See What Happens When Your Palette Knife Grows Old

And Why This Matters To Your Work

You need to know the when tools are wearing out

Some tools (like tracing brushes) are hard to ignore when they tell you they’re worn out.

With other tools, it’s not so clear …

… unless of course you know the signs.

The signs

OK, so do you see here these slivers of light beneath the knife:

stained glass palette knife worn out

Starting to wear out …

That light is a sure sign your knife is starting to wear out.

Wondering why this matters?


A worn knife matters because …

Let’s start by stepping back a bit.

Reason I’m writing this is, a lot of people don’t use their knife correctly.

  • Which means the warning signs don’t strike them.
  • Which means they’re wasting time and energy to get their knife to do the work it’s made for.

And the pity is they don’t know any better.

It’s true: your knife has two key roles

Number one

You use your knife to crush and grind your paint.

So it’s a heavy downward pressure you’re using here.

See here – like this …

Use the stained glass palette knife to crush and grind 2

Use the stained glass palette knife to crush and grind your paint

This kind of pressure starts in your upper arm and flows down through your forearm into your knife.

Yes, you bend your blade to crush and mix your paint.

Number two

You use your knife to push paint from one part of the palette to another, to clear a space, to manage your palette.

In a word: you use your knife to scrape.

Like this:

use your palette knife to scrape not sweep

Scrape (don’t sweep)

I say “scrape” not “sweep”, because I want to emphasise that “sweep” is gentle (like you could take all day), whereas what I suggest you do is scrape your paint where you want it as quickly as you can before it starts to dry again.

Please read on …

Now if all you ever did was crush and grind, the day would come when your knife would split near to where it joins the handle.

But it’s never happened to me yet.

I’ve never lost a knife that way, and I don’t believe I ever will.

Reason is, scraping kills your knife long before you can ever crush and grind it till it snaps.

See here: contrast and compare an old knife with a new kid on the block:

stained glass palette knives

It’s obvious who’s the fairest of them all …

See their different shapes?

What’s happened is the old knife on the left has been worn out by scraping.

And all you need to know is, the old knife gradually demands more time and effort to do the job its meant to do.

But most people don’t scrape properly.

Here’s how I explain it to my students

The whole point about a palette knife is to get things done quickly.

It’s not a subtle tool.

If it had a human job, I’d compare it to a SWAT policeman who just kicks down your front-door without knocking or asking to come in.

But like I say most people don’t scrape properly.

And so they use their knife like it were someone knocking timidly on your door:

Excuse me: would you mind if I came in? Please? Just for a moment? I do hope I’m not disturbing you …

So they take 12 or 20 scrapes to push their paint to where it’s meant to be when really they should have done it in just 4.

And why this matters is because all the time their paint is drying out.

So then, because they’ve taken so long, they must use their knife to push and crush again


Maybe you should check your knife today? Can it do the job it’s meant to do?


Stephen Byrne of Williams & Byrne the glass painters

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