A Sure Way To Get More From The Brushes & Tools You Have Right Now

We get a lot of questions about the brushes and tools we use. 

For instance, questions about the palette knife which keeps our paint alive:

Or the hake we use for matting:

Or the brush which serves us loyally for tracing long and lovely lines:

And on the one hand this is great. I’m thrilled by your willingness to spend money and invest in yourselves. I’d do the same. When I know someone who’s figured out the answer to something I don’t know, I’ll go and ask them. 

Yes, it makes good sense to seek advice. 

But – it also troubles me. 

It troubles me because sometimes people imagine there’s a simple answer. 

A simple answer in the shops.

When actually the best answer might be close at hand right now. 

Close at hand but difficult to see. 

And that’s my point. 

Often there’s a way to get more than we dreamed possible from an ordinary tool or brush. 

That’s what you’ll see today: how you can get more from what you have right now. 

The problem

So this is a detail from one of 3 projects we’re working on this winter:

A Detail From The Benson Windows

19th century English stained glass windows. 

Designed by a future Archbishop of Canterbury: E.W. Benson. 

The lead is maybe good for another 20 years. (The windows aren’t outside any more.)

The solder is strong. 

There’s some gorgeous broken glass which we’ll re-paint. 

And all in all the windows are an awful mess!

One big problem is the person who re-cemented them last century used building mortar, hard as rock, and then didn’t stop to clean it off.

The windows are as strong as you might wish but so encrusted with cement they cannot be enjoyed. 

We must find a way to cut away and clean the old cement. We want it so it’s flush with the lead and doesn’t obscure the viewer’s enjoyment of the glass.

Easier said than done. This builder’s mortar has had some 70 years to harden. 

The first attempt 

Now I’m sure I could spend long hours on social media …

… searching for the perfect tool.

But I decided I’d start out with what I have already. 

An old upholstery needle:

And the first thing I did was obvious and natural. 

I held this needle like I’d hold a pen or pencil. 

And the results were … OK. 

Or maybe “painful” is the better word. 

Sure, I cut through cement. 


  1. Dear heaven, this was SLOW. Not just slow the first time I went round, but slow because I had to go round again and again. Inefficient!
  2. The pressure hurt my index finger. Not something I would want to do all day. Not even for an hour. 
  3. There’s a risk the needle point will scratch the glass. Not acceptable. 

Which got me thinking. 

Why not work with what I have and just change the way I hold it

The answer

So instead of holding this needle like a pencil, you hold the needle like you hold a chisel when you’re carving wood:

Do you see what a difference this new grip makes?

Just by changing how you hold the needle?

  1. You cut back the cement and finish the job as you go round. 
  2. Your grip is relaxed, you can do this all day: no pain in your hand or finger. 
  3. No risk of scratching since you don’t bear down directly on the glass itself. 

An OK tool made excellent just by changing how you hold it

Is this the perfect tool?


It’s nothing special. 

It’s just an old upholstery needle.

But it’s what I have. 

And just changing how I hold it means I get done what I want to:

Now the brushes and tools we use here – the hake, blender, tracing bush, stick and palette knife – they’re excellent tools. We’ve tested them.

You must get them if you can. 

Especially the hake, which needs to be a large one by Ron Ranson. 

But these brushes and tools aren’t magic wands. 

They don’t work wonders by themselves. 

They’re simply bits of wood and metal we’ve learned how best to grip and move. 

And you: you might not have the world’s best tracing brush or palette knife or arm-rest. 

But whatever you have, same or different from us, you can learn how to hold it well and work the best from it. 

Maybe you do need to shop and spend some money. 

But maybe you can hold and move it differently.

Grip makes such a difference – that’s one reason we filmed so many videos for you inside Illuminate!

I hope you give time to how you hold your tools and brushes.

God’s speed to you and happy practising with different grips.