Today, oil painting brushes are made from many different types of materials. Each material has of course advantages and disadvantages. Beginning as well as advanced painters should have some familiarity with the properties of these hair-making materials. Here I present the most used and widely available of these brush hair materials together with some of their properties:
* Badger Hair – Badger hair brushes are used for blending and have a long tradition. The hair can be found in many parts of the world but varies greatly in quality. It is thickest at the point and quite thin at the root and has therefore a distinctive “bushy” appearance.
* Synthetic Hair – Synthetic hair is of course man-made from nylon or polyester. The hairs can be tipped, tapered, flagged, abraded or etched to increase its paint carrying ability. The filaments are often dyed and baked to make them softer and more absorbent.
Some of the advantages of synthetic brushes are: 1) They are durable in the face of paints and solvents; 2) They are easier to clean than animal hair brushes because they are less likely to trap paint.
* Raphael Kevrin Mongoose Hair – Raphael Kevrin Mongoose hair is strong and resilient. It combines the strength of a bristle with the control of sable and makes a long-wearing, medium-to- high quality brush.
* Kolinsky Sable Hair – Kolinsky sable does not come from a sable but from the tail of a mink species found in Siberia and North-East China. In these regions, hair from the winter tails of males grows long and strong because of the extreme weather conditions. It is the best material for oil brushes because of its unusual strength, spring and snap (i.e., its ability to retain its shape). A Kolinsky sable brush can hold a very fine point or edge and a professional grade of hair. If properly taken care of, Kolinsky sable brushes will last for many years.
* Hog Bristle Hair – Hog bristle hair comes from hogs with the most sought after coming from China. Bristle hair forms a unique V-shaped split or flag at the tip and tends to have a natural curve. A brush with “interlocked” bristles, with the curves formed inward to the ferrule, has a natural resistance to fraying and spreads medium to thick paints smoothly and evenly. It is also a less expensive alternative to other good-quality hairs.
* Red Sable Hair – Red sable hair is obtained from a red haired weasel and not from sable. Quality and characteristics can vary greatly. A good quality pure red sable brush is a good alternative to the more expensive Kolinsky sable brush, with similar performance and durability. Note that weasel hair is often blended with ox hair to make a more economical brush, but, in the process, the fine point is sacrificed.
- Ox Hair – The best quality ox hair comes from the ears of oxen or cattle. It has a very strong body with silken texture. It is also very resilient and has good snap. However, it does lack a fine tip. The hair is most useful in flat shaped or medium-grade wash brushes. Ox hair is often blended with different natural hair to increase its resiliency.