Have a Lot to Paint? Shoot It!

An airless paint sprayer can be a wonderful convenience for the homeowner who has a lot of painting to do. And what homeowner doesn’t have a lot of painting to do?

There are several different sizes and types of airless sprayers, to match every budget and project size. The advantages to using one are probably obvious; they do a good job of applying paint over a large area rapidly and evenly. There are a couple of techniques that need to be mastered to be proficient in their use, but they can be picked up in a few minutes and after a couple hours of use will become instinctive.

With that said, I have to come clean: I am as big a fan of power tools as any red-blooded homeowner, but I am not a great fan of paint sprayers. Not that I would re-gift or run to the return counter if Santa slides one under the tree, but for me I am not sure using the sprayer is worth the hassle.

Airless sprayers are available in two basic configurations: those with a compressor, hose and pump, or hand-helds with a paint jar, pump, trigger and nozzle all in a single unit. At their heart, all airless sprayers are simply overgrown windex bottles. A small piston pump draws the liquid paint up a pickup tube, pressurizes it, and forces it through small orifice or nozzle. The nozzle atomizes the liquid; that is, it breaks it up into small droplets which fly from the nozzle at high speed. When the droplets reach your wall they will flatten and blend together, achieving the even coating we’re looking for.

The airless sprayer doesn’t seem like it is a power tool that is as dangerous as a skilsaw, but the pressures it operates at need to be respected. Even small household units will generate up to 3000 pounds of pressure in their pump chambers, and the paint can leave the nozzle at 200 miles per hour. This is enough force to penetrate your skin. As much as you want to avoid getting paint on your skin, you really don’t want to get it under your skin!

When using a paint sprayer to paint your rooms, everything that you don’t want to get paint on needs to be masked, covered, or removed. This includes the trim, the floors, your furniture, your cat, and your stereo. Anyone who has walked into a room that has just finished being sprayed can tell you about the “paint fog” that remains for a few minutes afterwards. This will quickly¬†dissipate, especially if you have an open window and maybe a fan.

The smaller hand-held units are probably the most appropriate for the homeowner. The larger compressor and hose units are a great convenience because they will draw paint directly from the bucket or will have a much larger hopper than the hand-held type, and the small gun at the end of the hose is lighter and less tiring to use. But they are much more expensive to purchase and require a lot more effort to clean properly (and they MUST be cleaned properly after use!) The small hopper and extra weight in the hand aren’t the only disadvantage to a hand-held; they are great for painting walls, but if you have to paint straight down, like painting a deck, the pickup tube in the pot can lose suction until you return the painter to an upright position. This often causes the painter to “spit”, throwing out big, uncontrollable globs of paint.

So why am I a less than enthusiastic fan of airless sprayers? The truth is that I feel brushes and rollers are simple and efficient tools, and I get a good deal of satisfaction using them. It always seems that it takes hours for prep and just minutes to paint, and this is doubly so with a sprayer. But if I had a good sprayer, I would probably use it a lot. Are you listening Santa?

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