Small paint sprayers
Many of us here at The Family Handyman have
used small paint sprayers in the past with limited
success, so we wondered whether the current
batch was an improvement. We decided to test
some to find out. We focused on small sprayers
under $200 that could spray latex paint and other
A quick survey of readily available sprayers
revealed two categories: airless sprayers with a small
built-in pump, and high-volume, low-pressure
(HVLP) sprayers that rely on a vacuum cleaner–type
turbine. In the past, most handheld sprayers were the
airless type. They were often nicknamed “buzz guns”
for the loud buzzing noise created by the pump.
Recently, however, more consumer-grade HVLP
sprayers have become available, and we decided to
concentrate our efforts on this group.
Unlike airless sprayers, most HVLP sprayers
in this price range can't shoot unthinned
latex paint. However, they have a few advantages
that we think make them worth considering.
First, they're quieter and the noise they
make is less annoying—more like a vacuum
cleaner. Plus, they put more finish on the
project and less into the air, which is better in
many ways. And finally, the good ones apply
a very fine and controllable finish that
enables a beginner to successfully finish
woodwork, cabinets and furniture.
Features we like
Manufacturers claim all kinds of features, but here are the ones we think are
the most important. Besides the features we mention, you may see
claims about easy cleaning or additional adjustments. The truth is that all of
these sprayers require disassembly for thorough cleaning, and the only
adjustments you really need are for the spray pattern and the paint flow.
A powerful turbine
While airless sprayers
are rated by how
many gallons per
hour they can spray,
HVLPs are usually
rated by the wattage
of the turbine.
The theory is that
the higher the wattage,
the more pressure
the turbine can
create. and higher
of the paint and
allows more viscous
materials to be
sprayed. Wattage is
only one part of the
equation for a good
sprayer, but in general,
more is better.
The Rockler turbine
is rated at 1,000
watts, with the
coming in second at
How We Tested
All of these HVLP sprayers include thinning
instructions and a “viscosity cup” to
help determine the right amount of solvent—in our case, water—to add. We
started by thinning a few gallons of water-base
paint enough to meet every sprayer
manufacturer's recommendation so we
could compare the sprayers with the same
viscosity of paint.
Then we sprayed a band of paint for
eight seconds with the spray tip held 1 ft.
from the surface. We compared the coverage,
spray pattern and paint particle size.
This gave us a good idea of each sprayer's
performance. Next we practiced on walls
and raised-panel doors to get some real-world
experience. Finally, we compared
features and components. Read on to see
what we discovered.
GRACO Spraystation 2900 HV2900
Graco, which has made professional-grade
sprayers for decades, has ventured into the
consumer market with this HVLP sprayer.
And you can tell Graco has experience
making sprayers. The spray pattern is well contained with very
little spatter. Paint coverage is great, and the paint particle
size is small enough for a smooth finish.
Features we like include the spray-pattern adjusting lever
on the front of the gun, the pro-style metal spray tip and
onboard storage of gun and hose. Graco includes a DVD with
instructions for using the gun. This sprayer received high marks for the quality of the spray and well-planned features.
WAGNER PaintREADY System 0529003
Wagner's PaintREADY System includes a
separate turbine and hose, and two “front
ends” that snap onto the spray gun handle,
allowing you to spray thick and thin materials
efficiently. The additional pressure supplied
by the stand-alone 540-watt turbine provides a little
better spray quality than you get from the sprayers with
onboard turbines. This kit is a good choice for maximum versatility,
but the fine-finish sprayer still doesn't rival the finish quality of
the Graco or Rockler.
WAGNER Control Spray Double Duty 0518050
Wagner has a long history of making small, consumer-grade sprayers and offers
many models of both airless and HVLP-type sprayers. This HVLP sprayer with
built-in turbine is a solid performer that can apply a better-than-average finish
with properly thinned material. This “double-duty” model includes a larger, 1-1/2-qt. material cup for larger exterior projects. If you don't want to spend more than
$100 on a sprayer, we think this one is a good choice.
WAGNER PaintREADY Sprayer 0529002
The PaintREADY sprayer (available through our affiliate program with Amazon) is the only HVLP sprayer in this group that's intended for use
with unthinned latex paint. And Wagner acknowledges that the paint particles are
not as fine as those from the other sprayers, resulting in a “textured” paint surface.
Our tests confirmed that this sprayer can handle unthinned latex paint and that the
paint surface has a little texture when dry.
This sprayer would work well for exterior projects where a fine finish isn't necessary.
But we wouldn't recommend it for spraying woodwork, cabinets or furniture.
This is a good sprayer for its intended use, but if you want more versatility, consider
spending a little more money for the PaintREADY System.
ROCKLER HVLP Spray Gun Set HVLP-1000
The Rockler sprayer (available through our affiliate program with Amazon) doesn't include any fancy features, just a powerful
turbine and a no-nonsense spray gun with a pro-style metal tip. After the
Graco, this sprayer applied the best spray pattern with even coverage and
a well-confined pattern.
This is the only sprayer in our test that includes a choice of two tip and
needle sets for spraying thick or thin material. The more powerful turbine
allowed us to use thicker paint with this sprayer.
BLACK & DECKER Smartselect HVLP W. Floor Turbine BDPH400
This sprayer applied the least amount of paint among the sprayers
tested. But this doesn't mean it's a bad sprayer, just that it will take a little
longer to apply the same amount of paint. The twist knob located on the
back of the gun makes paint flow adjustments easier than with most
other models we tried. This gun isn't our first choice, but it would work
great for small projects.
Hands-on With HVLP Sprayers
If you've never used one, you'll be surprised
at the easy-to-control spray of an
HVLP sprayer. The turbine sounds like a
vacuum cleaner and blows a stream of
low-pressure air that puts just enough
pressure on the paint in the container to
push some up into the stream of air
flowing through the gun. There it's
broken up by the spray tip and blown
onto the surface.
Consumer-grade HVLP turbines like the
ones we're looking at in this article lack the
power to do a great job with unthinned
latex. So the first thing you need to do if
you're using water-base paint is to thin it.
each of the sprayers includes a funnel-like
viscosity cup for this purpose. To use it, you
fill the cup and time how long it takes for
the paint to run out through the funnel.
you thin the paint until it runs out in the
specified amount of time. Strain the
thinned paint through a mesh filter and fill
the paint container to get started.
One problem we discovered when using
thinned paint in HVLP sprayers is that it's
very easy to apply too much paint, which
results in runs. Plan to apply several thin
coats rather than one or two thick ones.
also read the instruction manual for tips
on setup, spray techniques and cleanup
procedure. With a little practice, we're sure
you'll be able to master an HVLP and
apply a professional-looking finish on
woodwork, cabinets and furniture.
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Airless sprayers are a good choice for outdoor work
As the name implies, these sprayers don't rely on a
stream of air to propel the paint. Instead, the paint is
drawn into a small cylinder and pressed out under high
pressure by a piston. The piston pump is what makes
these guns noisy. Because there's no air, a lot more paint
comes out of the spray tip. The high pressure created by
the pump allows the guns to spray unthinned latex
paint, but it also creates a lot of overspray and fine particles
of paint dust in the air. That's why these sprayers
are better for outdoor use or new construction where the
overspray and fine paint dust aren't such a problem.
Airless sprayers can be a little finicky since the piston
must be kept clean and lubricated, and the spray tip can
clog easily. If you're willing to spend a little more money,
there are two handheld airless sprayers on the market
that include a pro-style reversible spray tip. The Ryobi
(shown) and the Graco TrueCoat sprayer both have tips
that you can spin 180 degrees to blow out clogs. The
Graco model also allows you to exchange tips for different
spray patterns. But these sprayers cost $180 to $200,
well above the average.
If you don't mind the noise, need to paint large surfaces
quickly, and don't want to mess with thinning the
paint, then an airless sprayer is a good choice. For less
overspray and a finer finish on interior projects, HVLP is
a better choice.