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How to Make a Paintbrush Holder and Portable Crafter Table

Anthony enjoys spending time in the workshop, kitchen, garden, and out fishing. Many of his DIY projects are featured in his yard.

DIY artist brush holder and crafter tray

DIY artist brush holder and crafter tray

Easy Organization and Storage for Artist Brushes

Every artist who paint with oils, acrylics or watercolors needs a simple system to store and organize their art brushes. Storing brushes upright protects the bristles and enables the artist to see the different types and size of bristles when switching between brushes. Grouping your art brushes together by size and by type makes it even easier and faster to find the right brush when you need it.

I used to keep my expensive brushes standing upright on their handles in a jar. This worked okay but the different brushes tended to clump together, making it a bit more difficult to select the next brush. I wanted a better solution so I made this simple container for my brushes.

Handcrafted artist paintbrush holder

Handcrafted artist paintbrush holder

This paintbrush holder is easy to make and is a great project for recycling or repurposing an attractive container. It is also an easy and inexpensive project, making a paintbrush holder a simple yet thoughtful project for a child to make as a homemade gift to a teacher, grandparent or parent who likes to paint.

How to Make an Artist's Paintbrush Holder

Inner circle of the paintbrush holder

Inner circle of the paintbrush holder

Step 1: Find an Attractive Container

I made my artist paintbrush holder from a tin container that came in a gift basket of chocolates. The tin is approximately four inches in diameter by seven inches high; large enough to hold my small collection of brushes. A quick look around our craft room offered several similar containers that would also make a good base for this project. Craft stores also offer a selection of durable and decorative containers. Or better yet, treat yourself to a tin of chocolates or coffee and save the container.

A custom-made stand is placed inside the container to organize the brushes, keeping them neat and vertical. I used different sized holes to group brushes by brush size and by function. To make the stand, I started by measuring the diameter of the container. Then I used a compass to draw two circles onto a thin piece of plywood that are slightly smaller than the inside diameter of the container. One circle is for the top of the stand to hold the brushes and the second forms the bottom.

I cut out the plywood circles using my bandsaw and then sand the edges smooth (a jigsaw would work fine too). I drilled a small 1/16" pilot hole in the center of circles, right on the mark made by the point of the compass.

Coins work well as templates for laying out different-sized brush holes. I used nickels and dimes to create a pattern around the circle that will become the top of the paintbrush holder. Once drilled through with 1/2" and 5/8" diameter bits, these holes will hold the brushes upright in the container.

Paintbrush holder

Paintbrush holder

Step 2: Make a Stand

The length of the wooden strip is determined by the height of the container: the combined height of the wooden strip plus the thickness of the two plywood circles should be slightly less than the overall height of the container. I cut a piece of scrap wood into a strip measuring approximately 6" long by 3/4" square.

The plywood circles are attached to each end of the wood strip with a small screw. A couple of coats of gray spray paint finished the stand before dropping it into the container. The container was ready to store my favorite brushes.

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How to Make a Portable Table for Artists and Crafters

DIY plans with step-by-step instructions for building a portable tray that lets you work on your arts & crafts projects at the kitchen table, on a counter or outside on a picnic table.

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Portable arts & crafts tray

Portable arts & crafts tray

Protect Your Table From Paint, Glue and Other Hazards

Like many artists, crafters and modelers, I do not have a permanent studio so I use our kitchen table as a temporary workspace for my arts and crafts projects. Protecting the table from spills and other craft-related damage was a challenge. I wanted a more durable solution than simply spreading out sheets of newspaper, so I designed this work surface. The portable art table is easy to make, provides a stable work surface for a variety of painting and craft projects. It also helps to protect tables and countertops from paint, glue and other hobby hazards.

My portable work surface features a tray for organizing tools and also includes an elevated "rest" for temporarily storing wet paintbrushes. A "stop" along the front edge keeps the work surface from sliding across the table or countertop. I use my portable surface for carving and painting shorebirds, moving between the kitchen table, an island countertop, a folding tray table and when the weather allows, to an outdoor picnic table. Make a portable art table for yourself, or as a gift for your favorite artist or crafter.

Front stop (side view)

Front stop (side view)

Step 1: Prepare the Tray Top

To make your portable craft surface, start by cutting a piece of quality plywood to a suitable dimension (the plywood in the photo is 22" long by 18" wide). Use a finished grade of plywood such as birch that has a smooth surface, yet is affordable and takes paint well. Spray several coats of semi-gloss spray paint on to both sides of the plywood for a durable surface.

Trim the back edge, front edge and one side of the plywood with a strip of hardwood to form a decorative edge. The hardwood edging not only looks good, but also helps to protect the plywood edges from chipping and splintering. The back and side edging is 3/4" square to match the thickness of the plywood. The front edging is 3/4" thick by 1 1/2" wide and extends below the plywood surface to form a "stop". Attach the edging with glue and finish nails.

Tool tray with paintbrush rests

Tool tray with paintbrush rests

Step 2: Add a Tool Tray

The tool tray is a simple box, with thin 1/4" plywood sides. Cut and glue additional thin strips of wood in place as dividers, with another strip used as a "rest" for paintbrushes. Attach the tray to the plywood work surface with more thin strips of plywood, and add another thin strip on to the bottom of the opposite side so that the work surface will lie flat and level.

Attach several adhesive backed felt feet to protect the tabletop when the work surface is in use.


Step 3: Add Nail Heads for Magnetic Anchors

Drive four short roofing nails with wide nail heads into the surface of the plywood as shown in the photos. Be careful to use short nails that will not penetrate through the plywood. If needed, cut longer nails to a suitable length.

Together with four magnets, the nail heads make handy hold-downs for a piece of wax paper "palette" for mixing and using oil paints. Rather then cleaning a messy palette, simply throw away the wax paper!

How to Clean Paintbrushes

Painting with oils is relaxing and rewarding but cleaning the oil paint from fragile and expensive artist brushes is messy and time-consuming. Acrylic paints are water-soluble and do not require solvents but they still require careful cleaning to extend the life of the brush.

Whether I'm painting with oils or acrylics, I tend to use a lot of different brushes. It's just easier to reach for another clean brush rather than stopping and cleaning one that's already covered in another color of paint. Besides, I'll probably want to use more of that color before I'm done. When it's time to clean up, I often have a number of different brushes that require attention. Oil paints are harder to clean but water-based paintbrushes also need careful cleaning to extend the life of the brush. Here are a couple of tips to make the task a little easier.

Step 1: Use Newspaper Squares to Wipe Off Excess Paint

Newspaper is inexpensive, readily available and works well for removing excess paint from the brushes without bleeding through. Paper towels may be more absorbent, but the oil paint will quickly leak through to your hands, creating another mess to clean. Newspaper is easy to rip or cut into sections approximately six inches square. I keep a supply of pre-cut newspaper squares in a plastic container as disposable rags for the cleaning process.

Use the newspaper squares to wipe the excess paint from the bristles of the brush. With a newspaper square in the palm of your hand, lay the ferrule and bristles onto the paper, and then wrap the paper around the brush. While holding the paper firmly, slowly pull out the brush and the newspaper will collect most of the excess paint. Repeat with a fresh square until the brush comes out cleanly, then properly dispose of the used newspaper squares.

How to Clean Paintbrushes With Katie Blackwell

Step 2: Swish in Paint Thinner

Note: Do not use paint thinner with acrylic paints.

Pour a small amount of paint thinner into a glass jar with a screw-top lid. Use an odorless, artist-grade thinner which is more refined than the common paint thinner from the hardware store. Swish the brush around in the paint thinner, removing more of the oil paint embedded in the bristles. Wipe the paintbrush bristles with more newspaper squares to remove most of the paint thinner.

The paint thinner can be used again and again; store the remaining thinner in the closed jar. The oil sediment will settle to the bottom.

Do not use paint thinner on acrylic paints. If using acrylic paints, skip this step.

Step 3: Rinse the Brushes

Rinse the brush bristles in the sink under warm running water. Let the running water pool into the cupped palm of your hand. Slowly turn the brush in the running water while gently pressing it into your hand to remove any remaining paint still trapped in the bristles. If needed, gently re-form the bristles back into their original shape.

Step 4: Stand the Brushes Upright to Dry

Stand the cleaned brushes upright on their handles to dry in your new artist brush holder. The clean brushes are now ready for your next painting project!

A Word From Bob Ross on the Joy of Painting

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Anthony Altorenna

Tell Us About Your Art Projects

Jessicacole1031 on June 20, 2019:

Hi Olivia I also had a similar idea because I didn't like the brushes rolling around. For travel you can always glue an elastic band to hold your brushes, for while working you can create a brush holder with clay and bake it. I also have a wooden brush holder from I travel everywhere with it, it might be what you're looking for.

Anthony Altorenna (author) from Connecticut on May 04, 2019:

Hi Olivia,

Thank you for your post. I use the tray on the right side of the table to rest wet brushes while I'm painting, and use the brush holder for storage.

I made my brush hold from a container that's 7" tall and 4" in diameter, and it provides good stability for the brushes. Perhaps you could add some weight to the bottom of your holder to increase its stability. A small handful of pennies spread across the bottom should add enough weight to reduce tipping.

Olivia Torres on May 01, 2019:

Great diy painting tray. I made the brush holder tho it keeps tipping over for me. Could someone recommend me a brush holder that lies the brushes down instead of standing it up vertically?

Beverly Rodriguez from Albany New York on January 01, 2012:

I really like the idea of the newspaper. I'm going to try that right away. Nice, informative lens.

LouisaDembul on December 12, 2011:

Now, this would be a nice project for the Christmas holidays! We'll make a brush holder for my mother, who is an artist.

Ronlove LM on November 23, 2011:

Very Nice!