Paint sprayers for an easy finish

Power painters make short work of finishing

By Michel Roy

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Traditional painting tools such as brushes and rollers can handle just about every DIY painting job there is, including finishing furniture. There may come a project, however, that persuades you to step up to a power-painting system. Such power-painting tools were, only a short time ago, considered the preserve of professionals. But there are now dozens of consumer-grade paint-application systems on the market. With a little practice, they can lay down coatings quickly and efficiently, yielding professional-looking results.

The basics

Most of us are familiar with traditional paint sprayers, the type with handheld spray guns that use high-pressure air from a compressor to atomize a finish. As an alternative to this method, airless sprayers mechanically force a finish material under high pressure through a fine tip.

The capacity of a painting system to spray coatings depends on a number of factors. Ratings such as horsepower, gallons per minute and pounds per square inch of pressure are all indicators of how powerful a sprayer is. Another critical factor to note is the manufacturer's recommendations regarding the coating thickness or viscosity that the machine can spray. Keep in mind that thin coatings, such as stains, require less pressure than paints.

One-piece, motorized, handheld units can be just the right size for smaller jobs, as they hold the finish in a cup attached to the pump. Many sizes are available, so you can get one that will spray the kind of finish you want to apply. Some even come accessorized with a feeder hose to draw paint or stain directly from a can or a backpack, making it possible to take on a larger job.

Larger paint pumps generally draw paint straight from the container, then pump it through a high-pressure hose to a handheld gun. There are three types of pump systems available, depending on manufacturer and model. Diaphragm pumps are generally less expensive to purchase and repair. Piston pumps are powerful and often quieter. Double-stroke piston pumps paint on both the up- and downstroke, offering consistent pressure and powering multiple guns at the same time. Airless paint pumps excel at large exterior jobs, such as house walls, and also painting rough or uneven surfaces. Further, many systems can be accessorized with power rollers that don't need to be dipped into a paint tray.


Finer finishes for cabinets or furniture may call for a high volume, low pressure (HVLP) sprayer. These sprayers push a high volume of air at low pressure through a spray gun that looks a lot like a traditional high-pressure spray gun. HVLP systems excel at spraying clear finishes, including lacquer, but can also create fine finishes with properly thinned enamels and paints. The air in an HVLP system is generated by a turbine, which uses fans to push the air down the hose to the gun. Turbines are rated by stages. The stages refer to the number of fans inside the turbine-as the number goes up, so does the consistency and volume of the air put out by the turbine. The type of finish that can be sprayed depends on the power of the turbine. One of the big advantages of HVLP systems is the limited amount of overspray they generate, meaning that not as much material is wasted, and less gets into the atmosphere.

Keep it clean

All paint spray systems require maintenance and rigorous attention to cleaning. Note also that spraying finishes requires paying close attention to safety. Vapourizing flammable oil-based stains, paints and lacquers should only be done in proper conditions. After the safety basics are looked after, however, paint sprayers can pay for themselves very rapidly in time saved.

The bottom line

Handheld units can cost from less than $100 to more than $200. Consumer-grade paint-pump systems can be found from $350, although for greater capabilities expect to spend more. HVLP systems start around $350, but for a quite capable set-up expect to pay at least $800 to $1000, although there are more expensive models available.

Also consider:

  • Paint pumps can power multiple guns at once
  • One-piece units are the most economical


  • Airless sprayer: Mechanically forces finish though a fine tip under high pressure
  • HVLP: A high volume, low pressure sprayer uses a fan to push air through a hose
  • Overspray: Finish misses the target and is wasted in the air

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