Spray Technique for Chairs

Wooden chairs challenge the spraygun operator with their many complicated surface orientations. Here, experienced pros advise on how to achieve a uniform coat without roughness or drips. April 19, 2006

An upholsterer associate brought in a dozen spindle-back rocking chairs to finish for one of his clients. We almost always do case goods. We've gotten the prep, color, and seal/body coats done. The issue we are having is due to our lack of experience with this type of spraying. The main problem is overspray falling onto the seat which doesn't fully melt-in, leaving a coarse finish. Our approach has been the usual vertical first, then horizontal from top down. By the time we spray all the vertical spindles, the pre-cat has already started to flash-off where we started and the overspray on the seat is fairly dry. Are we making a mistake in trying to spray the whole chair in one shot? Perhaps we should do everything except the seat, scuff the overspray off when dry and spray the seat as a separate run. Any suggestions would be most appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor A:
I will preface this by saying I am not a pro at spraying chairs. I spray them upside down to start with, spraying the bottom of seat and legs, and then spray the underside of the back rest and spindles. Then I flip the chair over and finish the legs and spindles, then finish with the seat last - little or no overspray on seat. Not sure if that makes any sense or not, but it has worked for me. I will check back later for better ideas myself.

From contributor B:
How do the good manufacturers do these chairs so successfully? I am guessing that the first thing attributed to their success is the type of spray system they are using: air assisted airless. The amount of overspray and bounce-back is so little compared to conventional spray or even compared to HVLP systems. You need to move quickly. That also means that using any type of gun setup where you have a remote pot is so much better than a gravity gun or an attached cup. The last surface sprayed is the chair seat.

It helps to add some retarder to your finish. I notice that when I spray unreduced coatings through the Kremlin Airmix, an air-assisted airless, when I go back and spot spray an already wet surface, I get invisible melt-in. When I do the same with my pressure feed or gravity guns then I do see the fresh spray even though the two fresh finishes are still wet. This has to be from the almost no overspray from the Kremlin. Overspray is more cured than the wet coating that it lands on and the result is varying degrees of roughness, and that's what's happening to you.

Underside of chair
Underside of rungs and stretchers
Inside of legs

Tops of rungs and stretchers
Outside of legs
Chair back and top
Chair seat
Work quickly.

In my case, it's not easy. It's rigorous. And there can be runs and drips. I hate those. I also hate rough spray. There are so many operations in factories that it would be so juicy to set up a camcorder and just let it roll for maybe thirty minutes. To videotape the spraying of chairs is just one juicy pipedream. Isn't it both funny and curious that there are so many spray operators who work in these factories, so many line workers and not one of them ever write into any of these online forums. We never hear from these invisible, mythical employees. Chairs are not the most challenging spray objects, but close. Stools are the most challenging.

From the original questioner:
We had chatted about the retarder, but played "No - YOU try it" with each other.
OK, fast and the pattern make sense. I don't even want to think about a stool!

From contributor C:
I suspect the "good" manufacturers dip them in a big vat.

From contributor D:
Here’s my technique that I have used with HVLP. It helps to cut back the feed and air pressure to a soft spray.

Place chair upside down on a turntable stand. Spray from outside in and the top down so you are putting fresh lacquer over any overspray. Outside of legs and rungs first; bottoms of arms if applicable; insides next, spraying out, so no overspray lands on finished parts; chair bottom last. Flip it upright and start with the back, spin it and, starting at the top, do the outsides of the legs again, the front of the back, the arms and the seat. I wouldn’t thin the lacquer – you don’t want runs and you do have to go over places if you see dry spray. The whole process takes about 60 seconds and you have to move very fast indeed, so it helps to practice your moves in advance.

From contributor E:
The retarder will help. Start by using as small an amount as possible. I usually try 2 oz of Butyl Cellosolve per gallon. You can add up to 4% with no problem. It will increase drying times so keep the drying area clean.

From contributor F:
The way I was learned to spray chairs was to first place the chair upside down on a turntable. Spray the bottoms of everything - the rungs, the bottom of the seat, the bottoms of the arms, and the bottoms of the hoop back. You’re just concentrating on the bottoms –that’s all at this point. Next pick up the chair and set it upright on the turntable, so you are looking at the back of the chair. Spray everything that faces you - the fronts of the legs, and the front of the seat. Keep in mind that the fronts of the back legs "face you". Once you have sprayed everything that had faced you, turn the chair so you’re looking at the side of the chair. Again, spray everything that "faces you", - the sides of the spindles, the sides of the legs, the sides of the seat. Don’t forget the sides of the back legs because they face you. Now turn the chair so you’re looking at the back. Once again spray everything that faces you. You’re just about done. When you’re finished with the back of the chair, turn it so now you’re looking at the side of the chair and finish everything that faces you. Last but not least, spray the top of the hoop, the top of the seat and the top of the rungs and you’re done.

It seems like a lot of steps until you get the hang of it but in reality you’re just turning the chair four times on the turntable. Add some retarder to your material and don’t be afraid to overlap some of your passes. Years ago the company I was working for contracted with a company to stain and seal and top coat 1000 maple chairs. The owner of the company set up three of us with pressure pots and turntables and we finished the entire job in a week. I might add that we had a wall booth that made this type of project quite feasible.

From the original questioner:
Thanks to all of you for the input. We have the turntable stand so the easy part is done. I think we'll grab some of the lunchroom chairs and overcoat them for practice. A little information sure boosts the confidence factor.

From contributor G:
To contributor B: Never having sprayed a stool, I'm curious why it would be more challenging than a chair. I'd have guessed that, lacking the back, it would be simpler.

From contributor B:
Other than foot stools, stools have long legs. Getting the spray inside the leg structure so that I can coat the insides of them and the insides of the rungs and stretchers is a challenge for me. The underside of a stool is way inside of the leg structure. Getting a gun in there is not always possible, depending on the stool. This is not the case with a chair where you can get inside the leg structure.

The next most challenging time I had was with a lamp table that had a fixed lower finished shelf. No matter what I did, there was overspray or dryspray somewhere. The amazing thing about the large companies that manufacture retail furniture is that the casegoods are sprayed assembled. That differs from cabinet finishing where we do everything possible to spray flatline.

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

Comment from contributor N:
We make and finish about 800 very high quality chairs per year in our 4 person shop. Finishing can be very quick or it can easily be tedious and stretch into hours. It's the final coat (out of two) which makes or breaks it. First use an AA setup, we use Kremlin. Secondly use a lacquer which will do what you want. We use Becker-Acroma Fawcett. First coat full strength, then start on the second coat reduced 10%. After flash off feel the corners under the legs for overspray. Add thinner or retarder, try again, and check for overspray. You know you've added enough when there is no more overspray.