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What’s in a Brush?

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You’d have to look pretty hard to find a nicer varnish brush than those sold by Epifanes, a Dutch company founded in Aalsmeer in 1902. Doug Theobalds is president of the U.S. branch, Epifanes NA, Inc. He’s also an experienced yacht refinisher and the author of the informative Q&A section on the Epifanes Web site ( I asked Theobalds for advice on choosing a brush.

“A high-quality brush improves the experience,” says Theobalds. Buy a natural-bristle brush from a marine store, not a hardware store. Brushes sold in marine stores have shorter, stiffer bristles designed for use with high-solids marine finishes, and will carry more varnish. Epifanes brushes have their bristles set in epoxy, but some manufacturers use vulcanized rubber, which is also good. Look for a well-made, stainless-steel ferrule and a hardwood handle.

Theobalds says to spend 15 or 20 minutes cleaning a new brush before its first use, and then using and cleaning it many times on less-critical jobs. It may take several cycles to get the brush really clean, he says. Use mineral spirits for cleaning the brush, then store it suspended in diesel fuel, in its own container. Before use, clean it again with mineral spirits and a brush spinner.

Theobalds suggests keeping dust out of your varnish by getting away from the dock: Find a quiet bay where there’s not much dust in the air, and lay on a coat there. “Let varnishing become part of your weekend,” he says. And store the brush in mineral spirits until you get home, then clean it properly. Mineral spirits are fine for short-term brush storage, but over the long term will cause caking in the ferrule. Diesel fuel is much better, he advises.