I have been painting furniture and cabinets for years. I have also been refinishing and building furniture and of course, I want the smoothest, most professional finish on my projects. I quickly learned that I absolutely had no choice but to use a spray gun for the smoothest finish possible. I have used all methods of painting and I own all types of spray guns. All have their pros and cons. Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing what type to use.
HVLP: There are several different variations with these types of spray guns, and they go by several different names, gravity feed, cup gun, siphon feed etc. But they all operate nearly the same. I will save you the trouble of learning the physics behind how they operate. I use a gravity feed HVLP gun occasionally to spray lacquer, I will usually use it when I am doing smaller projects since they do not have a very high output. They are not too difficult to clean up, but they do require a fairly large air compressor to operate continuously. To see if your air compressor can handle the gun you need to check the SCFM output of your air compressor to make sure that it is a larger number than the SCFM required for the spray gun. The SCFM stands for “Standard Cubic Feet per Minute” it is a rating of how much flow the air compressor can provide, or how much flow the spray gun requires. If the compressor is too small you will have to wait when spraying for it to build up enough pressure to continue.
For furniture and smaller items if you are not doing it very often, I recommend a cheap hvlp from somewhere like harbor freight, the spray guns available for auto body can be well over $300. I actually have a cheap harbor freight I bought on sale for $15, and an expensive $300 auto body gun I purchased for painting cars, and I actually prefer the cheaper gun for painting furniture.
If you already own an air compressor the guns can be fairly in-expensive.
Clean-up is not very difficult, in fact siphon feed guns can use a disposable bag inside so you do not have to clean out the cup when you are finished.
They do not do well with thicker paints, I personally would never use them for latex paint. Even lacquer typically needs to be thinned with lacquer thinner to make it operate properly.
It is difficult to do inside small spaces, or boxes without a lot of over spray being left behind
They cannot spray upside down.
Airless Sprayers: I will only discuss two types of airless sprayers and that is a hand held unit or the more typical type which have the pump and motor on the floor and a hose leading to the gun.
If you are just starting and would like to spray latex paint but do not want to deal with the floor mounted units, I highly recommend the Graco TrueCoat Paint sprayer, it is very high quality and they have a special version for lacquer and fine finishes as well. There is a cordless version available but it is pretty spendy. This gun does not allow you to spray upside down either.
If you are doing a lot of spraying and would also like something that is good for painting walls, I use a standard airless sprayer with the pump and motor on the ground, a 25’ hose and gun. These put out a lot of paint very fast. They can spray in any direction; they work well for nearly every type of paint or finish. I use mine all the time for lacquer; you just need to make sure you clean it very well afterwards. They can be more expensive but once they are set up there is nothing better.
Can spray in any direction (Except the hand held)
Can spray nearly any finish
Very high output
With the right setup, clean up can actually be pretty easy (Several buckets of water, or a full can of lacquer thinner)
Prices range from low $300’s to well over $1,000.
A large tool to store.
Because the output is so high it is common for new users to develop large runs in the finish.
There are many other types of spray guns out there, but I have only considered the above because I feel that the others will be far more expensive or are not good solutions. Here are some finished projects that I found….
Book Shelf from Simply Designing.
Vintage Dresser from My Altered State.
Chair from HGTV.
Bench from An Oregon Cottage.