updated: Mar 7 2009

Squirrel Tail Paintbrush

A paintbrush with a wooden handle, brass ferrule, and squirrel tail bristles.






1500 - 1599



First Attempts

I was able to acquire some store-bought squirrel tails (thanks Rhydderch!) and experiment with making some brushes. Both of the brushes in the picture were made with bamboo skewers for the handle.

The bottom one was made first. The bundle of hairs was glued together and wrapped with thread, then clamped in the end of the ferrule. The top one was made by gluing the hairs to the pointed end of the handle, then wrapped with thread. The latter method does not require a ferrule to stay together. I haven't yet tried painting with either of these, so I can't say if they were actually successful.

added by Lorenzo Petrucci on Mar 7 2009


I was minded last night to check and see if period paint brushes actually had metal ferrules. A quick look at 16th century artists' self-portraits showed several instances (see links). The ones I saw were white metal (perhaps tin?), rather than brass, but I'm happy enough to work with what I have on hand.

The van Hemessen image shows ferrules about the same size as my aglets, while the Anguissola and van Swanenburg images show a much longer, slightly rounded ferrule that is actually held in the hand while painting. I think I will be aiming more toward the former than the latter.

added by Lorenzo Petrucci on Feb 19 2009

The Idea

When I was trying to put a hole into my prototype brass aglet, I accidentally attached it to the end of a bamboo skewer. I realized that this was the beginning of some sort of tool, but I didn't know what at the time. Eventually I realized that it was a paintbrush! I am now searching for sources for squirrel tails to supply the bristles. They seem to be readily available as raw materials for making fishing flies, and not terribly expensive.

added by Lorenzo Petrucci on Feb 5 2009