Low-Budget Spray Guns

Finishers mull over lower-cost spray guns and what they're good for. November 13, 2005

Every once in a while, a topic comes up about people wanting to buy a spray setup, but they have a tight budget. Usually, the Asturo guns get brought up, but I would like to throw some more in the ring.

For my primary equipment, I use an Asturo AAA for most of my spraying and have an Asturo legend cup gun for smaller jobs. They both are fantastic, but not at all cheap. I also have a few cup guns and one of the Porter Cable HVLP top cup guns.

When the plastic Asturo cups get worn and need replacing, they cost me about 32 bucks plus shipping. I saw guns in a Grizzly catalog that looked like clones of the 90 dollar Porter Cable gun, but they were 47 dollars, and another model that looked similar for 20 dollars. What the heck? I ordered one of each plus one of the mini top cup guns for touchups to see how they worked. If nothing else, I can just switch the cups with the Asturo and PC and throw away the guns, for that price.

This weekend, I got to try out the 20 dollar gun as I had sanded down a few of my gunstocks and stained them with ICA CNA stains in a bright red and an electric blue to give them a custom look. They needed a bunch of coats of gloss lacquer. The gun actually sprays very well. After seeing the results, I am going to order a half dozen more and keep them for spraying stains, so I don't have to keep cleaning the guns after every color change. They are darn near disposable at that price.

I still have to try the 47 dollar one, but I am sure it will spray as good or better. The 47 dollar gun has the same exact cup as the Asturo I have, while the 20 dollar gun's cup is a bit lighter duty, but the thread pattern is the same.

So if I were looking to buy a new setup on a budget, I would look hard at these guns and spend the money I saved on the best compressor I could afford.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor T:
I have 5 identical gravity feed HVLP guns bought at Home Depot, made by Husky, previously Campbell Hausfeld. Parts are interchangeable and I can clean these guns blindfolded. They are cheap and well made, but nothing new or high tech. I am okay with them, but wonder what a good gun is like. I need lots of spray guns ready to go to get these cabinets out the door fast. Half are used with stains, one with high gloss urethane to build a clear coat and one with low sheen as a final coat. I clean them as they get too dirty to spray properly, usually every three days. If they made a gun that could be cleaned without disassembly, I'd want it. It's always the fluid nozzle and needle that develop buildups first, followed by the air cap, which is the easy part to clean.

I use water-based finishes only and love them now that I know how they perform. My advice is to use whatever is fast for you. My next efficiency project is to put a downdraft table in the spray booth to finish sand and fix flaws faster. I like to push things along so that the woodworking shop can focus on making parts and assembly. Once it's in the spray booth, it goes out the door next. Next step will be outsourcing some parts.

From contributor D:
I need to hear more about the Asturo AAA. I have tried the Kremlin Airmix a few times. Sure, it's good, as good as everyone says. But there are other AAA gun systems besides the Airmix, assuming that there is no real magic about the Airmix other than that it is a good air-assisted airless with an intelligent airflow design. Sata has a new system on the market. There's CA Technologies. How about Graco? Asturo was mentioned and that got me writing.

I am hoping by tomorrow I will have one or two more Porter Cable PS2H gravity guns.
This past weekend, I had my choice of using the Airmix, a DeVilbiss Finishline gravity gun or the Porter Cable gravity gun. I was spraying Duravar, thinned 20% with reducer (and 10% catalyst). I opted for the Porter Cable since I was not in my own shop, and in my own shop I have the Porter Cable gravity gun and an Asturo ECO (with a remote pressure feed pot).

The $60 Porter Cable gravity gun is by far the best value I have seen in a gun. It is machined nicely. The cup above has a unique no-drip port venting hole. But since the Asturo AAA was mentioned and since I really like my Asturo ECO so much, I want to know more about that AAA. It is hard to choose one over the other. Can I make a wrong choice? Probably not with the brands that I mentioned.

From the original questioner:
I had a demo on the Kremlin Airmix also. I liked it, but not the salesman. I wouldn't tell anyone not to buy the Airmix, as it is a great setup, but the Asturo takes no backseat to it. There were a few things that may or may not be that big of a deal that made me choose the Asturo. The guns are interchangeable, from what I see, from one brand to another, and since the pump is just a pump, if there was more of a selection out there, it may end up that if you could find a pump of good quality sold under a less marketed name, you may be better off buying that pump and then buying the best gun that works for you. If you find that you are really liking the PC guns as I do, then look into the Grizzly model 5352 gun. They are made on the same line, from what I can tell putting them side to side. The H3257 is the other one I got and is also spraying very well. Give them a shot.

As far as which is better between the cups and the AAA, I have found that when spraying CV on large panels, doors, the speed and quality of the AAA make it better than a cup gun and faster than the pot guns I used to use, and the ability to adjust it on the fly make it better for me than an airless. But for smaller jobs like face frames, or if I just need to spray a small project or do something onsite, I like the cup guns. Do you do a lot of bigger projects where it would be more profitable to drop the pickup hose in a bucket of clear so you can spray all day? If so, get the AAA. If you do a lot of color mixing, tinting and smaller batches of clear, stay with the small stuff.

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
Do you have the CFM requirements for the spray guns you mentioned? I'm curious how big a compressor they need.

From contributor T:
I have a 5 hp., 80 gal. 17 cfm. single stage. Plenty of clean, dry air, but I wouldn't want anything smaller. That's the minimum for a pro shop.

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
I imagine we all have enough air at the shop to power air sanders, nail guns, spray systems, etc., but can these guns be used with a portable compressor on-site?

From the original questioner:
I am not sure what cfm they are rated at. As far as what size compressor you need to run them, it depends on the job at hand. If you are going to spray an entire millwork package onsite, you would need a pretty big compressor and would be better served with airless or AAA.

When I spray kitchens onsite, I actually use a little hotdog style compressor I got at Sam's Club for under 130 bucks. Of course, it needs to catch up with me and I am not spraying for extended periods of time. For what I do, I should really have a minimum 3 or 4 horse and 25 gallons, but those jobs that I do onsite are only about half a dozen a year, so I am sticking with what I have. The small compressor is quieter and some kitchens in older houses are too cramped already and the outlets trip if you run too big of a motor on them, so it sometimes takes more finesse than muscle.

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
Thanks. I can look into the CFM requirements for the guns. I was just hoping for a quick and easy answer.

From the original questioner:
Paul, what type of things are you spraying? I might be able to give you a better opinion if I know what you are doing.

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
I really was just looking for the CFM requirements for the guns mentioned. Somehow we got on another track. I'm well set for shop and on-site spraying. Here's a list of the spray equipment I have on hand:

1 - Kremlin AirMix
1 - Asturo K24 Double Diaphram Pump, setup to run 2 guns
2 - Asturo ECO SSP LVLP guns

1 - Capspray CS10000 (compressor and 2 gallon pot on a cart)
1 - Wagner Maxxum II gun
1 - Binks 2 gallon pot
1 - Binks 2 quart pot
3 - Graco 5 gallon pots, one with a mixer
2 - Binks 2001 guns
4 - Devibiss JGA cup guns
5 - Binks BBR HVLP guns
4 - 3 stage turbines
4 - Graco HVLP turbine guns, new model
1 - Graco HVLP turbine gun, old model (solid metal)
2 - Cheap gravity guns
2 - 20 gallon portable compressors

I'm well set to spray everything from dyes to Polomyx.

From contributor G:
That's an impressive array of equipment, Paul. About your 2001 guns, I'm sure you are already aware that if you replace the original tip and aircap with a 92 tip and a 94P aircap, you'll need less air.

From contributor M:
I have had good luck with equipment offered by Harbor Freight. The gravity feed HVLP guns have worked well for me. I am told that they are a Sharpe knockoff. They have a good assortment of guns: conventional, HVLP, and airless. You can even get a larger alum cup for the gravity guns. They also have a 2 1/2 gal pressure pot with casters, a removable alum liner, big wingnuts, and a manual agitator for around $129. I am having trouble finding this on their website now.

I too have an assortment of Big Name guns, but these are great specialty work. I have one for whites, black, and metal (cooper, alum, etc.). And Paul, I am thinking that these guns are made for the hobbyists that do not have big compressors. I have run the HVLP gravity gun off a 2hp, 4 gal compressor. It needed to catch up on larger projects. But I think the newer guns use less air.

From contributor O:
I don't know if you're aware of this or not, but one issue with the Kremlin (and probably all) pumps is that you need to take up a bunch of fluid to fill the lines first before you spray. We use a Kremlin pump with the Airmix and I think it pays for itself just in terms of how easy it is to keep clean - not to mention transfer efficiency, ease of use, speed, low overspray, etc.

One thing you won't want to do with a pump is shoot samples. The amount of catalyzed CV or primer wasted to do this would buy many gravity guns every year. Other people have written posts about having reps come out, set up the pump/gun, teach you how to use it and leave it with you for a week or a month. If there isn't a rep in your area who will offer this service up front, then it begs the question as to how they will be after they've made the sale. I'm not a Kremlin sales rep, but when I had a leak in an internal pump seal, the rep was out the next day, set up a replacement, took the pump and serviced it and brought it back at no charge. No question, though - go AAA ASAP.

From contributor R:
Someone asked about the CFM requirements. Here is one answer: the Porter Cable gravity gun wants either 8.5 or 9 CFM at 45 PSI. You can use it on location with a portable compressor (like 3 CFM) for small jobs/touchup.