it depends on how crazy you want to get with materials.
Assuming you are already accustomed to working with a lathe and have already gathered all the necessary tools, the overall steps I use are as follows. Every artist is different however. If you are going to start making brushes, read and watch as many how-to videos as you can!
- Decide on materials
- Prepare your blank
- Turn the blank
- Finish the blank
- Assemble the brush
Decide on materials
So far, I’ve been working primarily with solid woods and “waste” wood which has been set in resin. I’ve also done a few 100% resin brush handles. Selecting or creating your materials is really where the creativity is introduced. For example, check out the brushes below. The one on the left is bamboo which has been dyed blue set in resin. The brush next to it has a walnut base but all the rest is clear or dyed resin with a few dice thrown in there. The possibilities are endless. If you can turn it on the lathe, drill it or carve it, you can turn it into a brush handle.
In addition to making a selection of handle materials, you will obviously want to decide on what type of knot to use. Options for knots are generally badger, boar, horse and synthetic. Sizes usually vary anywhere from 18mm to 38mm for the knot. The size is taken from the glue plug at the bottom. To see what options are out there, a good place to start is The Golden Nib.
Prepare your blank
When I’m working with wood, I’ll generally start with a 2″ x 2″ x 3″ block so I can drill different size holes for different size hair knots. This also gives me plenty of room to design the shape. For resin material, I’ll usually create the blank in a piece of 2″ PVC pipe. This helps eliminate waste as the blank is already round. For wood blocks, I trim off the corners so it is more round before I load on the lathe.
Once the blank is prepped, I’ll drill a hole approximately 1/2″ to 3/4″ deep in the center of one end using a Forstner bit with an appropriate diameter. For 23mm hair knots, I find a 1″ bit works out well. Before you drill into a blank, make some test holes in a scrap piece of wood to help gauge the size and depth you’ll need for the blank.
I end up drilling the hole on the lathe but some people will use a drill press. I just don’t have a drill press so lathe it is!
Turn the blank
Once the blank has been drilled to the diameter and depth I need, I will mount the blank to an expandable jaw chuck and pull the live center up to the end of the blank. Some people use different chucking methods to mount the blank to the lathe. Again, research on your own and find out what works for YOU.
Now that the blank is secure on the lathe, I’ll start roughing out the shape to get the shape and length I have in mind. Most of the time I don’t have a specific design in mind. That is the fun part. Just let the material “talk” to you rather than forcing a shape onto the blank.
Turn the blank at as fast a speed as you think it can handle. I usually am set around 2000 RPM. If you are working with a wood/resin mixture, have patience when you are turning the blank as transitioning from one material to the next can be tricky.
Finish the blank
The finish you apply to your brush blank will depend on personal preference (shiny, matte, etc.) as well as the type of source material. For raw woods, I’m currently enjoying working with EEE-Ultra Shine to get a good polish and then apply a finish of Shellawax Cream. These two products gives a nice finish fast.
For 100% resin brush handles, I usually just sand them down by going through a set of Micro Mesh sanding pads and then finishing with some Plastic Polish. This gives a really high shine to the handle.
For some wood brushes and wood/resin brushes, I’ll use CA glue (super glue) to build up a finish. The process is just applying a thin layer of glue, sanding, glue, and sanding until you build up a nice even layer. I’ll usually use 400 grit wet/dry sandpaper in between glue steps and then use the Micro Mesh pads and Plastic Polish for the final finish. When sanding on the lathe, I’ve found a slow speed works best.
These finishing options are just the tip of the iceberg. Test different things to see what works for you.
Assemble the brush
After you’ve applied the finish you desire, you are ready for the final step of assembling your brush. Essentially, it is just gluing up the hair knot into the brush handle you just made. Before you even open your glue bottle, do a dry fit to make sure the depth is where you like it. If it isn’t deep enough, drill a little more. If it is too deep, insert some thin shims in the bottom until you get the depth you want.
The knot is glued into the brush handle using epoxy. I use 15 minute epoxy and apply a thin coat to the plug and the base of the hole. You want to be careful not to use too much epoxy as you don’t want it coming up out of the hole and getting into the hair of the knot. Once you’ve coated everything with a thin coat of epoxy, press the knot into the hole and turn a few times to make sure the coat is even. Immediately clean off any epoxy that may be showing.
Once glued up, set the brush aside and don’t touch it until the epoxy is completely cured.
In case you weren’t sure. Having fun is the most important part of the process!