Spray Finishing is Easy

Spray_Finish_OpenerIn my travels around the country demonstrating and training with HVLP spray systems (high volume, low pressure), I talk with a lot of woodworkers. Whenever I’m with a group, I’ll ask if they apply a finish other than a wipe on oil. I generally find that 30 percent do, half don’t and two, “Give it to my buddy who paints cars.”

This bothers me because I know a project isn’t finished until it’s “finished” – as a custom cabinetmaker for 30 years, I’ve never had a customer who thought the job was complete before it had finish added. Without finish, the project is not protected. It is unfinished.

I’m not talking about matching an 18th-century Chippendale finish of museum quality to period standards using original materials. I’m talking about simply using a stain and clear coat, a protective finish appropriate for the project.

Even if you find runs or drips in your finish, they are the easiest to fix. Use a single-edge razor blade as a small scraper to level the finish’s surface before applying the next coat.

The biggest misconception I hear is that applying the finish incorrectly can ruin a project. That’s simply not true. Depending on the finish you apply, there are a number of ways to remove that finish, some with and some without too much hassle. But that shouldn’t stand in your way of actually finishing the project. If a child were to worry about falling down every time they stood up, would they ever stand up? Another misconception I’ve heard is that you have to be a chemist to know everything there is to know about finishes. Not once in all my years dealing with customers, did any one of them ask what chemicals were in my finish. Customers never asked, and my cabinets didn’t care.

There are a few general descriptions about types of finishes that you need to know. (You can read more about finishes in Fundamentals of Fearless Finishing: Part III.) This helps you decide what type of finish you want to use. It then gets even easier because once you decide what type of finish you want to use, you have virtually eliminated three-quarters of all of the other finishes. Here is what makes finishing really simple: You’re going to pick a couple of finishes that work for you and use them the rest of your life – it’s human nature. There are not 4,000 different finishes available because we need that many. There are 4,000 finishes because there are so many different people finishing different projects and everyone has different needs and expectations. After you’ve found the ones that work best for you and you get the results you want, you’ll never change them unless you have to.

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7 thoughts on “Spray Finishing is Easy

  1. Glen. This format is brilliant for sharing information. I’d like to ask if you could do a series of spraying steps for dye, shellac, and top coats. That would be really helpful. I like your example using alcohol to spray to demo your points. Good job guys.

    1. Bob,

      There’s lots more to come on finishing from Sam, Glen, me and a few others, which will most assuredly cover your requests (and more).

      1. Thanks Chuck. This is a great format so keep it coming.


  2. Sam (or Glen),

    Could you use a large compressor with a regulator set to 10psi? I have a 60 gallon 14cfm at 90 psi compressor (oil free).


  3. Hi Steven,
    If you’re thinking about using your regular air compressor spray gun and just cutting down on the psi, then no, that doesn’t work. HVLP guns have much bigger air passages through them which allows for the much higher cfm. The smallest HVLP I use ($90) has an output of 39cfm, my three stage ($550) produces 90cfm. You can’t replicate that by just turning down the psi of your compressor.
    Perhaps you’re asking about an HVLP conversion gun, my least favorite setup, which is designed to be used with a regular air compressor. These guns have the larger air passage, but they do not eliminate the possibility of moisture or contamination getting into the gun. Also, true HVLP is 10psi or less and I’ve never met a conversion gun the works at less than 25psi, so you’re still getting 2.5x’s the overspray.
    Thanks, Sam

  4. “In my travels around the country demonstrating and training with HVLP spray systems (high pressure, low volume)”

    I think you mean “high volume, low pressure”.

    1. You are correct, sir. Changes have been made. Thank you.

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