Fine Metal Brush Review

Some well-used fine metal brushes: Red Creek fine steel oval, Vauhti fine brass, Ski*Go fine steel, Holmenkol fine steel (left to right)

We’re very nearly ready to launch our tools program for the season – just waiting now for a shipment that is currently en-route from Sweden. In the meantime I’m providing a review of my favorite fine metal brushes. If you don’t have one of these brushes you probably need to review your brush selection.

Fine metal brushes have been around for years, but really starting to come to prominence in the US market with the introduction of fine steel brushes about six or seven years ago. These days the use of these fine metal brushes is commonplace, but I still see them misused. As background, let’s review the purpose of brushing skis in the first place.

With few exceptions, the goal in brushing is to remove all the wax from the base surface, and expose the structure. We also use brushes to polish and harden the surface of the base as a final step. This polishing step is as much cosmetic as anything else – but a nice shiny base looks fast, so it’s worth polishing.

Fine metal brushes are very effective at cleaning wax out of the structure. Their extremely small and relatively soft bristles do a good job getting wax out of nooks and crannies. Fine metal brushes are NOT good for removing gobs of wax left-over after an incomplete or sloppy scraping job. They will easily get clogged with soft paraffins and in most cases it is advisable to use a a stiffer brush for the initial passes after scraping (we recommend a stiff horsehair brush for that purpose). Once you’re accustomed to the appropriate use of one of these fine metal brushes you’ll find it very difficult to do satisfactory work without one.

There are two main downsides to these brushes; they’re expensive, and they can wear-out relatively quickly.  But they’re worth it.

Red Creek Fine Steel Oval – $65
Stainless Steel bristles, 0.05mm X 10mm.
I bought two of these brushes in 2006 and immediately started by trying to use them for everything. It didn’t work all that well. The got clogged with soft paraffin, and were slow to remove really hard paraffin. None of this is terribly surprising, but I’m a little stupid sometimes, and slow on the uptake. These brushes did very nice work when I had the patience to brush for a long time. But normally I grabbed a bigger (coarser, stiffer) metal brush and did the work with that. A couple of years ago when Eric Pepper was running the BNS mobile service I loaned these brushes to him and he loved them. So when I got them back I revisited them. This time around, armed with better understanding, I used the brush in an appropriate way and I really liked it.
It sits nicely in the hand (smaller than average oval brushes), and it does good work. The bristles are fairly short for a fine metal brush, so there’s not a lot of “sweeping” action, but it’s got good density and you don’t feel like it’s mushy on the base. It’s easy to use, and provides a nice polished finish after a short break-in period. This brush is now quite old, and while it hasn’t been used constantly, it deserves a lot of credit for weathering years of use and holding up really well. It can hold up to heavy pressure if you like to push hard on your brushes. It cleans the ski quickly, leaves very little residue, and a nice finish. Good scores on all fronts, and a nod for good durability. It’s also the only oval one, so if you like oval brushes…

Vauhti Fine Brass –  $50
Brass bristles, 0.07mm X 12mm.
This brush was a new one to me last year when Vauhti sent us some samples. I had been using the Ski*Go fine steel (see below) as my standard brush for the two previous seasons, and didn’t expect to find a new favorite. But it didn’t take long for the Vauhti fine brass to win me over. My previous experience really had me thinking along the lines of fine-steel being the answer, and I didn’t expect any brass brush to impress me. I guess the nice thing about being wrong is that it gives you a chance to be impressed by something unexpected. This has become my favorite brush. The bristles are slightly longer than the Red Creek or Holmenkol brushes, which makes for more of a “sweeping” action in the brushing – nice for getting into the small areas. The brush doesn’t require a break-in period, but as it gets a bit worn in the bristles spread out a little and give it nice density compared to other brushes. The downside of this is that it’s the most prone to clogging and smearing of soft wax if there is a lot of it left on the base. The nicest thing about this brush is the finish it leaves on the base is really shiny – almost fully polished looking without any polishing brushing. It must have something to do with the brass instead of steel. This is a very efficient but mild feeling brush with a great finish. My current favorite.

Ski*Go Fine Steel – (available from BNS)
Stainless Steel bristles, 0.07mm X 15mm.
I first encountered this brush in one of my first World Cup service trips, and it became an instant favorite. That was probably helped by the fact that I was already doing a good job scraping, and I wasn’t trying to use this as a first brush for all waxes. When BNS picked-up the Ski*Go line I grabbed a couple of these for ski service, and have probably used these brushes more than any others in the past few years. They have considerably longer bristles than the others, and so they feel very soft on the ski – the brush doesn’t really tell you how hard to push, and it’s easy to push too hard and just lay the bristles down flat. You don’t want to do that – it’s important to let the bristles sweep the base. If you use relatively light pressure this brush moves material quite efficiently and resists build-up of excess paraffin better than the others. The one downside is a relatively short lifespan – it tends to wear-out in about half a season of very heavy (OK, nearly constant) use. You can mitigate this a bit by making sure you reverse the brush periodically to avoid having the bristles all lay-down in one direction.

Holmenkol Fine Steel – (available from BNS)
Stainless Steel bristles, 0.05mm X 10mm.
John Dyste sent me one of these back before BNS picked up the Holmenkol line, and I’ve still got it. In spite of the similar bristle measurements to the Red Creek brush it’s got a very different feeling. This is the stiffest and most aggressive feeling of the brushes. The bristles are cut a bit unevenly, which might add some efficiency to the brushing, but also seems to make a sharper feeling finish. In spite of quite a lot of use this brush has never produced a very shiny surface – it always leaves the base looking a bit dull. But that is always quickly remedied with a polishing brush. Of these four, the Holmenkol is the last brush I’d grab for race service. But it’s a matter of personal preference, and I’d happily use it over a lot of other brushes. And sometimes, when I’ve got some work to do removing some CH4 or LF Green I’ll grab this one because it’s fast.

At this level comparing brushes is a lot like comparing different brands of 150 grit sand paper. Truth be told, any of these will work admirably. The important thing is the recognition that a bristle dimension of 0.15mm to 0.2mm will not get the job done when it comes to cleaning the structure in the base. Having the right tools is important – make sure you’ve got a fine metal brush and know how to use it!