Brush making is a fascinating tradition that has been going on for centuries. Craig, one of the brushmakers at Handover, explains what goes into handcrafting an artist’s brush.
As told to us by Craig Morton
My entry to brushmaking was simple; my mum worked wiring specialist mop brushes. I went round with the dog to meet her from work one day and got dragged in. A man with a French accent was showing me all these things about how to make a brush and at the end he simply said ‘you come back in the morning’. My first day was the 2nd of February 1987 and I was only 17. My youngest son, Thomas, works here now, so he’s the third generation brushmaker in the family.
Handcrafting a kolinsky sable brush
First of all, I select the hair and get it to the correct approximate weight for that particular brush. The weight will be adjusted for each brush as I work. The hair is then combed through on the back (blunt end), primarily to straighten it, but also to remove any short hairs.
Next, the hair is placed, always point down, into a metal cannon (so-called because originally, they were made from empty shell casings) and tapped until all the points are level, on a hard surface.
The hair is removed and combed through again, on the pointed end to remove short hairs. A sharp knife is run across the top of the hair which draws out any blunt or turned hairs, so that all we have are the pointed tips. This is called dressing the hair.
The dressed hair is put into the ferrule to make sure it is the right fit. The hair is tapped down in the cannon once again. I take the hair out again and I tie a brushmakers knot around the hair (shoemakers’ thread was traditionally used and I still do use it). The hair can be shaped at this point – for a round brush, the hair is shaped into a dome. I pull the knot tight and cut the string.
I put the brush back into the ferrule and pull it out to the correct length. The right hand is given a soft tap onto the left and this helps bring the hair through. Finally, I wet the brush, check for any blunt or stray hairs and measure it to the correct length.
Many thanks to Craig Morton at Handover.
Watch our On Location film to see brushmaking in action:
- The Development of Synthetic Brushes
- How Coates Willow Charcoal is Made
- The Secrets of Making Jackson’s Professional Oil Paint