Choosing a Spray Setup

Finishers kick around the perennial HVLP versus air-assisted airless question, and exchange detailed thoughts about the pros and cons of different spraygun makes and models. April 19, 2006

I have a one man shop and build high-end furniture for home theaters (solid and veneered sideboards and credenzas) and also custom cabinets, mantels, and finish carpentry (wainscoting, crown molding, bead board, etc.).

I need a spray system that will allow me to produce a flawless (I realize this depends on user's skill level!) and dependable professional finish. I would like to offer a lacquer or varnish for my fine furniture work, and also spray finish my painted pieces. I was initially interested in HVLP, something like the FUJI system. I have an article from Fine Woodworking in which the author built his own turbine (which is basically a 1, 2, 3 or 4 stage turbine used in vacuum cleaners) and mated it with a marine grade hose and a Devilbiss HVLP gun. He claims his system is superior to commercial woodworker systems like the FUJI in that the hose is more flexible, etc. I have also become interested in the Kremlin Airmax system. How does this system compare to the good quality HVLPs on the market? I realize the Kremlin is the cream of the crop, but does the HVLP produce excellent results? If so, which HVLP system is the best? I have seen FUJI 3-PRO going for $599.00 on Amazon. This is equipment I will be using once or twice a month. I do excellent work and I need to finish the job excellently.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor J:
I bought the Fuji Q4 about six months ago and couldn't be happier with it. In fact, this system finally got me to a finish I was satisfied with. That said, my work is sharply increasing and I will probably need to step up to a system like the Kremlin soon. But as for the Fuji, it's top quality all the way around. I use Target Coatings Ultima Spray Lacquer and the gun lays it down beautifully. I've also sprayed ML Campbell and Target coatings stain, Zinsser Seal Coat, Transtint Dye, Oxford Super Clear, etc. with it with great results. This is the first turbine system I've used, but I'm completely satisfied with it.
Don't worry about the hose being too stiff. Fuji offers a 6' flexible extension that makes that a non-issue. You've probably read reviews that said the gun gets hot in your hand. That's not true. I've sprayed for hours in August and that just doesn't happen.

From contributor A:
There is no question that the Airmix will deliver a finish that is nearly flawless. But can you flyspeck with it? Get both. Do you have more than one screw driver? There is no such thing as the perfect finish system. Every type has pluses and minuses.

Now, there is no proof at all that the Airmix is better than other air-assisted airless systems. Sata has one now. Asturo has been offering one for several years. CA Technologies is a company to look at. Most big factories are still using Graco air-assisted airless. Devilbiss is another company.

The point is that there have not been enough users of all those other AAA systems who chime in on this subject. There are some, but most folks who participate here are using the Kremlin (myself included). I would love to hear more about the other brands. The big and unanswered question is if there is something special and unique to the Kremlin or is it that air-assisted air technology is the issue from one brand to another.

On the turbine gun, make sure that you get a non-bleeder. There is a broad consensus that the best turbine gun is made by Accuspray. I have five of them. But my friend's Titan gives him an A+ flawless finish. The bottom line is that the better operator you are, the better your finish will be. That said, the Kremlin almost sprays itself.

From contributor J:
I am using the Fuji 3 stage and have been for about 5 years now. I find it works okay, but definitely go with the 4 stage if you buy the Fuji. The bleeder gun is not an issue at all for me and never has been. It seems like the people that dislike it the most are the ones that don't have it. If you're going to be using waterborne finishes, check out the Target Coatings website. They have a good article written about waterborne finishes and systems to spray them with.

From contributor T:
Assuming you have an air compressor, if it puts out enough CFM and/or has a large tank, you might want to look into conversion HVLP guns. They're available in siphon/pressure cup, gravity feed and pot fed. Under $100 for Astro, PC, and on up to hundreds for some Asturo, Binks, etc. Cheap enough to let you dedicate 1 gun for pigments and another for clears. Nothing worse than failing to get that stray particle of paint out of the gun chambers and having it decide to spit out of your gun when spraying a clear topcoat.

From contributor B:
Having just crossed that line, I feel qualified to voice my choice. I've used an Accuspray on a three stage turbine for several years. I don't shoot all the time; I'm a cabinetmaker, but I tried to teach myself all I could to get a good finish. Most of what I shot was okay, some not. Sags from time to time. I bought a Kremlin Airmix last week, and the finishing is night and day. I think the average semi-experienced finisher, like me, could get an excellent finish most of the time. I think the HVLP system has seen its day and the AAA is the future. You won't regret spending the extra money.

From contributor D:
If you can afford the AAA, I would without a doubt go that direction. In addition to that, I would go to the Grizzly website and order as many of their 29 dollar gravity guns in both the full sized and mini sizes as you can afford. They shoot very good patterns and are so inexpensive you can have a different one for every finish: WB, lacquer, precat, CV, stains, toners, sealers... without having to break down and clean before switching to something else. If you don't have the budget for the AAA, then get as big of a compressor as you can afford and spend the rest on the Grizzly guns.

From contributor R:
Contributor D, I think I recall you posting at least once before about a favorable impression with those Grizzly guns. Any thoughts on the new LVLP gun that I notice in this year's catalogue? I'm looking for a gun for stain (actually, Mohawk's ultra-penetrating dye) and am thinking the LVLP would be even better than HVLP (which is what I currently use).

From contributor C:
I'm with contributor A on the Accuspray. Their guns have a big edge over others of the turbine powered type. I think the Kremlin is even nicer for top quality of finish... but average job size, portability, easy cleaning and low maintenance costs (plus lower initial investment) make the Accuspray unit a better choice for my shop (maybe yours too?).

From contributor E:
Could some of you elaborate on the qualities that you feel make Accuspray the gun to beat?

From contributor V:
I am with contributor A on the Airmix systems. I have tried a few cheap HVLP systems and that might be the keyword - cheap. I have never ever been satisfied with the finish, no matter how much I adjust the gun or thin. I make very high end furniture and need a system that will lay a dead flat finish that I don't have to worry about rubbing out, and so far, the HVLP Airmix that you can use with a regular compressor has not let me down.

From contributor L:
With the Accuspray turbine guns, you can adjust the fan pattern from the back and not the front. By adjusting the fan pattern from the back, you can control the amount of air exiting the holes in the air cap on the sides. This will give you more control. As far as air caps, you will have to experiment to find the one that works best for you.

From contributor A:
I have three Croix/Graco 710 guns that are bleeder. I have five Accusprays - one is a bleeder and four are not. Those are my turbine guns. One of my Graco's has an aftermarket valve assembly that converts that gun to a non-bleeder. I have used the Titan non-bleeder. I do not like bleeders. In a different thread I commented on the issues of spraying chairs and stools. Bleeder guns make those projects so much more difficult. For onsite spraying and for some spray booth projects, the constant air coming out of the bleeder jets blows the masking paper off and also does this with installed cardboard spray shields. All in all, I say no thank you to bleeders, especially having been down that drafty and wind-swept road.

From contributor C:
The Accuspray has a unique design which allows much more air to pass through the gun. This gives superior atomization with the limited pressure supplied by the turbine systems. In addition, the versatility of the adjustments on the gun are amazing. I have dialed down my material flow and tightened my pattern to spray a one inch swath on muntins and then readjusted to normal spray settings moments later to coat the rest of the door. I sometimes fog on a fine mist and at others lay down a thick coat fully wetted at high speed. All this I can do without changing tips - just a couple quick turns of two adjustment screw valves at the rear of the gun. One controls the trigger travel (which is the setting that controls material release) and the other controls the air to the side ports on the air cap (which sets the pattern width). In addition, for even quicker adjustments, I can just control coating flow by using freehand trigger adjustment (my airbrush phase developed my skills for this maneuver). Other guns are just slower and less versatile with a smaller range of adjustment. Above and beyond all of this... my Accuspray is nearly always functioning as it should... something that I could only rarely say about other units I have experienced. In use at my shop, the Accuspray has recouped its entire cost several times over in savings on maintenance costs.

From contributor O:
I have a Graco 4900 HVLP (4 stage) and am very happy with it. I looked really closely at Accuspray before buying the Graco. It came down to service and parts availability.

From the original questioner:
I haven't made the decision to buy a system, but I have decided that the system I would buy is the Kremlin. It costs over $2000 for the basic setup, but from what everyone has said, it seems to be the Cadillac of the bunch. The Accuspray is getting a lot of good responses too. Its price is nearly that of the Kremlin, but the Kremlin has been around a long time and they invented the Airmax technology.

My philosophy on this is after spending 80-140 hours building a project for a client, I should have the best finishing products and equipment that my clients can afford. After all, they are paying for the material, my time, and the finish. I believe, in general, expensive tools are worth their price and then some. There is a reason they cost so much, and the ease of use, or superior results, justify their cost.

I have done some calling around to see who is the best finisher here in St. Louis (I found out he uses the Kremlin), and I am going to send this guy photos of my work to see what he would charge to finish them. That is an option I am considering. If the guy is an excellent finisher, it may be easier for me to develop a good relationship with him and just figure his costs into my prices. There are a lot of cabinet/furniture shops buying finishing equipment and finishing their own projects, but there are not a lot of finishing shops getting into building cabinets!

I have noticed on American Chopper and Overhauled that those guys are the best in their businesses and they always outsource their finish/paint work. They have found finishers that they can trust to do an excellent, dependable job.

I would love to have that Kremlin so I can spray anything I make (personal or business), though. My local Kremlin rep seemed like a very good guy who is willing to back up his product with excellent service and support. Another thing worth considering is buying local rather than some internet deal. It seemed that he would be willing to help me in the future with any problems that may arise.

From contributor Y:
I have in the past year invested in a CA Tech AAA 14:1 gun. The best move I ever made. It lays down a silky smooth Gemini conversion coating. One client who retired from GM says his cabinets have an automotive finish and feel. I have less than $1800 in this system. I already had the compressor.