Three-stage brush cleaner

Three-stage brush cleaner

3-stage.jpgCraig Smith wrote in with a brush-cleaning setup he created:

Did you know:

(1) Most people buy the cheap disposable paint brushes because they don’t want to clean the expensive one-coat brush, or have been burned before by losing an expensive brush to improper cleaning.

(2) Most people clean a brush poorly in a one soak paint thinner process, leaving lots of paint residue in the brush, therefore ruining it.

(3) Most people pour a cup of paint thinner in a jar, clean the brush (poorly) and dump the thinner.

I made a 3-stage paint thinner jar/rack system that eliminates all of this. The top board has 4″ circles cut out of it with a circle cutting bit, the bottom board has 3-3/4″ holes so the jars cannot fall through. Four dowels glued in hold the rack together. The jars should be filled no more than 1/3 full. After several weeks of sitting, the oil based paints will fall out/settle on the bottom of the jars. The now clear thinner can be carefully poured into a container, the settled paint sludge cleaned out of the jars, and the thinner poured back in. One quart of paint thinner will last me dozens of brush cleanings with excellent results, minimal waste and I’m now buying the high quality paint brushes for superior results to use them over and over.

20 thoughts on “Three-stage brush cleaner

  1. NLightNMe says:

    I’m confused. Why are there three jars?

  2. philtomlinson says:

    This was not well-explained, but the amount of color in the jars gives away their purpose. The way you use them is to first rinse out the brush once or twice in the first jar, getting most of the solids, or whatever finish you are using, out of the brush. (I usually use a brush spinner and a brush comb. Then work your way down the line, rinsing the brush in the second container a couple of times, and then finally in the cleanest one.

    Usually in a rotation like this, can three (cleanest) becomes can two at some point; can two becomes can one, and can one gets cleaned out to become the new can three with fresh solvent.

  3. craig says:

    The ‘3-stage cleaner’ title, and fact #2 that identifies a one soak process as not being good, should explain the 3 jars well enough, but I suppose I should have spelled that out. (it was early in the morning at the keyboard) Also a good idea is to slap the brush against a post between stages to remove excess paint & thinner like Bob Ross, do this in an area and with clothes that can withstand splatter!
    Although in 24 years of thinner in jars I NEVER had pressure build up inside a sealed jar, I cannot say with 100% determination that it couldn’t happen. So perhaps a finish nail pinhole in the lid or a razor knife v-slice in the lid gasket is wise just in case.

    1. RocketGuy says:

      Like Craig said, pressure build up is unlikely, unless the jar is stored someplace where it’s heated (in the sun, etc). A Mason jar can take quite a bit of pressure, just open slowly and away from your face.

      Volatiles/petroleum products should generally always be stored away from heat and sources of ignition (most typically water heaters or other gas appliance with pilot lights or piezoelectric sparkers).

      Personally, I’d rather have a closed vessel reasonably stored than a vent that will eventually lead to loss of material, and more importantly a potential vapor fuel source.

      But that’s just me living in a reasonable climate (SF bay area). If you live in, say, Arizona and don’t have a cool basement, you may wish to reconsider.

  4. Alexander Bell (painter) says:

    What do you do with the sludge that’s left over? I have a can in which I collect the sludge, which I sporadically dispose of this in the regular garbage, but I feel a bit bad about this because I know it contains lots of heavy metals and poisoning things that will eventually leach into the soil and water. Does anybody know what the proper way to dispose of paint sludge is?

    1. Niels says:

      In Denmark (where I’m from) the local authorities (municipalities) provide places where you (anyone) can dump toxic and hazardous waste. I am truly surprised to learn about a professional painter who does not known where to get rid of his toxic waste in an environmentally sane way. Is that really the state of things over there – that you just dump crap in nature because you don’t know where else to take it?

      1. Alexander Bell (painter) says:

        Hi Niels,
        Unfortunately that is the state of things over here in British Columbia, Canada. I just called the authority responsible for disposal activities today, and that’s still the case. They informed that unless I was producing large quantities of this waste (in which case I would have to contract a private disposal company) I should just continue to do what I have been doing, which is dry it out and dispose of it with the rest of my garbage. I’m not very satisfied. I was informed however that there is a program in place for architectural finishes, but this doesn’t cover artist materials.

        So, unfortunately, the short answer is yes. We dump crap in nature because we don’t know what to do with it.

    2. kevin says:

      Depending on your country/state, there should be a proper way to dispose of it. Look up household hazardous waste for your area, Most places either have collection centers or periodic roundups.

    3. Craig says:

      In many states disposing of wet paints is illegal, but dried paint is no different than tossing out old painted boards. Spread old paint and sludge onto cardboard, let it dry and dispose of it with regular trash. This acceptable method is for average household amounts, definitely not a large scale method of disposal.

  5. csmith1149 says:

    Jeff Gorton at The Family Handyman magazine likes to troll MAKE for ideas he can use and steal as his own. The May 2013 issue has MY IDEA here stolen and published as his brilliant idea. Keep trolling Jeff, lots of ideas here you can pass off as yours. (sorry to express my negativity, but I believe credit where credit is due is a virtue of class & character)

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My interests include writing, electronics, RPGs, scifi, hackers & hackerspaces, 3D printing, building sets & toys. @johnbaichtal

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