Enough Glue Brushes for 720 Years of Work - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Enough Glue Brushes for 720 Years of Work

 In Chris Schwarz Blog, Woodworking Blogs

I am fond of using acid brushes – sometimes called “flux brushes” – for spreading glue. And I have used the same acid brush for more than five years of daily work in the shop. I clean it after every use, and I put it in the same red Solo cup to dry.

This year we offered a few weekend classes in our woodshop and – no lie – my glue brush fairy-tale world came crashing down.

During the first class, a student threw away my glue brush after gluing up a carcase. I caught him. And, without saying a harsh word, rescued my little buddy.

During the last two classes, the students threw away five glue brushes. I was stunned. These were nice people. Many of them were obviously sensitive souls who cared deeply about their work and its context in a modern, throw-away culture.

I trim the bristles of my acid brushes to 7/16″ long – this makes them ideal for spreading glue.

Yes, I know you can buy these brushes for as little as 11 cents apiece, but that’s not the point. Why would you throw away a tool that has another five years of use in it, no matter how little it costs?

The same weird, uncaring attitude extends to screws and nails. (Note, this attitude is at first-world schools all over the world.). If students have a few extras, they sweep them in the garbage. Dude, someone made those things. They have huge potential in a future project.

Mind you, I’m not angry. Just confused. To deal with the problem, I’ve begun to think of the garbage cans as a purgatory for the real garbage. The things in the garbage cans have not yet been sorted for heaven (the nail cabinet) or hell (the brown trash bins).

I guess that makes me St. Peter of the true-beliver glue brushes.

This week I bought 144 glue brushes. By my math, they should last us 720 years. Wish me luck.

— Christopher “St. Peter” Schwarz


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  • hankgillette

    I’ve used the acid brushes, but my favorite tool to spread glue is an old toothbrush with soft bristles. They are essentially free, since they would be thrown away otherwise. A used one is actually better than a new one, because the used one’s bristles are splayed out, giving better coverage. Though soft, the bristles are stiff enough to push a pool of glue around, which I found hard to do with an acid brush.

    Also, if you are using an interior glue, such as Titebond I, if you forget to wash the brush out immediately and it gets hard, you can just soak it in hot water for a few hours and then rinse out the glue.

  • hankgillette

    My dad also grew up in the Depression. He worked in a lumber yard, and he would bring home the remains of wooden packing boxes, and my brother and I would be tasked with pulling the nails out and saving them in a can.

    Now that I am an adult, I do not do this. To get nails out of a board, you have to hammer them on the point, and to me, at least, I can afford to use new nails with a sharp point. Incidentally, my dad died with a small wooden keg half full of unused rusty nails.

  • tsstahl

    I must be getting really fourth rate brushes. I’ve tried washing them and they fall apart under the hot water from the tap. It is a bit of annoyance because it takes about a minute to trim the brush and knock the metal closer together before use.

  • wklees

    So, I took one of my old brushes and tried to trim it as you did. But not knowing how you trimmed it I used the shop scissors with pitiful success. It looked like the back of a javelina. I ruined my old brush. So, inspired to solve the problem, I took another brush and used a 1/2″ butt chisel. One whack with a mallet and Viola! It is so much much better for spreading aliphatic glue and gives the touch of an angel to hide glue. Thank you for the tip and all of your tips through the years.

  • billmurr

    Over the years I’ve amassed more hardware than most small-town hardware stores, and I’ve had to resort to the occasional consolidation weekends, to organize the treasure trove. I started in woodworking on the floor at the end of my grandfathers’ bench, straightening nails collected in a Prince Albert tobacco tin.
    As for the glue brush – I toss them after using Gorilla Glue, (because you have to) otherwise, I use my finger, and then wipe it on pretty much anything handy. I’ve been happily reusing that finger all my life, occasionally switching to another one, if I collected a splinter in my primary glue spreader.

  • damien

    I bought a stock of five, the four spares rusted away (apparently the metal part is not alumium)

  • jochnowitz

    I always thought of it as a generational thing. Anyone whose parents grew up in the depression of the last century will know what I mean. I could never pass a nut, bolt or washer on the street without my father stopping to put it in his pocket; as do I today. And when old things are put out on Thursdays, all the geriatric scroungers are out there trolling, and not because they need to.

  • Lanemike

    I have an entire organizer filled with such orphan screws, washers, and every other tid-bit you can imagine. I agree with the post above – this collection has saved me countless trips to the store. Nothing worse than losing 45 minutes for a $1 item!

  • ChuckTheNerd

    So, an inquiring mind wants to know… When you state, “I clean it after every use, and I put it in the same red Solo cup to dry.”
    … Is the process by which you clean it something you could share here?

    Is it simply running under warm water for 10 seconds or does it involve beating against river rocks under the midday sun for an hour?

  • Ksawoodworks

    I too suffer from this line of thinking. Which by itself appears very practical. Where I run into extreme problems is when I go through the trash at someone else’s shop. I “rescue/liberate” these very useful items such as 1x1x3 piece of cherry that has the potential of being turned into a drawer pull or shaker peg, etc. Now the real problem comes in. I have a huge hoard of “rescued” items in my 16’x30’ shop, and valueable work space can diminish to a single 2’x6’ workbench.

  • Jerndon

    I too have a hard time tossing material and sundry items. I never know when that lone #8×2″ flat head screw will save me a trip to the store to wrap up a project.

  • hernanc

    Awesome writing Chris and I have to say I really identify with your comments about people that throw away perfectly good things for no reason. Mind you I don’t live in the first world but still! 😉

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