Choosing an HVLP System

      Selecting the proper size and quality system for your shop. October 21, 2004

Question
We run a very small woodworking shop as part of our business, and are looking to set up our first HVLP system. We plan to shoot mostly NC lacquer and stains.

The new Wagner 4 stage HVLP units have gotten high marks from Fine Woodworking, but I am concerned about the quality of the gun, and the fact that there only seems to be one projector set available (#3). Also, I may want to use their turbine with other guns.

I have been looking at Accuspray, which seems to get universally high marks from everyone, and they have some comparably priced HVLP systems. Are these entry level units from Accuspray as good as the rest of their line?

Also, if anyone has had experience with the new Wagner 2600 or 2900 units, I would be interested to hear about them.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor R:
You don't say if you want a turbine system or just a HVLP conversion gun to pipe to your current air system. Kind of a big difference. For a turbine system, get at least a 3 stage, but a 4 stage is better. Many brands to choose from - Apollo, Accuspray, etc.

A conversion gun will require a good volume, clean, dry air system. Driers and filters with a gun may be a push in cost with a turbine system.

I use an Appollo turbine #800 3 stage with 2 guns. Very portable. You may want to look at a pot so you are not mixing all day. One quart goes fast when spraying a kitchen's worth of doors.



From the original questioner:
Sorry I did not make this clear, but our plan would be to go with a turbine system rather than use a conversion setup, since our present compressor is way too small.

Compared to the average cabinet shop, our volume would be very small. More like the equivalent of doing three or four kitchens a year, compared to the one or two a month that seem to be the average for a mid-sized shop. As I said in my original post, cabinet work is just one component of our business.



From contributor C:
I don't know anything about entry level systems from Accuspray, but their Ten gun is an absolutely amazing performer. I am unaware of any other turbine guns which can match it. I can give it my highest recommendation. I spray everything from wooden knobs to complete kitchens with mine.

Yesterday I sprayed a single baluster with it (custom turned to match a broken one on an old staircase). I used Breakthrough water base acrylic enamel in gloss white. Sprayed a coat on and wiped off my tip with a damp rag, then waited an hour, sanded and recoated, etc. till I had 4 coats on and then emptied my cup back into the can and rinsed out with the garden hose (about 3 minutes) and was finished.

You can turn the fluid volume down and spray very close and very slow with a tight spot (almost as delicate as an airbrush) or you can ratchet the air up a little, open the fluid flow and move at a very respectable production pace suitable for large doors and panels and hundreds of feet of moldings. I believe that this gun will outperform any other turbine guns with almost any turbine available.

When I first read the ad claims on the Accuspray website, I was rolling my eyes a little, but several years of use have converted me into a true believer. One user tip, though - keep a few of the one-way valve replacements around, as they do have to be replaced once in a while.



From contributor P:
How much air, in CFM, does your compressor supply? How large is the reserve tank?

There are some conversion HVLP/LVLP spray guns that work with small compressors. Conversion HVLP will give you more flexibility than a turbine setup and cost the same or less (even if you need to get a little larger compressor).



From the original questioner:
The only compressor is a small pancake unit which we use for brad and finish nailers. As yet we have not really seen a need to get a larger compressor and pipe the shop for air. That may change in time.

Also, it is my understanding that to use HVLP conversion with a compressor, you really have to make sure the air is cool, dry and free of oil, which means getting involved with separators, etc.
That is the reason we are looking at turbines. I have been looking at the Accupray 23k setup, where you get a three stage turbine and the recommended Ten gun for under $800. This seems reasonable. I guess the gun is made of a composite material and the cup is lined with Teflon, so there won't be concerns about corrosion. From the reviews I am reading, it seems that heat buildup in the gun from the turbine can be an issue.

I am pretty sure we will end up passing on the Wagner system, but I would point out that the Wagner 4 stage (the 2900) comes with a Capspray gun. Presumably this is an alum gun/cup with no lining.



From contributor G:
Sounds to me like you're about to spend a decent amount of hard earned money on a system you will undoubtedly outgrow. Why not buy the Kremlin system now instead of later?

We put the agitator lid on a 5 gallon bucket of lacquer, insert the wand and start to spray. Sometimes it sits unused (under pressure) for weeks and when it's time to spray again, we turn on the agitator for a few minutes, clean the tip (on the gun) with thinner and a toothbrush and go. A 10:1 pump system with an agitator lid will cost about $2300 and outperform any HVLP system.



From the original questioner:
This agitator system sounds interesting, but honestly, I don't see us ever needing to get something that big. We'll just never be doing that kind of volume, even if our business grew.

For now I would be satisfied with one good turbine and one good gun, and expand with additional guns as time goes on. Also, with HVLP, the high transfer efficiency and lack of overspray appeal to me.



From contributor K:
If you are going to spray lacquer, then a turbine unit is a poor choice. The problem is that the heat generated from the turbine will begin to dry the lacquer before it hits the surface. You then have to use a retarder to slow down the evaporation rate, which thins the material, and requires more coats. Turbines are better for oil based products where the heated air actually helps the material dry faster.

I have an older Capspray unit with either a 3 or 4 stage unit (I bought the turbine as a rebuilt replacement unit). Capspray is a good gun, but my unit collects dust.

I would suggest that you consider a low cfm HVLP gun with a pressure pot. Some of these will run off of a smaller compressor, and you may even be able to get into one of these setups for less than $800. Get a good hose set and gun, and send me the rest of the $800 ;') You will have more control with the pressure pot system.



From contributor C:
My unit sprays lacquer extremely well. The composite material of the body of the Ten gun seems weird at first but it represents a major advantage over other turbine guns. The bolt-together design improves access for (rarely needed) periodic cleaning, but also allows much more efficient airflow. Thusly, the Accuspray will atomize finishes much better than competing guns while still spraying higher volumes (greatly speeding up the painting process). I use an older Titan single stage turbine with my Ten gun and the only times that I have noticed more than a very minor heating of the air flow is when the turbine was left idling for long periods. I avoid that by turning it off when I am not spraying. The newer multi-stage turbines may be different. I have not used them, but I would ask your dealer about that. I have to laugh at the idea that you should "get at least a 3 stage but a 4 stage is better". It may be a good idea, but my Ten gun performs excellently with my old single stage unit (far superior to the Titan gun that I originally used with it).


From the original questioner:
Contributor C, are you using retarder when shooting lacquer?

I believe the rationale is that with more stages you get more airflow and more consistent pressure at the gun.

I noticed an older post here in the forums about the Fuji Q3 system. Anyone have experience with those? The Fuji gun looks a bit more promising, as it has a Teflon lined cup and stainless-lined fluid passageways.



From contributor I:
I am a home builder that purchased the Wagner 2900 HVLP system about one year ago after doing quite a bit of internet investigating.

I bought the 2900. Overall, I am pleased with the unit. I have sprayed ML Campbell Magnamax and Magnalac and have had no drying problems. Wagner tested out as one of the cooler HVLP units. I have also sprayed SW Waterborn Poly and Zipguard Satin finish. All of these sprayed perfectly. I have also used the gun to spray SW ProClassic latex trim paint. To do this, I bought a #4 tip from www.gleempaint.com. They make #2 through #5 tips for the Wagner HVLP units. I learned from the guy at gleempaint that the Wagner 2900 has the exact same internal components as the CS9100 from Capspray. The only difference is that the CS9100 comes with the Maxim II gun, which is a step up from the NBC gun that comes with the Wagner 2900, and the CS9100 has bigger filters and a longer hose.

I am pleased with the unit and think it is doing the job that it was meant to do. That said, since I bought my Wagner 2900 and have been hanging out at woodweb.com, I think I should have stepped up to something more. Here are my reasons:

1. We are constantly refilling the 1 quart cup. For example, when we spray interior doors, we have to refill the cup after about 4 sides of 2'8" doors (I'm talking entry doors, not cabinet doors). It seems we are spending more time filling the cup than spraying...

2. The gun seems to leak occasionally through the area where the feeder tube comes through the top of the can. I have tried a few things, but haven't been able to stop the leak. Kind of annoying.

Looking back at the Fine Woodworking article that I based my purchase off of, all of the units tested were basically "consumer" units. None of the higher end brands were represented. Also, when I made my purchase, I didn't think our volume would warrant something bigger. Now that we are basically spraying every component of our houses, I realize that a couple hundred more dollars would have been worth it to step up. A 2 gallon pressure pot would have been smarter for me. I think the Wagner is of decent quality, but I am probably the only guy on this site that is using one, which should tell you something.



From contributor B:
I don't think you'll be happy with HVLP. I found that in order to get the same atomization that I got with my conventional guns, I had to turn the air pressure up so high I'd get just as much overspray.
Before you waste your money, find out who your local Kremlin rep is and have him demo you a 10:14 pump.


From the original questioner:
Thanks very much for your honest evaluation. As I understand it, the gun sold by Wagner is for all intents and purposes a Capspray gun. I am glad to hear also that you have been able to shoot lacquer successfully with it without any serious problems. Sounds like you have really put some mileage on it.

Like you, I tend to go with recommendations from Fine Woodworking, as they are not far off the mark. I relied heavily on their cabinet saw test as a source of information and because of it decided to go with the PM 66 as a result. They were right on the money there as far as I am concerned.

That said, the units they reviewed in the HVLP article the were really targeted to the consumer rather than the professional markets. I would have liked to see units in the $600-$800 range, like the Turbinaire, Accuspray and others.

In general, associates have warned about using aluminum guns and cups, especially if we ever plan to (or have to) get into waterborne finishing, which is something to consider. This is why Im leaning toward the Fuji and Accuspray. Also, the Fuji 3 stage turbine is supposed to be much quieter and have very good filtration.



From contributor C:
I thin my lacquer but do not use retarder. In hot weather it might be needed, though. I do spray a lot of waterbase (Breakthrough, mostly) and I am using the standard aluminum gun and cup. I am sure that the stainless steel tubed gun is an upgrade, but not as essential as you may think. I have been using my unit for three years now in similar volume to what you expect to do and have experienced no problems with it at all (except the occasional need to replace the one-way valve to the pressure cup). As I use a hybrid unit myself, I would not hesitate to use the Fuji turbine with the Accuspray gun if I liked it better than the Accuspray turbine. I have discussed guns with numerous other finishers and have yet to meet an Accuspray owner who was not very happy with his equipment.


From contributor D:
The most important feature in a turbine gun is if the gun is a non-bleeder. Most turbine guns are bleeders. Consider Turbinaire. Their tech support is excellent. Wagner, Capspray and SprayTech are the same but with different names. They are all Wagner.

I have Accuspray and Graco (Sicmo/Croix) guns. I use a three stage Graco turbine.

The cold fact is that many, many finishers and refinishers are using turbine units for their spraying. And many of these tradesmen are laying down great finishes. All spraying systems have pros and cons. There is no one-size-fits-all. This will also include turbine spraying systems.

Who can beat the clean and dry air that you get from a turbine? Who can beat the portability? Sure, yet get a very thick air hose. And you have to hold the gun closer to your work than with conventional spraying or with a Kremlin. So what?



From contributor G:
If you buy your lacquer in 5 gallon buckets, why pour it into one quart cups? Even a 2 gallon pressurized pot is a waste of time. Transfer efficiency is better with a pump system; the resulting finish is better. I understand your reluctance to consider a different type of system - that was me, too, only I owned the HVLP system first. I have a Wagner/ Spraytech 4 stage turbine and at least 5 guns that I will sell to you. It's been collecting dust since I bought the Kremlin system. At the very least you should demo a Kremlin 10:14 in your shop first.


From the original questioner:
We don't buy our lacquer 5 gallons at a time. Until now, it's been more like a couple of quarts. You have to remember that cab work is just a portion of what we do and our volume is very low. Plus, the money we would spend on a pressure pot system is money that right now really needs to go to woodworking machinery, etc.

Moving up to a real spray system and using professional products is the next step for us and I doubt we will be buying more than a gallon at a time, so while I respect your opinion, I think HVLP is the way to go for us. We can invest in good quality guns now and if the need arises upgrade to a pot system later.



From contributor S:
Make that two people using the Wagner. I used the 2600 for a year and experienced the same problems/annoyances that you have. I am now using a Sata/pressure pot as my main setup and am keeping the Wagner as a back-up and on-site touch-up unit. The Wagner is good, but fussy and loud. I ended up lengthening the hose and relocating the turbine in a separate room. Another thing I didn't like about using a gun with a cup attached to it is that my arm gets tired after an afternoon of spraying. As for the heated air of the turbine, I thought the Wagner ran rather cool. I put my hand in front of the hose and the air felt cool even after a couple hours of use.


From contributor T:
I also have a Capspray 9100, among standard compressor with several gravity cup guns and a couple airless spray units committed to lacquer only. I don't have a favorite. Size of job and location determine which setup I am going to use. I have had my Capspray 9100 unit for a few years and use it regularly. It never gets hot at gun. I do prefer the Accuspray 10 gun - I have 5 of them, with different tip sizes I use for colored lacquers, shading, airbrushing and topcoating all simultaneously. I do thin my lacquer and rarely use retarder. Thickness of material has everything to do with how good they will spray. I can get a nearly perfect finish with these guns! They have a more precise and responsive feel. They also release more material with less pressure over the Capspray gun, which has a stiff trigger. If you are going to purchase a turbine, at least get a good one! 4 stage requires less thinner to shoot good finish. The 9100 comes with the best quality hoses out of any of the turbine units. The Accuspray 10 is the tops.


From contributor M:
I recently purchased a Fuji Super Pro 3. This is the 3 turbine unit, with the non-bleeder gun. (I just couldn't justify $100 more for the quiet Q3 version). This is a big step up from the Wager Finecoat that I had for years, but never really liked (too much orange peel).

I'm still learning how to use the Fuji, but I really like it. The non-bleeder gun doesn't get warm, and it has adjustments for both fan shape and size.

So far, I've sprayed some test panels with both Hydrocoat Resisthane and Oxford Ultima Spray Lacquer, and I love the results. The Oxford USL doesn't need any thinning at all, and levels very nicely.

Now, would an Accuspray be even nicer? Probably. But it wasn't worth an extra $300 to me. I'm just a part time woodworker looking to finish a couple of entertainment centers, and a master bathroom - I won't be using it in a production environment. So if I have to put on 3 coats instead of just 2, I don't mind.



From the original questioner:
For now, we've decided to go with the Fuji system, which has a quieter 3 stage turbine. The Fuji gun also looks pretty good on paper, with the stainless steel fluid passageways and Teflon-lined cup.

I figure this is a good way to get started, and as I am sure we will be buying guns in the future, we will probably get an Accuspray 10. If we ever grew large enough to the point that we would need the capacity of a pot system, I am sure we would, by then, be able to afford it.

I want to thank everyone here for their input. Also, I was all geared up to go with Mohawk sanding sealer and traditional NC lacquer, but the gentleman who mentioned the Target/Oxford USL prompted me to check it out on my own. Looks like an interesting product that plays well with HVLP.



From contributor V:
I am sorry for all the years and sweat I wasted on HVLP compressor systems. Ask for a demo Kremlin Airmix MVX gun before you buy anything. I wish I would sell these things, because they sell themselves!


The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor J:
I have used a Binks Mach1 for years in my booth and as a painting contractor, I recently decided to get my HVLP onsite. I bought an Accuspray 19 series gun and a 22cfm gas powered compressor with a 20 gallon tank that I attached some wheels to. It outputs a finish that has no rival. I run up to 200 feet of airline and attach a large air cleaning filter, then a presure pot. This setup will support just about any cfm requirements and will spray any material.



Comment from contributor A:
Perhaps you should consider outsourcing all of your finishing. I've been spraying NC lacquers and other finishes using a Binks HVLP system on shop air and as good as that is (and I will probably upgrade to the Kremlin), specs and reviews alone won't get you a good finish, especially with NC lacquer. Overspray, orange peeling, fisheyes - all of these and more await the finisher and without a good amount of time spent figuring out what combination of lacquer, thinner, pressure and flow rate relative to temp and humidity works, you will have a lot more trouble than it has been to figure out the gun/compressor choice. And money will be going down the drain as you try to correct these problems.

That said, the principal and perhaps only advantage of hvlp with turbine is profitability - if you will be doing a lot of onsite spraying, it makes the most economic sense. And like most things, for the same dollar you are paying a premium for portability and sacrificing quality somewhere else in the system.

Shop spraying is a different matter altogether. You don't need a huge or even big compressor to spray, especially HVLP - 20 gallons at 4.7 cfm and you should rock. $200 for such an animal? And you can shoot nails at the same time without skipping a beat. You only need a big compressor for air sanding and similar air-intensive activities. Sure, you'll need to make sure the hose running from the compressor angles back to the compressor to ensure condensate heads in the direction of the copmpressor and not the gun (and the problem is not gun corrosion but lacquer clouding). And you might have to spend $50 - $100 on the separators and other quick release fittings. The pressure pots are not necessary for you at this stage - I use the quart can (aluminum!) for all projects and since HVLP wastes less material, it is surprising how long it can last. And, as they say, thinner coats are better than slamming down heavy ones - and you might learn this the hard way along with dealing with the other problems mentioned above.

Finally, and perhaps more importantly, you have to worry about how you are going to get the tasty vapours of fresh NC lacquer (plus thinner) evacuated from your shop, reduce explosion potential, etc., and deal with dust in the air that will just add to your sanding time once the coat has dried. You could do anything from a small spray booth (a couple grand) to an industrial exhaust fan (subject to local environmental restrictions, which can be pretty strict, especially in California). But you do need something and spraying outside is not always the answer where weather and airborne dust, etc., get in the way.

So, if you go for it, good luck. If not, your time and money might be better spent paying a pro to do what may look so easy but (for fine finishes at least) is so easy to goof up.



I was the original questioner for this article, which I wrote about a year ago.

We did end up buying the Fuji 3 Stage system with the Fuji XT gun. We have been extremely pleased with it. The gun has turned out to be a very high quality unit, very reliable and flexible for use with a variety of finishes, though we are mostly still shooting NC lacquer and stains. The Fuji gun and turbine are very well made, and in the only time that I needed it, support form the manufacturer was superb.

Readers should know that we use our system solely in the shop setting, and that we built our own spray booth, all NEMA 7 compliant for the electrical and with filters for the incoming air and a protective filter for the fan (which also has an explosion-proof motor housing).

I admit I came into this with no experience as a finisher. Naturally, there has been a learning curve in terms of dialing in the gun for the best results with lacquers, but after a little trial and error, I have been able to produce consistent, professional results.



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