PS Advisor March 2005 Issue

PS Advisor: 03/05

Varnish Brushes
I can tell from reading your magazine (and the photos contained therein) that you take some considerable pride in varnish work. Do you use foam brushes, cheap throwaway bristle brushes, or expensive badger-hair brushes?

Dietrich Reimer
Tampa, FL


All of the above. PS makes a point of always having on hand a lot of brushes. We stock brushes for varnish, paint, glue, epoxy, dust removal, etc. They’re kept in a big drawer—to keep them clean and free of dust.

Foam brushes are fine for touch-ups and small jobs. We have them with wood handles; reusable handles with replaceable foam, and a bunch of little ones with metal handles, the latter we use mostly for glue jobs. The advantage of foam brushes are that they’re clean, they don’t pick up dust, and can do the job as well as an expensive bristle brush. However, they aren’t great for spreading good viscosity paint or varnish. They don’t hold much varnish, are often drippy, and they deteriorate quickly. On some, the stiffener inside seems to go soft. And, you can’t use them with some modern paints that contain trace chemicals that have an adverse reaction with the foam, making it disintegrate.

Cheap bristle brushes are fine for rough paint and varnish work, especially first and second coats that will be sanded smooth afterward. The "El Cheapos" tend to shed bristles, which can be annoying, and will mess up your finish if you use these brushes for the final coat. We consider them throwaways.

There are some good varnish brushes with tapered nylon or polyester bristles with split ends. We have several with “polyester/Chinese” bristles, and these ones have stainless steel bindings.

The prizes—and the ones we usually reach for to apply the final coat or two—are badger-hair brushes, which usually have a darker strip of color near the end of the bristles. Some are only "badger-style bristles," but seem to work well. Some say "90% BRISTLE, 10% OX" and we know not what that means.

One thing we’ve learned, for sure, is that when you’re down to the coat that you want to come out like glass, with not a single speck, blemish or brush strike, we use an expensive brush that has been used once or twice before, cleaned thoroughly, dried, and covered. That's the cleanest and best brush of all—better even than when it was new. Most bad varnish work results from dirty brushes, varnish that’s exceeded its shelf life, or varnish made dirty by the brush dragging dirt out of cracks and corners.

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Stove as Heater
My wife and I have used the same two-burner Origo stove on our Cape Dory 31 for over 10 years and are pleased with its cooking ability and its safety. Would you think it safe to use this stove as a cabin heater?

Jim Parmentier
Lincoln, MA


Alcohol is a clean-burning fuel and produces only about a tenth as much carbon monoxide as a cigarette. So, that very poisonous byproduct is not a threat.

However, because all flames use oxygen, the cabin should be ventilated (as with any device bearing a flame), to avoid the risk of oxygen deprivation. If you crack a hatch an inch or so, we feel you'd be perfectly safe. We'd use just one burner for heating, the same as is used in the Origo Heat Pal, which was among the heaters reviewed in the Jan. 15 issue.

We had an Origo two-burner stove with oven aboard our boat for years and it never, ever was a problem, other than being a mite tricky to fill. We regard these stoves as much better than the old pressurized alcohol ones. The burner is efficient and, while in use, makes no detectable odor.

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