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How To: Prevent Brush Marks

how to prevent brush marksWhenever you are ready for paint on your next project, you may be thinking that the only way to avoid brush marks and get a silky smooth finish is to spray. While spraying is a great option if you are set up for it, it does come with its own set of issues, like masking the surrounding area and proper ventilation. Spraying is also not always an option in a lot of cases. Check out my previous post Brushing vs. Spraying Paint: Which is Best for more differences between the two.

What I’ll show you in this post is how to prevent brush marks, even while using a brush or roller. If you use these tips, you’ll get a sprayed on finish appearance just by using a good old fashioned brush. Your paint brush is your number one tool in restoration, I’ll show you the secrets to wielding it with power!

1. Sanding Prep

A good paint job always starts with the proper prep. Make sure any loose paint is removed and you’ve sanded the surface smooth. Apply a good oil-based primer and once that has dried, sand it with 120 or 150-grit paper until you feel a completely smooth surface. If you start with brush marks in the primer, then there is no way you’ll get a smooth surface for the paint.

Don’t forget to wipe off any sanding dust with a tack rag to make sure you have a clean surface for your paint and give the piece a good “feel test” with your hand before painting. Your hand will feel ridges and bumps more than your eye will be able to detect the imperfections.

2. Use Additives

Most modern paints (especially water-based) dry so quickly that they don’t have time to “lay down.” Whenever you apply paint with a brush or roller, it leaves a texture until the paint levels out and lays down.

Oil-based paints take roughly 8-12 hours to dry, so they are much better at leveling out and creating a smooth surface free of brush marks. Whereas most water-based paints dry in just 30 mins to 1 hr, which is nowhere near enough time to level out fully.

Using additives like Floetrol (for water-based paints) or Penetrol (for oil-based paints) slows down the drying process a bit and thins the paint just enough that it gives it that extra time it needs to lay down.

3. Consider Oil-Based Paint

Nobody seems to like oil-based paint anymore, but, I believe it still has its place in construction. Oil-based paints may be slow drying (which is annoying if you are in a hurry) but just remember that good things come to those who wait. Oil-based enamels level out beautifully and create a super smooth surface.

In addition to their ability to lay down better than water-based paints, they also provide a harder finish, which can be great for woodwork like doors, windows, and trim. If you’re unsure how to use oil-based paints in your project, check out my earlier post How To: Paint With Oil-Based Paint for some pro tips and guidance.

4. Tip Off

No, this isn’t basketball. Tipping off is a brush technique used to prevent brush marks. It basically helps you create smaller brush marks that are able to lay down better, resulting in a smoother finish. Combine tipping off with a paint additive and you can accomplish spray quality brushing with just a little practice.

Work in small sections and apply the paint quickly to the surface. Once the area is covered with paint, pull your brush across it at an angle about 45 degrees to the grain of the wood and then very lightly run your brush the length of the section across the paint, straightening out the line. From there, leave it alone to lay down.

5. Break it Into Small Sections

You have a limited working time with your paint and if you try to brush a section that has already begun to dry, you’ll leave awful brush marks. So, it usually works best to break your project into smaller manageable pieces and paint them one at a time instead of trying to paint the whole thing at once.

For example, on panel doors, paint each panel, then move to rails, and finally the stiles. This will allow you to maintain a wet edge, which basically means that you are only using your brush on sections that have recently received paint, and therefore, the paint hasn’t begun to get tacky. This is a big one!

6. Get a Good Brush

If you’re using a crappy brush, you’re gonna get a crappy paint job. You can’t expect good result unless you are using a good brush. New or old doesn’t matter, but it should be a good brand with bristles that don’t fall out or flare out either.

A good brush that is kept clean will work with you to make the job easier, rather than the old brush, which only makes things worse. Some brushes work best for oil-based paints and others are designed for water-based paints. Make sure you have the right type. For most projects, my favorite is a good quality Purdy!

If You Fail

The nice thing about painting is that if you fail to get the finish you wanted, you can always sand it down and start again. Practice makes perfect, and each one of these techniques will get you one step closer to a professional finish without the cost or hassle of spraying. Good luck!

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6 thoughts on “How To: Prevent Brush Marks

  1. I always use oil-based primer for wood, but I just can’t get down with the yellowing that happens with oil-based finish paint. I recently found an amazing Benjamin Moore paint that appears to be everything I’ve been looking for. It’s called Scuff-X, because it also protects against scuff marks, but I haven’t really put that to the test yet. It lays down like butter, dries quickly (but not so quickly that it flashes like some similar paints I’ve tried), and is about as close to an enamel finish that you can get with water-based paint. It hasn’t been long enough to see if it yellows, but from what I understand about the chemical makeup, it shouldn’t. I found this one after I had issues with water-based alkyds (ahem, SW) yellowing on me.

  2. Well Thank you very much. The FOURTH try this morning on my coffee table, and with your advise it turned out a treat! I brushed 45 degrees then straight. No brush marks.

      1. I hear some people in painting sometimes do a technique to minimize brush marks.

        I was taught by a craftsman painter about using the brush to go into the grain of the wood putting the brush stroke into the wood showing off the wood. I understood this to be the real craftsman way to paint wood.

        I asked that craftsman painter about spraying. He said the point of having wood is to show it off and spraying covers it up. You brush all the wood.

  3. I have paper below a dado rail. I have started to gloss it red and it’s starting to look good apart from numerous brush Mark’s:(

  4. I love oil based paint – I wish it were still available in Canada. I don’t find water based paint (for woodwork) very durable and it is very difficult to not get brushmarks. Environmentally I think oil based was better because at least you could clean your brushes and take the waste to a chemical garbage depot. People clean their water based paint off their brushes by using the sink and it all goes into the septic or the sewer .
    I’ve yet to find any water based paint or stain that doesn’t need recoatkng after 3 years, whereas oil based lasted for 10.

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