Brush & Broom Materials
African Bass [Sherbro] (Raphia hookeri)
This fibre is obtained from Sierra Leone in West Africa, and whereas there used to be two areas where the fibre was grown, Sherbro and Sulima, we can now only obtain the Sherbro Bass or Piassava. The fibre is harvested from the leaves of the Bassa Palm which are cut, soaked and combed. The first commercial shipment of African Bass was in 1889 and emerged due to the failing supplies of South American Piassava.
The fibre is brought down in lighters from Bonthe on Sherbro Island (from which the name derives), to Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, where it is loaded into containers for shipment to the UK. As with the Bahia Piassava, the Sherbro is purchased mainly in bundles of undressed fibre which in the case of Sherbro are approximately 1.2m long. The fibre is cut, and oiled and dressed ready for brush-making. It is often mixed with Bahia and synthetic fibres. Sherbro Bass has quite good wearing properties, and does not easily crush or distort. It is used mainly in road sweeping and farm brushes, and does not lose its stiffness when wet.
Another West African fibre is Calabar, which was an African Bass grown in Nigeria. It was the stiffest African Bass, and as such was mixed with Sherbro to produce the best African Bass brooms, but unfortunately due to the Nigerian civil war, supplies became scarce, and this fibre is no longer used.
Aphandra (Aphandra Natalia)
The West Amazonian Piassaba fibre Aphandra is extracted from the palm Aphandra Natalia, which grows in tropical lowland rainforests in Ecuador and Peru close to the foothills of the Andes.
This palm has been known and exploited for centuries by indigenous communities for a multitude of purposes. Its leaves are used for thatch and for darts for blowguns, its male flowers are used for feeding domestic animals, the pulp of its fruits is used for attracting game animals, its seeds are used for making figurines etc., and most importantly the fibre from its leaf sheaths is extracted and used to make various brooms and brushes. This fibre is almost identical to “Piassaba” fibre extracted from species of Attalea and Leopoldinia elsewhere in the Amazon.
The Piassaba fibres from the Northern and Eastern Amazon have been known and amply documented in literature since they were discovered by western science in the 19th century. It was therefore surprising when in 1985 the west Amazonian Piassaba palm was discovered to belong to the group of ivory palms (subfamily Phytelephantoideae) that is distributed in the western parts of the South American continent (Balslev & Henderson, 1987).
As it turned out, all brooms made from natural plant fibre throughout Ecuador were made with Aphandra Natalia fibre, and many indigenous communities in Amazonian Ecuador had and still have important economic incomes originating from this fibre palm – but it was believed until very recently that it was a local phenomenon restricted to Ecuador.
A few years ago our company imported some Aphandra, which was ideal for semi-stiff platform brooms, but the supply was erratic, and none has been imported recently.
Arenga [Gumati] (Arenga saccharifera Labill)
Whilst this palm is widely distributed, the only source of brush fibre is Indonesia. The fibre is harvested from the Arenga Pinnata Palm. Gumati is softer and finer than Bahia Bass, but has similar excellent wearing and sweeping qualities. It does not crush easily or rot, and is very hard wearing and resilient. Brushes manufactured with Gumati are excellent for sweeping dry concrete and smooth floors such as in warehouses. Gumati has also become relatively expensive over the last few years, and is now often mixed with cheaper fibres such as Palmyra and Coir to reduce the brush fibre cost.
Bahia Bass/Piassava (Attalea funifera Martius)
Bahia comes from the state of Bahia in Brazil, and was first brought to Europe in cargo boats as packing between sugar cane. The fibre was left on the dock side, and some intelligent person realised that it would make an excellent brush fibre.
The fibre is a leaf stalk fibre and is harvested from the tree and can be up to 5m long. The fibre tapers from end to end, and therefore has to be sorted and graded before cutting.
The fibre holds water well and does not rot when damp, and is very resilient to distortion. These properties make Bahia the best fibre for semi-stiff yard brooms and platform brooms. Bahia is also widely used for chimney sweeps' brushes.
Bahia is an expensive fibre, and is therefore often mixed with Palmyras and/or synthetic materials.
It is interesting to note the origins of the usage of the term “Piassava” or “Piassaba” by which Bahia is generally known. The name derives from “piacaba” in Tupi, an Amerindian language, and modified by the alternate “v” or “b” in Portuguese. The name applies to the fibre and not the palm. The term is now also used in conjunction with Sherbro from Sierra Leone.
History tells of a brush maker in Liverpool, UK, in the 1840’s named Mr Bass, who was allegedly the first person to make brushes with Bahia. The fibre had been offered to him by a salesman who had brought it from Liverpool docks. This is an interesting story, but is not thought to be from where the term “Bass” was derived
The use of the term “Bass” almost certainly emanates from the early 1800s, and is probably a corruption of “Bast”, the material obtained by stripping the outer layer of phloem fibres from dicotyledenous plant stems. Such strips were widely used for tying the twig bundles in besom making.
Bassine/Palmyra (Borassus flabellifera)
This material is derived from the stalks of the Palmyra palm in Southern India mainly in Kerala State. The best material comes from an area around Tuticorin, and is available in various grades of stiffness. Bassine is inexpensive and durable, and its sweeping qualities are fair, but it is not resilient and may distort in use especially when wet. As with most of the other vegetable fibres it has good resistance to heat and most chemicals.
Bassine is shipped in bundles ready to use in a brush-making machine, which makes it very attractive to the brush manufacturer.
It is used in cheaper warehouse brooms, in mixtures for scrubbing brushes, and in cheaper household brushes and brooms.
This material is from the mid rib of the Palmyra Palm leaf. It is not used on its own for brush production, but is always mixed with other materials. It is used to enhance the stiffness of Sherbro Piassava, and the natural cane makes the mixtures more attractive due to its creamy colour, which is a good contrast to the brown of Sherbro. Dyed Cane is also available, which is also used in mixtures.
Cane and Palmyra Mixtures
Much of the Cane is mixed in India with Palmyra in different percentages, and is used in large quantities by brush makers to produce low cost yard brooms. The fibre sweeps rather poorly, wears quickly and is very unsatisfactory in wet conditions. It is sometimes referred to as “Grape” or “Apple” mixture, and these terms donate the mixture proportions. Unfortunately brushes made with this mixture are sometimes incorrectly described as Bass brooms, and this is a very misleading term, because a Bass broom has always been a broom which is manufactured with either Sherbro or Bahia Bass, which are both good quality fibres.
As the fibres are harvested and degrade naturally, it is very environmentally friendly.
Coco Fibre (Coir) (Cocos nucifera)
Coco fibre is the only seed fibre used in brush making, and it is obtained from the husk of the coconut palm in Sri Lanka. The husks are soaked, retted and crushed to extract the brush fibre; and the inner part of the nut is made into food products.
The Coco palm is very productive. The leaves are used for roofs of houses; the stems are bound together to make cheap local stiff brooms; the husk of the nuts produces brush fibre, mattress fibre and coir rope; the dust from the husk is compressed into blocks for compost; the milk is extracted from the nut; and the inner part of the nut is made into ‘Bountys’.
Coco fibre is inexpensive and has average wearing and sweeping properties and is liable to crush and distort, and is used mainly in the cheaper household and industrial brooms. Coco is mixed with other fibres such as PVC, Polypropylene, Gumati and Palmyra (Bassine) to improve its resilience, and reduce the cost of the other materials.
The Coco fibre supplied by our Company is unbleached, but waxed and double hackled.
Coco fibre is also dyed black. This dyed fibre is more popular in the UK than in other countries. Flagged Black fibre is specially treated dyed Coco fibre where the ends have been flagged or split. It sweeps better than plain Coco fibre, especially in drier dusty conditions, looks much more attractive and has a softer feel. The fibre is flagged at our factory in the UK.
Pig Bristle comes from China. For fine brushes bristle is taken from the neck of the pig, and for paint brushes it is taken from the animal’s flank. Pig Bristle is characterised by its stiffness and elasticity. The bristle comes from various areas of China such as Chungking, Hankow and Tsingtao, and is available generally in white, black and grey, but can be dyed any colour. The supply of bristle has become very difficult over the last few years. There are about 50 major dressing companies in China, but they have found that they can more easily supply their home market, which is booming. As the Chinese middle classes grow, so does their purchasing power. Another cause of the shortages is that the Chinese are now rearing pigs more for consumption, and the pigs with long bristle are not being bred so much.
The cost of bristle has risen inexorably in recent years, partly due to the shortage of supply, and partly due to the fact that the Chinese currency has increased in value, and the Chinese government has removed some export rebates.
The hair is clipped from the breast of the goat, where soft and springy hair is found. The hair is then washed and combed. It is durable, resilient and very soft. It is almost exclusively used in high quality equestrian brushes for bringing the final gloss to horses’ coats and for computer keyboard cleaning brushes.
Horsehair from Paraguay and China is durable and resilient, and is ideal for use in brushes for cleaning smooth floors and windows, and in cobweb brushes. It is also used in high quality equestrian brushes. The best horsehair is from the tail.
Madagascar Bass (Raphia Pendunenlata)
This is a leaf fibre from the Bonitra palm. The fibre is extracted by rotting. It is a rich ruby colour and is characterised by its elasticity and durability. The fibre is used for yard brooms and upholstery brushes.
Mexican Fibre or Tampico (Agave lophantha)
Mexican fibre or Tampico as it is also known, is a leaf fibre which comes from the spiny, cactus-like lecheguilla plant that grows wild in the semi-desert upland areas of Mexico. The fibre is extracted by scraping away the pulpy matter from the freshly cut leaves. This fibre distinguishes itself by its great elasticity and resistance to temperature change, as well as to acids and caustic soda, and its fineness for polishing and grinding. It is also very water absorbent, and non-electrostatic, so that the brushes remain dust free. The description ‘Tampico’ takes its name from the port in Mexico from which the fibre is exported.
There were problems with supply some years ago, mainly due to the rural exodus from the area where the fibre grows, resulting in a shortage of talladores (fibre pickers). This problem seems to have been mainly overcome but sometimes supplies are difficult due to weather conditions.
The fibre used to be a component part of all scrubbing brush mixtures, where it was mixed with Indian Palmyra, but due to the cost of the Mexican/Tampico, it is now often replaced by polypropylene. This has reduced the quality of the brushes, because Tampico’s best property is its capacity to hold water, which is 65% more than polypropylene.
Tampico is harvested from the wild plants, and is completely bio-degradable. The fibre is available in a natural cream colour, but is also supplied polished and also dyed black and as a grey mixture
Nylon Type 6 and 6.6
Nylon Type 6 and 6.6 have excellent sweeping and wearing qualities and are used in a considerable number of different types of brushes. Type 6 and 6.6 Nylons can be used in boiling water. Nylon tends to feel softer in wet conditions, because it has a high absorption level
P.V.C. (Poly-vinyl chloride)
PVC has excellent wearing and sweeping properties, but has a tendency to “flick” in use. It should never be used in temperatures greater than 65ºc
Polyester PBT has excellent wearing and sweeping qualities, and has a negligible water absorption rate, resulting in a negligible loss of rigidity when used in wet conditions.
Polyester has a high temperature resistance, and good resistance to most chemicals, and is therefore ideal for hygienic brushes.
PPN is very light and has good wearing properties. However it is a little “dead” in use and has poor recovery from crushing. It has a reasonably high temperature resistance and a good resistance to acids