A review of what it was like painting furniture with an inexpensive handheld paint sprayer you can find anywhere - completely honest and unbiased (spoiler - it worked!). Plus, get my tips I learned for easy application and the best finish.
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Both Brian and I had always heard that an inexpensive handheld paint sprayer wouldn't work well and wasn't worth the money. We've borrowed airless paint sprayers from a former contractor a couple of times to paint the entire inside of our house and then the outside, so we know what they can do and how well they work.
However, as a serial DIY-er, I've always got a number of small painting projects in the pipeline that are too small for the hassle of a big sprayer. Which means I inevitably put them off because of the time involved in brushing on paint.
Using cans of spray paint to paint the curved base of our dining room table last year was way easier than a brush and covered it smoothly. But at $5+ bucks a can, one project can easily get to $15 or more just for the paint - and more important, you're limited in color choices (not to mention all the little cans that go in the trash).
When it came time to paint our new dining room chairs (or past time, since we'd had them about 9 months...) I started with a can of spray paint. When I realized it was going to take two cans for each chair that would be close to $40 for four chairs, plus a cramped finger (unless I also bought a spray can trigger, which always seem to break after about one can of use...), I started researching electric handheld sprayers.
Inexpensive Handheld Paint Sprayer
Which turned out to be very interesting. While reading reviews, I found there were a lot of critics out there, which I kind of expected: "Don't waste your money," and "clogs and spits paint," and even "tricked into buying!" The best one was, "This is a great sprayer...for me to POOP on!"
Goodness - who writes these kind of things?
Then I zeroed in on this Wagner HVLP Control Sprayer:
Oh, they're talking my language here. And when I read the most recent reviews - "Great product- don't be fooled by the bad reviews" and "Be patient and don't listen to the naysayers," I began to see that it seemed people either loved it or hated it (there are very few in-between reviews) - and the reasons for the hating seemed to be in the way the sprayer was used (or not used).
So I decided I would take a chance and try out the paint sprayer to see for myself which camp I would fall into.
And I'm so glad I did! Even though Brian was firmly on the side of "you're going to be disappointed."
The reason I went for it is because I knew what painting with a big, expensive sprayer was like - there's always a lot of overspray (I could barely see Brian when he was painting the interior), drips are an issue, and clean-up is a hassle. These seemed to be the main complaints, but I would expect these things with any sized sprayer.
In other words, my expectations were low. I just wanted something for small jobs, like chairs, bi-fold doors, and cabinet doors.
UPDATE: since I wrote this review, Wagner has come out with a Control Spray Double Duty Paint Sprayer that says it's good for indoors OR out, and comes with two easy-to-change paint holders for about $20 more, which might work better for interior doors.
Using the Handheld Paint Sprayer + Tips
I actually got some good information from the reviews about how to get the paint sprayer to work the best.
Here are the tips I followed:
- I bought the Wagner paint conditioner called "Paint Easy" to thin the latex paint we were using. I followed the directions and it worked great.
- I didn't hesitate to use it with latex paint because so many reviewers had used it with good results- even though water-based latex is not mentioned in the materials that come with the sprayer.
- I followed all the directions meticulously, thinning the paint as directed on the conditioner bottle.
- I used a large piece of cardboard to start spraying on, so that if the paint spit some at the beginning, it would be on the cardboard (though it really didn't spit much).
- I practiced first on the cardboard, getting the feel of the trigger and how the paint came out.
- I set the chairs in an old three-sided shed, making a "spray booth" of sorts.
- I applied thin coats in order to avoid drips.
The last tip was actually the hardest - painting really thin coats just seemed like I wasn't putting enough on. But everyone was right, I'd get drips if I tried to apply more (which is the same with a spray can, actually).
You can see in the photo above of the chair front that it does spray with "droplets" of paint (not sure what to call them...). The first coats did not look smooth at all, and I was a bit worried at this point.
This picture of a part of the bench Brian made out of a couple of our broken chairs shows better how the coats look as they are applied.
You can even see at the top where I had to brush a drip when I got overzealous with the spray gun. The first coats should be so thin you can still see the original finish. By the third coat, though, it will be covered.
Since I was using a water-based latex, the thin coats didn't take long to dry and I could easily finish a project in a couple hours (depending on how distracted I got between coats, a-hem).
What do you do with the paint in the sprayer between coats?
I needed to wait overnight to finish since I couldn't fit all the chairs and bench at once in the shed, so I took one of the reviewers suggestions to let the sprayer sit without moving so the bit of paint would dry on the nozzle to create an air-tight environment for the paint in the sprayer.
In the morning I took a thumbtack and gently pricked off the dried paint on the nozzle - it pulled right off - and started spraying on the cardboard. It took about 30 seconds to start again, but then sprayed like normal!
I actually did this every time I needed to leave it for a few hours for the coats to dry, too - it's a great tip!
What about cleaning?
I only cleaned the paint sprayer when I was done with all the projects I had planned. I took my time cleaning and followed all the directions to make sure I got all the paint off wherever I could see it. And I found that it cleaned up really well.
What were the results?
I was pleasantly surprised that after all the coats were applied and the paint had dried, the finish on the furniture appeared smooth!
This is much, MUCH better than a brush! They aren't quite as smooth as the finish from a can of spray paint - but you can only tell if you rub your hands over them (and it's still pretty subtle).
My verdict? I LOVE it! It's exactly what I need to help me paint chairs, my kitchen cabinet doors, our closet bi-fold doors (think about how easy the louvers are going to be now!), and our 6-panel interior doors.
I'll have to remove them and take them out to my "spray booth" but I will save HOURS of work, so I'm totally OK with that.
Have you had experience with one of these inexpensive handheld paint sprayers? Which camp do you fall into?
Note: This was originally published in September of 2011, born out of my excitement over finding a "cheap" sprayer that made painting things like chairs easier (this was NOT a sponsored post). I continue to get Google traffic from it, probably for the same reasons I tried it in the first place - you all want to know if it really works and to wade through the noise of the love-it-or-hate-it reviews on sites like Amazon. And doing it yourself in the simplest way possible? Just another AOC core value.
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