REVIEW: Wagner HVLP Conversion Gun

While many projects are admirably handled with hand-applied finishes, there are times when spraying is both desirable and preferred. My woodworking activities are no exception to that, so in early 2002, I went looking for a quality spray gun at a reasonable price. What I found was a highly recommended product from Wagner that met both requirements.

There are a lot of choices available to the woodworker when it comes to spraying finishes. In addition to the “lowly” spray can for small projects, spray guns run the gamut from quick and dirty (and very inexpensive) products like the “Critter” all the way to high-end combined gun and delivery systems that sell for hundreds and even thousands of dollars. Some of these products use your air compressor and some include their own air source, such as a turbine system. Both air delivery systems work well in the woodworking shop and your choice is dictated by budget and preference. Please note that “airless” spray systems are not normally applicable to woodworking activities, but are perfect for application of heavy, thick latex house paint if that is your need.

High Volume, Low Pressure (HVLP) turbine systems are “self-contained” and can be convenient when portability is important...but stay away from inexpensive ones as they just don't perform, according to experts. A typical quality turbine package be a three-stage system and can deliver enough air to spray most finishes that woodworkers will use. The down-side to these systems is cost--they are not inexpensive when you buy a good one. Some folks also claim that the warm air coming from the turbine compressor may affect finish application, but this is one of those things that opinions are not clear.

For most of us, the best choice for applying spray finishes may be a HVLP “conversion gun”, so called because they have the same characteristics as the guns used with the self-contained turbine systems, but can connect to your existing air compressor. Although there are very expensive ($450+ US) guns in this category available, such as the Binks and Sata, there are also some excellent choices available in the $100-250 range, including the object of this review...the Wagner HVLP Conversion Gun which sells for $129 from Gleem Paint. The next step up (and not a small one) would be something like the Asturo BRI/A guns offered by Homestead Finishing Products for about $350. If you are a really, really serious finisher, the latter type of gun or it's more expensive brethren would probably be a better choice, but the Wagner was the right choice for me as a part-time woodworker.

The Wagner gun includes everything you need in the box with the exception of the optional nozzle wrench...which in my opinion, is not optional when it comes to cleaning the tool. This wrench is also included in the optional maintenance kit which includes two additional nozzle sizes to accommodate a wider variety of finishes. However, the #3 “projector set” included with the gun is usable for most finishes in the woodworking shop.

What I like about this gun is how it feels in my hand. That’s quite important as you need to be able to control a spray gun’s motion easily for best results. This gun is well-balances and lets even a rank armature spray finisher, like me, get a nice even coat of finish on the work piece without runs and sags. The spray pattern is very easy to adjust and can be set to suit any situation you may have. As of the date of this review, I’ve sprayed water-based lacquer, water-based acrylic and oil-based anti-rust paint with great results. The gun is easy to clean, too, as like most, it disassembles for easy access to areas where finishing materials may collect.

Negatives? Not really. Like any spray gun of this configuration, the cup can get in the way in tight spaces. However there are two solutions available...a remote 2 quart pot and a remote large pressure pot for large jobs. Frankly, I plan on investing in the former and Nathan Davis at Gleem Paint tells me that you can use either the local cup or the remote cup with a few minutes of conversion time if things are set up right. (You can buy the gun with the remote 2-quart cup already in lieu of the 1-quart directly attached cup if you prefer)

I like this gun and recommend it highly for anyone new to spray finishing or anyone who wants to step up to a good quality and reasonably priced HVLP conversion gun. This one is a winner in both respects. Gleem Paint is also a winner and I recommend you buy this gun from them. Nathan knows this gun intimately and is more than willing to help you get started or explore your options.

Wagner HVLP Conversion Gun
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So what do I spray?

You can spray most finishes normally used in woodworking, including shellac, varnish, and lacquer.

When I determined that I wanted to start spraying finishes, I thought about the ramifications of using solvent-based products. To use these safely, you really need an appropriate finishing room with special ventilation and lighting equipment...or be willing to work outdoors and risk contamination of the finish from blowing debris and insects.

Fortunately, a number of folks had told me about the new generation of water-based lacquers and acrylics that offer low VOC attributes, easy cleanup and reasonable environ-mental considerations.

The first such finish I tried was Target Coatings Oxford Premium Spray Lacquer...a water-based lacquer that really goes on like traditional NC lacquer products, including burn-in, without the horrible smell and fumes that the solvent-based products have. My first project with this finish was the mobile kitchen island which became the prototype for the base cabinets for our kitchen renovation in 2003.

Another finish I’m no using is the Fuhr International 9100 acrylic. This finish is an alternative to latex or oil-based paint for cabinetry and can be tinted in just about any color you need. I’m using this finish for the upper cabinets in the kitchen renovation as well as the unit in the pantry. The Fuhr acrylic sprays on wonderfully and with proper adjustment to the gun, presents a smooth, attractive color coat on the project.

You can buy these pro-ducts direct from the manufacturers if you choose, or from firms like Homestead Finishing Pro-ducts. Regardless of where you source, them, try them out on your next project with your new Wagner HVLP Conversion Gun!