Brushing polyurethane onto wood isn’t the most glamorous task in the world. But, if you are going to do it, you might as well do it right with a good brush. Don’t assume that an old paintbrush in the cupboard will suffice. There are different brushes for different products and effects. So, what is the best brush for polyurethane and what should you consider before choosing a product?
What is the best brush for polyurethane?
Before you rush out to get any old brush for easy application of polyurethane, you need to be aware that there are different recommendations depending on the type of product you are applying. Basically, you have three options here. They are,
- a) natural fiber brushes for working with oil-based polyurethane
- b) synthetic fiber brushes for working with water-based polyurethane
- c) foam brushes if you don’t like using normal brushes or if you aren’t sure what product you have.
Where possible, you should check the tin of polyurethane that you will be using for a better idea of its make-up and how it will perform. You can then use this information to pick a brush or set of brushes for the job.
Are foam brushes a good choice for polyurethane?
There are mixed opinions on this subject and it is no surprise that people get a bit confused over which type of brush to get. Some people like using foam brushes because you get a smooth application and they are pretty easy to use. This is a common choice for those that want to avoid brush marks in their work. However, there are others that can’t get along with foam brushes at all and find that they leave air bubbles. There is also an environmental issue with single-use disposable foam brushes.
This is where it is important to be realistic with any expectations of a product and know that your first choice might not suit your needs. You could use a great quality natural fiber brush on your oil-based polyurethane and not like the results or the application of the product. Be prepared to go for a Plan B if needed.
The uncertainty and range of views are why I have included a selection of different products from across the range. There are some natural fiber brushes, some synthetic fiber brushes, and some foam brushes. Before we look at those, let’s consider some important features of the best brushes for polyurethane.
What should you look for when choosing the best brushes for polyurethane?
1) Consider getting one high-quality brush instead of a value set.
There is a natural inclination to go for sets of brushes that seem to offer good value for money. In some situations, this will be the case and you will find plenty of brushes of different sizes for different projects. However, cheaper brushes can drop bristles into the polyurethane, leave poor results, and prove to be an annoyance overall. One single brush that is a little more expensive could have the quality needed for better results. It might be a better investment instead of buying a few cheaper sets.
2) A good size for efficient coverage.
Long and wide brushes will handle a larger surface area, which should lessen the time applying the product and lead to a better finish. However, you don’t want it to be too big and awkward for smaller pieces of wood. Check the listing to see how long and wide the brush is and if it comes in various sizes. Also, look at the angle and shape of the brush. Some are angled for better results in tighter spaces while others are broad for big flat surfaces.
3) Make sure it is comfortable to hold.
It is easy to focus on the bristles of the brush and forget about the handle. But, a smooth ergonomic handle makes it much easier to use the brush for long periods without getting fatigue in your hand. Also, look out for a hold in the handle so you can hang the brush up after use.
The best natural fiber brushes for oil-based polyurethane.
1) Minwax Natural 2’’ Brush
This first option is one that is relatively inexpensive as far as brushes go, but still more than some sets. This is a quality item with a nice natural bristle, a stainless steel ferrule to keep them all in place, and s smooth wooden handle that sits nicely in the hand. There are different sizes available from Minwax. This is their 2 inch option, but you can go larger at 2.5 inches or smaller to 1.5 inches. Feedback varies greatly from those that love it and had no issues and those that hate it and noticed shedding.
2) Purdy Ox-hair Flat Trim Paint Brush
Next, we have the most expensive of the lot. But, it might be worth paying more if this will provide better results on countless projects. The higher price comes from the use of extra soft ox-hair bristles for a better result. I like that not only are there different sizes to choose from, but that there is also an option between a flat brush and one with an angular trim. This should make it even easier to find what you need.
The best synthetic fiber brushes for water-based polyurethane.
1) Wooster Brush Polyester Stain Brush
Moving onto the synthetic options, we have a wide 4 inch brush from Wooster Brush. This company is popular with lots of buyers and high ratings. They also have a broad selection of styles. In this case, you get a polyester fiber from the bristles on the brush and a nicely shaped wooden handle. A bonus here is that the handle is removable for the option of adding a longer pole – only that pole isn’t part of the deal. Still, it is seen as a reliable choice for bigger jobs.
2) Wooster Brush Shortcut Angle Brush
One complaint that Wooster Brush does get for the wider model above is that it is no good for getting into gaps and doing any detail work. That is where this alternative brush might help. This brush has a series of white nylon and gold polyester bristles in an angled shape with a secure steel ferrule. The main difference here, however, is the small 2 inch handle that s meant to allow for better maneuverability. So, you might be better off getting both of these brushes as a pair to cover different needs.
The best foam brushes for polyurethane.
1) Wooster Brush Foam King Paintbrush
First in these foam options with have another popular model from Wooster Brush. What I like here is that his one looks more like a paintbrush than some other options. The product below has foam glued onto a wooden handle, whereas this has the ferrule to give the typical flat shape. This one is a 2 inch brush, but there are some that are larger and smaller. There is also the opportunity to get a 2-pack of each size. It seems to work pretty well. The only thing that I don’t like is the use of plastic for the handle rather than a more comfortable wood.
2) Bates Choice Foam Brushes For Polyurethane
Finally, I know I said before that it is better to go for a single brush than a cheaper set. But, that doesn’t apply so much to the foam brushes. You get a lot in this set with 20 pieces covering different sizes. You only get two of the biggest 4 inch brushes but there are 10 of the 1 inch brushes for finer work. The aim here is to provide better absorbency and an even coat with a smooth finish and easy application. The vast number of positive reviews suggest that they do the job pretty well. The comments about breakages are surprisingly rare.
Is brushing polyurethane better than spraying it?
Before we conclude, I want to put forward an alternative approach, just in case you struggle with brushing polyurethane and want a different method. You can buy polyurethane in spray cans. The advantages to this are that there is no need for an additional application tool and you can get some nice even coats. The downside is that you could overdo things if you get trigger happy and there are health and environmental implications. Also, this doesn’t really help if you have a tin of polyurethane to use up.
Finding the best brush for polyurethane for your next project.
There are some great products out there whichever type of brush you decide to go for. No brush is free from criticism and some just come down to taste. But, there are some quality synthetic and natural brushes that provide a smooth finish without shedding too many bristles. If you decide you prefer that idea of the foam brushes, don’t skimp too much on costs and look for those quality flat brushes where you can. Finally, if at first you don’t succeed, try a different shape, width, or material. The right brush is out there.