10 Great Ways to Recycle Old Hobby Brushes

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Do you have a stash of old hobby brushes you don’t want to throw away? There’s a sentimental value to old brushes you’ve retired from the hobby of painting miniatures and models. Tossing out used brushes that have frayed or bent bristles seems like a waste. There’s a voice inside you that says to keep them. Maybe you’ll want to use them for something else other than painting models. Well, for the environmentally conscious or those just looking to extend the “working life” of your old hobby brushes, here are a few ideas to recycle the old brush guard.

In this article, I show you 10 ways you can recycle old hobby brushes. Your old hobby brushes served you loyally, so now perhaps you should consider rewarding them with a nice retirement doing something else.

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Do you have old brushes that need a new life?

Here are 10 things you can do with your old, ruined brushes that will help you in the miniature painting hobby:

  1. Dry brush
  2. Primer application
  3. Glue stick
  4. Sculpting tool
  5. Paint mixer
  6. Paint, primer, or varnish retriever
  7. Reamer for paint or glue bottles
  8. Kitbashing or scratch building material
  9. Stick for holding and moving small bits
  10. Cleaning brush

Continue reading for more details about ways to recycle your old hobby brushes!


1. Dry Brush

Any old brush can be repurposed as a dry brush. Dry brushing is an easy and fast way to paint the raised edges of miniatures (read more about the dry brushing method). The process involves taking a brush and loading pigment into the bristles. Instead of painting directly, to dry brush, you remove the moisture in the bristles. This usually means rubbing the bristles into a paper towel or other absorbent material.

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When the bristles are dry, you sweep, rub, or wipe the residual color pigments onto your model. Because there is almost no moisture left in your brush, the process of applying dry colored paint pigments to your working surface is termed “dry brushing”. The resultant effect of dry brushing is color deposits only on the elevated texture on a model. It’s a great way to pull up details and highlight miniatures with little fine motor effort.

Of course, dry brushing is an abusive way to treat any brush. And, if you were to dry brush with a new brush, you would quickly destroy it’s intended utility. If you have old hobby brushes that don’t work well anymore, your best bet is to try using them as a dry brush.

2. Primer Application

You can resurrect the use of old messed up brushes by using them for jobs that don’t need precision paint application. When you apply primer with a brush, you’ll find it easier if you can jab and poke the bristles onto the model. This way you can get the primer into all the crevices and deep parts of the model.

10 Great Ways to Recycle Old Hobby Paint Brushes - Ideas for recycling old brushes - reuse old brushes - recycle paint brushes - ideas to recycle hobby brushes - primer applicator

Jabbing and poking your brush to apply primer on your model is a fast way to get a complete primer coat over your entire miniature. But, the bristles won’t like it! Poking a brush tip at any hard object is simply a recipe for severely bent and frayed bristles. For old brushes you can’t use for normal mini painting, however, this is new role as a primer applicator is perfect. Poke and jab all you want as you apply primer.

I keep a set of ruined Kolinsky sables, size #1-2, just for primer applications on small areas of a model. Once in a while, I may have to do a touch-up on a chipped tabletop miniature. I use these old brushes to apply a bit of primer on that damaged spot, and restore the painted surface afterwards. It’s very handle to have old brushes in your toolbox for this purpose.

3. Glue Stick

The miniature hobby requires a number of different tasks, including assembly of kits and basing models. There are variety of glues and adhesives you need (here’s a complete guide and review of the best glues for miniatures and models). How do you apply some of these glues to your models? Some glues have nozzles and built-in applicators. Some don’t.

For cyanoacrylate (super glue) and PVA glues, you often need to find a way to apply these on small contact surfaces. In the past, I used toothpicks to transfer small amounts of glue to my model parts. But, this often resulted in a glue sliding down the toothpick away from the “tip” where I really needed it. It was a waste of glue and messy.

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Instead, I now use old miniature brushes for this job. The messed up bristles of synthetic or sable brushes work great as glue applicators, especially water-based adhesives, e.g., white glue. For cyanoacrylate super glue, you’ll want to use the rounded tip of the brush handle instead of the bristles (which will glue-fast together with CA glue). In case you were wondering, you can wash off super glue from brush bristles using acetone (the main ingredient in nail polish remover).

Overall, I love using retired size #0-000 brushes as glue applicators for a variety of model kit assembly purposes. They still have the tiny contact point you need for applying glue on flocking material for model bases, or fiddly parts on miniatures, e.g., cockpit windows edges, weapon bits. These brushes also have a bit of a reservoir belly to hold more glue so you’re not reloading glue as often. Keep brushing on the glue.

4. Sculpting Tool

Whether you’re sculpting with Green Stuff modeling putty, or filling gaps in your models, you need the right tools. Often, this means using dental instruments or silicone-tipped sculpting tools. But, why buy these sculpting supplies when you have a ready stash of old brushes you can repurpose?

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Whenever I need to work with epoxy putty to create molds or stylize a base for a model, I just grab an old brush and use the handle end as a sculpting tool. The round tip works great for pushing and manipulating the thick modeling putty material. If I need to shape the putty in a particular way, I will whittle the wooden brush handle with a hobby razor blade. I can turn the wooden handle into a sharp pokey stick, or into a spatula shaped tool. There’s so much versatility in an old brush, there’s no reason to trash them right way.

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For filling gaps in miniatures during assembly, I also use old brushes. My favorite gap filler is Vallejo Plastic Putty, which is a water-based gap filling material that comes in a small tube. To use this plastic putty, you apply a bit of it between the open gap on your model. Then, using your old brush, you can push the putty material around until you think you’ve gotten it where you need it. If you need to clean up any stray putty before it dries, dip your brush into clean water and simply wipe off the excess putty.

Because you’re using old brushes that were once deemed useful for detailed miniature painting, brushes you had a lot of experience with, you’ll still have the fine motor skill to know how to use the brush in its new life. It’s a no brainer.

5. Paint Mixer

Sometimes that pot of model acrylic paint needs a good stir. No fancy mixing tools needed (though you can find affordable motorized model paint mixers and shakers). Take your old brush and turn it upside-down. Stick the handle into the paint and swish it around. Ta-da! Your old brush has now become useful again.

To make your retired brushes even more effective as paint mixers and stirrers, you could also shape the end of the wooden handle with a whittling blade. I’ll often use the bristled end of an old brush as a paint mixer, too. Though in this case, I don’t use the brushes to mix in original pots of paint. I don’t want to contaminate any new paint with residual color pigments that may be stuck in the old bristle tuft.

Old brushes also make great paint and thinner mixers for preparing paint for airbrushing. When you’re airbrushing, you need to thin model paint. To do this, you either add a bit of water or airbrush-thinner medium to your model paint. For best results with airbrushing, mixing this paint-thinner cocktail is important. You can use the bristle end of the brush to stir up this mixture directly in the airbrush paint cup (the bristles won’t scratch your airbrush interior), or on your palette.

6. Paint, Primer, or Varnish Retriever

How do you get your paint, primer, or varnish out of its bottle and onto your palette? Some models paints come in useful dropper bottles, e.g., Vallejo, Reaper, Scale 75, Kimera, Badger paints. Other acrylic model paints use pots or flip cap bottles, e.g., P3, Citadel, which require you to dip a brush or other tool to get paint out and onto your palette. The same task is ahead of you with most brush-on surface primers or varnishes. Using an old brush to retrieve and transfer paint, primer or varnish from its bottle to a palette or working surface is an obviously great way to repurpose the brush.

Do you know the brush-care rule “never dip your brush into paint beyond the ferrule”? Well, you can forget all the brush-care mumbo-jumbo about with your retired brushes. No TLC required. Go ahead and dip your bristles deeply and satisfyingly into that bottle of paint or primer and take what you need. Who cares if pigments get stuck up inside the bristles, they are dead anyway!

I don’t know of any better tool than an old brush for getting paint or whatever liquid you need from an open bottle or jar to a palette. There simply isn’t anything more effect, clean, and darned obvious to use than the tufts of a brush for moving art mediums around.

7. Reamer for Paint or Glue Bottles

Ever get a clog in your paint or glue dropper bottles? That small nozzle tends to get crud stuck up in it from the dried material. I hate clogged dropper bottles. True, you could use a flimsy toothpick or dig around your office for a bent-out-of-shape paper clip. These tend to break or have weird springy behavior that you have to wrestle with as you try to unclog your bottles. Of course, you could also disassemble the dropper bottle to clean it out. But, that’s just messy.

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Stick the brush handle in a pencil sharpener to quickly re-tool the point for new uses.

Here’s another idea: you could sharpen the wooden handle of an old brush and make it into an effective reamer. I use a pencil sharpener for this purpose. You can use an electric or manual pencil sharpener. You got to have a pencil sharpener on your hobby desk, right? Good art brushes use high quality wood for their handles. They are sturdy and durable, and work doubly well when you use them to jam the pointy end at things.

Poke away with your pencil sharpened brush handles. When you’re done clearing the clog, simply clean off the tip of the brush handle. Or, merely re-sharpen the handle in your pencil sharpener again. It’ll be like new…well, an old kind of new.

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8. Kitbashing or scratch building material

The old bristles of a retired brush look a bit like tall grass or miniature vegetation of some sort. Wouldn’t it be great to chop off those old bristles and use the as part of a model’s base? Lop off a few bristles and glue the ends into the cracks of a model’s concrete, rock, or asphalt scenic base and you have insta-overgrown miniature grass. You could paint the bristles into any color you like, too.

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Use old brushes for scratch building, or kit bashing bits for your model conversions.

Do you need some bulk material to sculpt over? Take your old brush and cut-up the handle into small bits. Use the wooden handle parts as material to sculpt around with your modeling clay or putty. I’ve used the round brush handle to scratch build the pilings of a miniature boat dock. With a fine engraving tool, you can carve details and texture into the wood. Why throw out such great scratch building material you have in an old brush?

You’re only limited by your imagination. Take a new look at that old hobby brush and see what you can make of it. Do you need to kitbash an industrial-looking piece of terrain and need steam pipes? The brush handle diameter on most brushes are scaled perfectly for 28-35mm sized miniature scenics.

9. Tacky Stick for Holding and Moving Small Bits

Ever need to hold small model bits for glue or painting, but they keep slipping away? Here’s an idea. Take your retired hobby brush and attach some sticky tack to the end (or along the side) to hold those tiny model bits. Of course, I do have a handy soldering holder with clips and arms for assembly work, and also use the Citadel Assemble Handle.

But, in a pinch you can use your retired hobby brushes along with some sticky tack as a holder/handle for doing all sorts of modeling things, e.g., gluing or painting. You could stick multiple brushes with sticky tack on them, upright, vertically in a cup full of sand or uncooked rice. They will act as handles or holders for you to spray them in your airbrush spray booth.

As a related use for retired brushes, you can repurpose them for applying wet transfer slide decals onto your models. The bristle ends are soft enough for your to safely position the decals to where you need them.

10. Cleaning Brush

When you’re all finished painting your miniatures, you’re surrounded by a mess of things you need to clean. The hardest to clean are airbrushes and your water pot. For the airbrush, there are many places that residual debris and dried paint can build-up. You can use an ultrasonic cleaner to clean your airbrush. But, for a thorough cleaning, you may want use a manual approach on each airbrush part. Don’t use wired bristles, lest you scratch and damage your airbrush internals.

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Reuse an old brush to scrub and clean your other hobby supplies

Instead, you can use your old brush as a cleaning tool. The soft tuft won’t damage any of the bits you’re cleaning off. You can scrub and scrumble as much as you need to. Because your retired hobby brushes are likely small, you can reach into the nooks and crannies and really get things cleaned out!

Your water pot may also need a good scrub after a few painting sessions. Paint residue tends to stick inside those cups and containers, especially in the corners. The Citadel Water Pot is a major offender here with its washing ridges. A normal dishware brush may not reach those areas very well. Instead, take your old brush and get in there, cleaning out those hidden crevices in your water pot.

Better yet, you can then clean your old brushes again using the same proper brush care method you would with any other miniature paint brush. Keep your useful old brushes like new! There’s no reason to toss out good ol’ tools.


Final Word

Well, there you have it: the 10 great ways to repurpose your old, retired hobby brushes. If you’re environmentally conscious like I am (or simply a hoarder), then make sure you keep your broken, your tired, your weary brushes around for a new job. Shine a light on the old, because you can give them a different life.

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The New Colossus

I hope you enjoyed this article and I gave you some cool ideas for what you can do with your old hobby brushes. If you know of any brush hacks I missed, please let me know with a comment below!

Happy painting!

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