Handmade Tampico fiber nail brush. Oiled oak handle. 4” long x 1 ¼” wide. Bristles attached by hand with wire. Made in Sweden by the visually impaired. Also available: Handmade Swedish Bath Brush. (
The nail brush is a fairly recent invention, the first patent submitted in 1966 for "the cleaning of fingers and fingernails" on a hard working pair of hands. This one is made by a visually impaired craftsman in Sweden, using bristles from a plant as high as a human shin. Its leaves are so coarse it's commonly called the "shindagger," but it's the right texture for getting out grit and shining up nail surfaces without getting too rough around the edges.
The brush handle is made from oak, a hardwood chosen for its resistance to corrosion. The wood comes from local trees culled in forests near Stockholm.
The bristles, made from Tampico fibers of the Agave schottii plant, come from the deserts of Mexico. They are chosen for their stiffness and coarse texture, which make them suitable for polishing.
The bristles of the brush are painstakingly attached to the wood handle with stainless steel wire, which is woven in and out of the holes to hold the bristles in place. A single row of smaller bristles at the back of the brush allows for more intense scrubbing.
An Iris Hantverk craftsman weaving wire through a brush. Image by Iris Hantverk.
The visually impaired craftsmen who produce the brushes have typically undergone 6 months' training with a master before they begin independent production, and most of them have been making brushes for over 10 years.
The nail brush is easy to clean with warm water and mild soap. Stand it on its bristles to dry to keep the wood from splitting. Oil as needed with mineral oil.
Iris Hantverk, the manufacturer of this particular brush, opened in 1975 to employ visually impaired craftsmen. The tradition of employing the visually impaired to make brushes began in 1889, with the opening of the Swedish blind association. The association prioritized vocational training for the visually impaired, in crafts such as brush making and basket weaving, among others.
Many of the artisans typically make about 7-8 brushes per hour, depending on the number of bristles the brush has. The company uses all natural materials: handles are usually made of oak, beech, or birch, while bristles are often made of horsehair, Tampico fiber, goat hair, or piassava (bass) fibers. About 30 members work together to craft each brush by hand, using century old Swedish construction techniques.
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