I finally broke down and purchased an HVLP spray gun for finishing my projects. I had been planning to purchase one for at least a couple of years now. I got really serious about buying one several months ago (when I got permission from my wife). I was finally pushed over the edge for two reasons.
The first reason is that I plan to use it to spray a shellac finish on the crib. Shellac is an attractive finish that is easy to repair and is also baby safe. I have heard that shellac is what they use to get that nice shiny surface on M&Ms. So it should be safe if the baby decides to chew on the crib. Shellac isn’t terribly difficult to apply by hand, but the thought of brushing shellac onto each and every one of the crib bars just makes me cringe. Regardless of my working preferences, I also know that I will be able to get a much better finish with a spray gun than with a brush.
The second and more important reason is that, with the new baby on the way, this may be my last opportunity to make a major tool purchase for a while. It is going to be difficult to lose my current DINK status (dual income no kids) . Although, at the same time, I am extremely excited about my new daughter on the way. Only two months to go!
It seems to me that almost all of the talk concerning HVLP guns in the woodworking community revolves around turbine systems. Most articles go on and on about various turbine systems and then, almost as an after thought, they interject with “By the way, you can purchase an HVLP gun that runs off your compressor as well.” But that is where the discussion ends. There is very little information on what to look for, leading brands, pros and cons of various setups, etc. Since this information seems to be lacking I figured I would share some details about the compressor powered HVLP gun that I purchased and the details of my setup.
I purchased a 60 gallon, 3 HP Ingersoll Rand compressor about 2 years ago. It is only a single stage compressor and it is not terribly expensive. I found my compressor on sale at Tractor Supply Company (which is a very cool store by the way) for about $500. Although my compressor is pretty high end for a hobbyist woodworker, it is towards the bottom of the food chain as far as high end compressors go. I purchased it thinking that I would use it for general purpose tasks, basic air tools, spray finishing, and maybe even powering a venturi based vacuum pump system for veneer or bent lamination.
When I began looking for a compressed air powered HVLP gun I started at Jeff Jewitt’s website www.homesteadfinishingproducts.com. I have heard nothing but good things about Jeff from the people I have talked with and the forums I have visited. As an added bonus, when you order from Jeff, he is the guy answering the phone and providing you with any advice or support that you may need. Although I could probably find a cheaper price I think it is worth a few extra bucks to support guys like Jeff.
I selected the Asturo ECO/SSP gun. Asturo is the leading spray equipment manufacturer in Italy and they have been in business since 1925. This gun is intended to be used with cups or pressure pots. Asturo has another model that is very similar called the ECO/S which is a gravity feed gun with a small cup on top. Both guns are the same price but the ECO/SSP requires you to purchase a separate finish reservoir. I paired the gun with a Qualspray 1 qt pressure pot that attaches to the gun. The 1 qt pressure pot can be purchased with a dual regulator that allows you to adjust the pressure to both the gun and the pot. This is a nice feature since it really allows you to dial in your settings to achieve a good finish. The Asturo ECO/SSP only requires 5.1 CFM of air flow with 21 psi at the gun (plus 10 psi for the pot). This is a very reasonable CFM requirement and one that any compressor of modest size should be capable of delivering.
The ECO/SSP can also be paired with a larger pressure pot that allows you to use the gun without an attached finish reservoir. A separate hose delivers fluid to the gun from the pressure pot which can be placed nearby. This is a great setup if you are going to be spraying large quantities of finish or spraying for extended durations. With a separate pressure pot the gun is extremely light and nimble. I opted for the smaller 1 qt. pot that attaches to the gun since I believe that I will probably end up spraying smaller quantities of finish for shorter durations. This system will be easier to clean up and is also a couple hundred dollars cheaper. However, it is nice to have the option to go to a larger pressure pot system in the future without needing to upgrade my gun.
The cost of the gun and the 1 qt. pressure pot was around $550 dollars. Although this setup isn’t cheap, when you compare its cost with the price of one of the nicer turbine systems it is very reasonable. For example, the Apollo 1025, which is the system that Glen Huey uses and recommends, sells for $1070 dollars on McFeely’s website. For that price I was able to purchase both a 60 gallon compressor as well as a flexible, high quality HVLP gun and pressure pot. Obviously, a nice feature of the turbine systems is that they are portable. You won’t catch me lugging my 300 pound compressor anywhere. However, if you plan to do most of your finishing in your garage or driveway, like I do, then portability is not a huge consideration.
Hopefully this post has provided some valuable insight to anyone considering a compressed air powered HVLP system. I know that I had a difficult time finding good information and recommendations on these systems. I have only taken my gun for a test run thus far but I will provide an updated review once I have had the opportunity to work with it for a little while.