Vintage Brush Knot Adhesive

Discussion in 'The Brush' started by PLANofMAN, Feb 21, 2017.

  1. PLANofMAN

    PLANofMAN Paperboy

    Article Team
    Let's discuss vintage (and modern) knots today.

    First a quick overview of modern knot adhesives. The most popular by far is two-stage epoxy, followed by silicone. Epoxy is a permanent adhesive, and silicone is a semi-permanent adhesive. Both are fairly modern adhesives in the history of brush making.

    Now that's over with, we'll look at historical adhesives, including ones that are still in use today!

    The earliest brush adhesive used was boiling pitch or tar. While it was easy to use, it had the disadvantage of being smelly, flammable, and it never really dries out to a solid. Early shave brushes were just wrapped bristles, dipped in pitch, plopped down on a chunk of wood, and then the wood and lower portion of the bristles were covered in leather and wrapped with twine or wire.

    In America, starting just after the turn of the 20th century, bristles were set using vulcanized rubber in the popular line of shave brushes sold by Rubberset. The company name was the product, a brush with bristles set in rubber. Other American brushes used plaster filled brushes, and their bristles were set in the traditional British manner.

    Wheat paste. Some of you may be familiar with this glue, which you may have used as children in school, making Papier-mâché covered balloons or pinantas.

    Simpson's still uses wheat paste adhesive, and the number of vintage Simpson's brushes that are still in use today is a testament to it's effectiveness.

    I believe that Kent, Morris & Forndran, Culmak, Vulfix and Rooney still use this traditional method of setting knots. Due to the secretive nature of English brush manufacturers, I cannot confirm this. Indeed, I would be unaware of Simpson's use of this adhesive, except for the postings of Mr. Young, a descendent of Andrew Simpson, and a master brush maker himself.

    Wheat paste is made from wheat flour, bleached/white works best, and water. Sometimes sugar is added to strengthen the glue. A small amount of copper sulfate is also added to act as a bug deterrent and preservative. Best of all, it costs less than $1 per gallon to make.

    Recipes are easy to find online.

    Wheat paste is also used to apply street posters, a practice called "wheat pasting," where a poster (what used to be called "broadsides") is quickly affixed to a wall. Nowadays, it is generally only used by guerilla marketers, activists, protestors, and graffiti artists.

    A skilled wheatpaster can affix a poster in seconds, using a brush and wheat paste concealed in a large fast food drink cup. The poster is usually rolled up, folded over, and concealed in the wheatpaster's sleeve. A quick coat of wheatpaste on the wall, the poster is slapped up, and another quick coat of wheatpaste over the poster affixes it more or less permanently. Sometimes they will slash the poster after it is affixed with a razor multiple times to make it harder to peel the poster off in one piece. If no one removes them, they will remain in place for years.

    Toulouse Lautrec absinthe posters were often wheatpasted in guerilla marketing campaigns at the turn of the century, and were so popular with collectors, booklets were printed with instructions on how to remove them from walls without damaging the poster.

    Wheat paste was also used to apply wallpaper. It was the all purpose glue of a previous age.

    Since it is so cheap to make, why isn't it still used by us? Well, for one thing, it doesn't work on synthetic knots. It needs a rough or porous surface to adhere to. Badger, boar and other natural fibers provide that surface. The slick filaments of modern nylon derived synthetic knots don't offer a good surface. Second, the paste must be used within several days. It doesn't keep. And third, it's time consuming to make. In today's instant gratification world, the thought of spending a tedious half hour stirring paste to make glue is abhorrent to the average McDonald's customer. :)
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2017
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  2. Jayaruh

    Jayaruh The Cackalacky House Pet

    Supporting Vendor
    That is a very nice write up. As you know I use both epoxy and silicone to set my knots. I have gone almost exclusively with silicone, but I actually set a knot with epoxy just Saturday. It would be an interesting adventure to actually make a knot from scratch. Thanks for writing this.
  3. PLANofMAN

    PLANofMAN Paperboy

    Article Team
    If that is a project you are interested in, China White (boar) bristle paintbrushes are about $10 for a good sized brush. I figure it has enough boar bristles to make at least two good sized knots. You might want to practice with dollar store brushes first.

    Edit: China White refers to the bristle type, not a brand name. China White boar bristles are premium quality boar bristles.
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2017
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  4. Jayaruh

    Jayaruh The Cackalacky House Pet

    Supporting Vendor
    Very good idea thanks.
  5. Carbide Mike

    Carbide Mike 9 Lives

    I have used industrial hot melt. ( glue sticks ). You can get them in everything from rubber like adhesive to dimensionally stable Delrin and anything in between. I like Jayaruh's way of using silicone as it is easy to reclaim the knot.
  6. Kizurra

    Kizurra Well-Known Member

    20170222_015115_resized.jpg I made a nice throwing hatchet/ tomahawk years ago and kept the leftover pine pitch used to lock the head in place. It works and holds up very well to all kinds of abuse. Is the old native method of pine sap, charcoal and in place of rabbit poo I used ground up dry grass. Drys solid, no smell but is definitely flammable.
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  7. John Ruschmeyer

    John Ruschmeyer Well-Known Member

    I love that term, "dimensionally stable". I know what it means in this context but the SF nerd in me can't help but picture a shaving brush which fades in and out of reality at inopportune moments (dimensionally unstable).
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  8. Primotenore

    Primotenore missed opera tunity

    Very interesting reading, thank you for sharing. :happy088:
  9. DaltonGang

    DaltonGang Ol' Itchy Whiskers

    I used a hot glue gun, recently, to set a knot. It worked great.
  10. TitanTTB

    TitanTTB Well-Known Member

    Knots in the higher-end brushes from the 19th century weren't glued directly to the handle, instead they were glued to a piece of cork or wood. The cork or wood was then tapered & fitted in the handle and attached though a hole in the side with a set-pin or screw, typically brass. When the glue invariably failed and the knot began to shed it was then re-knotted and the handle reused.
    Here are some brush handles from the Philadelphia 1876 Centennial in this style.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2017
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  11. TitanTTB

    TitanTTB Well-Known Member

    This is a Civil war era brush that uses the first method you describe.

    Last edited: Feb 22, 2017
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  12. mrchick

    mrchick Odd, Terrible Avatar

    Wow! Nice handles.
  13. PLANofMAN

    PLANofMAN Paperboy

    Article Team
    The leatherhead brushes were also called "army brushes." Very cool looking brush.

    That's really cool. I love learning new stuff. And I agree with @mrchick , very cool looking handles.
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2017
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  14. Carbide Mike

    Carbide Mike 9 Lives

    I was looking for a better way to explain it, but know what you were thinking and was going to say hot melt glues are always more emotionally stable ! :cool: For the shavers, that fade in and out ! :)
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  15. Redrock

    Redrock Well-Known Member

    Good post. Thanks for the research. I have restored a dozen or so brushes. Most all of the vintage knots were set in to some form of "putty". One was very brittle; light pink in color. After getting the handle cleaned, I tried two ways to set the new knot - silicone and epoxy. After trial and error, I prefer epoxy. Easy to use, good seal, good tight fit. I reckon you could use Liquid Nails or one of the other state-of-the-art glues.
  16. Jim99

    Jim99 Gold Water Shaver

    This is very cool information. Thanks!
  17. PLANofMAN

    PLANofMAN Paperboy

    Article Team
    That putty like substance was almost certainly wheat paste, possibly mixed with a bit of plaster of Paris or whatever they used to fill the plastic shells of those old brushes. My hardright brush had that same filler and putty like stuff.
  18. Carbide Mike

    Carbide Mike 9 Lives

    Sounds something like Durhams water putty.
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  19. Bama Samurai

    Bama Samurai with Laser-like Focus Staff Member

  20. Carbide Mike

    Carbide Mike 9 Lives

    Maybe they have a gluten allergy. :)
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