Brilliant/Stupid Stupid/Brilliant

Here’s something I’m good at: using a drill. Here’s something I’m not good at: cleaning. Not even cleaning my tools, which I know is sacrilege… but the truth is I’ve lost many a drywall knife to just sticking it back in the bucket of mud when I’m done and slapping the lid back on until it crusts over or rusts.

Judge me if you will, but the truth is the truth.

But something strange has happened in the last couple of months. Despite almost daily use of my drywall tools, everything has stayed clean. It’s like spic and span have taken up residence in my toolbox, and it’s a little unnerving actually. It’s not because I made a New Years resolution, or because I got  a brand new toolset for Christmas, or because I miraculously turned into a responsible adult. No, no, it’s because of this:


That’s right. A bucket full of water. With a brush in it.

I can’t tell you why this is ten times better than a utility sink but it is. Easier to use and easier to keep the tools clean– as evidenced by the pristine mud pans, drywall knives, paint brushes, and thinset towels.

In fact, there’s only one thing I wasn’t able to clean in the wash bucket: the thinset tupperware. And here’s where my brilliant stupid brilliant stupid original idea comes into play.

I still can’t decide if this is the smartest or stupidest thing I’ve ever done. It’s remarkable how often those two traits coincide.”


Yeah. That’s exactly what you think it is. Me in a t-shirt in negative-five degree weather, outside in a snowbank after ten PM, cleaning out the mortar bucket with a handful of snow.

And here’s the thing… if you can get it clean before your fingers go numb, snow is the ultimate mortar bucket cleaner. Everything compacts in to one nice snowball that can be easily removed from the bucket.

Am I all of the sudden dedicated to this cleaning shit or what?

The only downside here is that probably MysteryMan and my dad are going to disown me if they ever read this post.

The amazing and unhappy ending to this story is this; After I’d cleaned all the trowels, snow-cleaned the mortar bucket, made it back to the toasty warm garage and put my pajamas on, I realized I’d left a drywall knife uncleaned in the bottom of the wash bucket. The amazing part is that I put on my boots, trudged back through the snow to the house, and cleaned and dried the knife. The unhappy part is that after cleaning the knife, I exited the house in negative-five temps and used my damp hand to grab the metal doorknob and shut the door…

You’ve seen A Christmas Story, right?

So now I’m missing some skin on three of the fingers on my left hand.

12 Responses

  1. You silly butt!!! To make you feel better, I not only ruin most of my tools from improper cleaning, but once decided to lick the frost on our old basement freezer when I was about 10. I was yelling for my mom to help me for a long time and she didn’t hear me. It took a long time for my tongue skin to grow back. EW!

  2. Oh no! I would have done the same thing.

    Dirty tools drive me crazy since I come from a family of machinists. It does not drive the dude crazy b/c his theory is to buy new ones and throw away dirty ones.

    1. Yeah, I’ve totally fallen into the throw away vs clean mentality before. It’s not one of my better traits.

  3. Y’all are kidding, right? Why would you not want to take care of your tools? If it breaks or wears out, that’s life, but to just let it go to hell from neglect and then buy another! You know what the difference is between doing that and throwing away money? NONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!! …just sayin’.

    1. A lot of times I don’t think of it as “throwing away” money, but as paying a fair price for my time.

      In terms of dollars, it’s not always worth a half hour of my time to clean a $1.50 chip brush when I can create a better value than $3/hr working as labor on the house or at my day job, etc. And of course I always factor in which will be more fun! 😉

  4. YOWCH! Yeah, kinda gotta agree with Joseph here even though I only have a few tools, I keep ’em clean ’cause I don’t have moola to toss in the can! Okay, other than that you’re absolutely inspiring! 🙂

  5. Well, to each his own. Some of those tools–chip brushes are an example–are intended to be used and thrown away. The same is true of cheap plastic putty knives. I’ve used them for epoxy fillers that are hell to clean up and simply throw them away when the job is finished. But I also have a putty knife that I’ve had for some 28 years, and it is still in excellent condition. Why in the world would I use it once and dump it? Or throw away good paint brushes that can surely be re-used?

    Hell, I have a boar’s hair brush for oil-based paints that still looks brand new. I learned a damned near effortless method of cleaning brushes that are used with oil-based products, so I can clean it in a few minutes between coats of varnish, and give it a final cleaning (before putting it away) in seven minutes. That’s gotta be better than buying a new $30 brush every 24 hours! And I sure as hell would not buy a cheap brush so I could justify throwing it away, as you then get to spend an afternoon picking bristles out of the varnish every minute or two!

    1. Whats the secret for the oil based paint? I do buy extra cheap brushes and they do not last long!

  6. I learned this method at Palomar College.

    First, get a good brush. The best for varnish, pretty much, is boar’s hair. I have a 2” brush that cost me about $20 some fifteen years ago. The other ones I would recommend are Purdy brushes. Chinese bristle brushes will also work. But, the better the brush, the better it will varnish and clean up afterwards.

    Next, get three cans of turpentine or paint thinner. I have always used paint thinner, which is cheaper, and gotten good results with it.

    I will talk about varnish, but the same method holds true for any oil-based paint. I have used this method with oil-based primer. It is very difficult to get oil-based paint in California anymore, but if you can get it in your part of the country, go for it. I still think it does a better job.

    Before you use the brush, you must soak it in paint thinner or turpentine for a good fifteen minutes. It can be a longer time, but not a shorter one. Personally, I tend to err on the side of a longer time in the paint thinner can. I will usually plop it in the can first thing as I’m setting out the rest of the stuff for whatever I’m going to varnish. You want the paint thinner to go up into the bristles and into the ferrule (that’s the metal sleeve) of the brush. What this does is make it much more difficult for the varnish to take hold on the bristles.

    When you are ready to use the brush, you want to shake it out very vigorously. I hold it tight and give it full force FLIP, as though I had a bug on the end of the brush I wanted to fling off. Do this several times. When the excess paint thinner is off, you can use the brush as you normally would.

    1. When it is time to clean up, you plop the brush into the first can of paint thinner. Swirl it around; use your fingers to get into the bristles a bit. A minute or so will more than do for this. Most of the crud comes off into this can. Shake it out vigorously, using the method outlined above.

    2. Now go to the second can and do the same thing. Swirl it around; use your fingers to get into the bristles a bit. A minute or so will more than do for this. A lesser amount of crud comes off into this can. Shake it out vigorously, using the method outlined above.

    3. Now go the third can and do the same thing. Swirl it around; use your fingers to get into the bristles a bit. A minute or so will more than do for this. The smallest amount of crud will come off in this can. Shake it out vigorously, using the method outlined above.

    At this point the brush is clean enough to store overnight if you’ve just used it for the first coat. Put down lids on the three cans and save the contents. I use coffee cans. I cut a notch into the plastic lid for the third can so the handle of the brush will protrude and simply put the brush into the paint thinner for overnight storage. The bristles must be covered. I normally like the paint thinner about half way up the ferrule.

    The next day, use the same process throughout. When you’re ready to use the brush, shake it out excess paint thinner, varnish as usual, clean up as you did before. If I know I won’t use the brush for several days, I will use the last day cleaning method. If I’m varnishing the next day, no matter how many days I have been varnishing, I will leave the brush in the third can overnight.

    On the last day of the varnishing, use the same method of cleaning. When you have come to the end of the process, take the brush inside and wash it with dishwashing detergent, not the kind that is used in dishwasher, the kind that is used for washing dishes by hand. The instructor who told us about this used Dawn Detergent because it has a grease-cutting formula. He said he assumed others would work as well, but this one had worked for him. I use the same product and just keep it for this purpose, as we use other soaps in our kitchen.

    When you clean the brush, use hot water, get it wet, put on soap, scrub hell out of that rascal. I normally do it at least two times, sometimes three, but two times is normally sufficient. Rinse it very thoroughly with hot water. You will find that this brush will get completely clean. I fling the extra water out, as discussed above. Then I put the handle between my hands and spin it back and forth very rapidly to help get more of the water out. I then smooth out the bristles and wrap the brush in a paper towel overnight. The following morning, if you have a cardboard container for the brush, make sure to store the brush in it.

    Each trip to the paint thinner can will take about a minute. Washing the brush in hot soapy water takes about four minutes. I have actually timed myself a couple of times, and that’s what it came to. Total elapsed time on the last day: seven minutes.

    You can keep on using the paint thinner for quite a while. I won’t keep it if I’m done painting for this year, but if I know I’m painting this week and again in a week or two, I’ll keep the paint thinner. Just put tight lids on the cans.

    You can also recycle this paint thinner as it gets dirty. The crud will settle to the bottom of the can, and you can pour the clear paint thinner from the top of the can. When I do this, I put Number One can into a new Number One can. Number Two normally pours off in to One, Three into Two, and I would use new paint thinner for Can Three on an As-Needed Basis.

    This method has never failed me. Our instructor had a furniture business at the time and was forever refinishing furniture and applying new varnish. He passed around a twenty-year-old boar’s hair brush that had been in use all that time. It honestly looked brand new.

    The other true joy of this method is that I can now use a GOOD brush because, knowing I can keep on using it, I can justify the expense of it. And a brush that does NOT lose bristles on a regular basis is a godsend.

  7. P.S. If you try it and like it, feel free to do a blog on it with your normal pictures, etc. I don’t own the method, and neither does the instructor! I actually don’t know who came up with it. I just know it works.

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