Spraying Lacquer with HVLP | Step it Up

Spraying Lacquer with HVLP | Step it Up

If you’ve watched my show for any length of time, you know I am a fan of finishing my projects with lacquer. I think it’s the perfect finish for most projects; it’s easy to apply and it dries super fast. Unfortunately, using spray lacquer out of a rattle can is not very cost effective.  And for large projects, such as my dining table, it doesn’t cover the surface easily.

Recently Chris Berry, The Idaho Painter was in California and he and his crew painted my house in one day. (I’ll have a video on that early this spring on HGMM). While he was here I took the opportunity to learn how he sprays lacquer and had him teach me how to use an HVLP system.

What is HVLP?

HVLP, (High Volume, Low Pressure) is a method of spraying paint or finishes using a spray gun attached to a compressor or turbine. It applies finish quickly, efficiently and uniformly without a lot of waste or overspray.

HVLP Equipment

Chris is a professional painter and his equipment reflects that. It isn’t cheap, but the quality and ease of application is amazing. A more affordable option is to purchase a spray gun and hook it up to a regular air compressor. I did this when I finished my dining table last month and it worked fine. A larger compressor would have been better, but mine got the job done.

Here’s what Chris uses:

(I use this more affordable kit with my compressor!)

Titan Maxum Elite Spray Gun
Titan Maxum Elite Spray Gun
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Titan Capspray 105 Fine Finish Sprayer

Filling the spray pot

I discovered that lacquer for spraying can be a little tricky to find. First, you won’t find it at most home centers or retail hardware stores. I went to a Sherwin WIlliams store in San Rafael and they told me the closest branch that carries lacquer was in Santa Rosa. I didn’t want to drive an hour for that, so I tried a Benjamin Moore paint dealer who carried it. It’s important to use pre-catalyzed lacquer as it will save you the hassle of having to add a separate catalyst every time you want to use it. The drawback to pre-cat lacquer is that it will have a shelf life. Check the can for an expiration date.

John starts by filling about 1/4 of the can with lacquer thinner ad 3/4 lacquer. This will be for the first coat, a sealer coat. This will seal in the wood fibers and make it easier to apply the full-strength coats later. It is also important to stir the lacquer well. I’m not sure if this is as imprtant for glossy lacquer, but the satin lacquer has a flattening agent that collects on the bottom of the can and needs to be mixed in.

Stir the lacquer completely
Stir the lacquer completely

 

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Pour in 25% lacquer thinner for the first coat.

 

Pour in the lacquer.
Pour in the lacquer.

Adjusting the spray gun.

The spray gun has three adjustments. One knob on the back controls the amount of air pressure that goes to the tip of the gun, a second knob controls material flow, and the tip of the gun controls the width and angle of the spray fan. So basically, you make adjustments to get a good ratio of air to lacquer, kind of like a carburetor.

Air pressure adjustment knob
Air pressure adjustment knob

 

Material flow knob
Material flow knob

 

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Adjustable fan tip

Spraying the lacquer

Spraying lacquer is easy. Using a scrap of cardboard, test out your air/laquer mix and adjust the fan to a pattern you like, then begin spraing your work piece. Work fast and overlap your strokes back and forth or up and down, keeping the spraying fairly close to the work. Apply the sealer coat, then a few coats of full-strength lacquer, building up the finish. Save the top of the furniture for last and give it special care since this is the surface that will be touched.

Testing the spray
Testing the spray

 

Spray quickly and close to the surface
Spray quickly and close to the surface

 

Save the top for last
Save the top for last

 

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Great looking cabinet! Lacquer dries to the touch in minutes.

Cleanup

It’s important to clean the equipment before storing it, otherwise the lacquer can dry in the tip and clog it up. Pour out any lacquer and save it in labeled containers. Thenpout a little lacquer thinner into the pot, swirl it around and spray it out. Turn the airflow knob down so you are just spraying a stream of lacquer. It’s a good idea to store the sprayer with a little thinner still in the pot.

Saving thinned lacquer
Saving thinned lacquer

 

About a quarter can of thinner
About a quarter can of thinner

 

Spraying out a just of thinner
Spraying out a jet of thinner

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Good info but for my small projects, usually one or two items, I can’t beat the rattle cans for quick applications and no clean up

    each has a place in woodworking

    walt

  2. Great article. I had the pleasure of using THE HVLP process a few years ago on a Murphy (Create-A-Bed) Bed a few years ago. For large projects, it is the only way to finish a job.

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