Q&A / 

How to Use a DIY Spray Painter

Quick Column Summary:

  • Need spray painting tips
  • Start with a great sprayer
  • Use top quality paint
  • Practice using the sprayer first

DEAR TIM: I've got quite a bit of painting to do both inside and outside my home. I watched a neighbor use an airless paint sprayer and he made a mess of things. It seemed to spit the paint out. Professionals use real paint sprayers with compressed air that produce excellent results. I can't afford a pro rig and wonder if there's an alternative. Have you sprayed paint before and what tips can you offer so I don't mimic what my neighbor did? I'd like to get it right the first time! Emily T., Rockford, IL

DEAR EMILY: Two years ago I tried a newer airless paint sprayer. Here's what happened within three minutes: #COMPLETE FAILURE.

The mess your neighbor made may not have been entirely his fault. It could have been a poor-quality sprayer or he failed to lubricate internal parts in the sprayer. I still have not figured out what went wrong in my case, but it left me with a sour taste in my mouth for the non-professional spray equipment.

I have used paint sprayers for years and the ones that do incorporate air are the best. The compressed air does a marvelous job of atomizing the paint instead of spitting tiny droplets of paint that can make what you're painting look like a piece of splattered modern art.

Here's a handy spray painter that uses air to apply paint to just about any surface. You can achieve pro results with this tool! Photo Credit: Tim Carter

The good news is I just tested a DIY spray paint tool that uses compressed air. The results were remarkable and the tool worked perfectly out of the box. The learning curve was as flat as a hill in Kansas. If you decide to use this tool, you'll achieve pro results in less than sixty seconds on a large test piece of cardboard.

The tool I used contained two nozzles, one for larger surfaces like walls, ceilings and exterior siding, fences, concrete block or stucco. The smaller nozzle is for applying paint to smaller trim work where you need more control and a finer paint spray.

Years ago, I always felt that the time spent cleaning the spray tool eroded all of the time saved spraying instead of rolling or brushing. The design of this new tool is simply amazing allowing for rapid dis-assembly of the nozzle and it's few internal parts. I was able to clean the spray tool to near new condition in about fifteen minutes. I would have spent at least ten minutes, maybe more, cleaning brushes, roller pans and roller frames had I not used the sprayer.

To achieve professional results, I would suggest the following tips. For starters, read and re-read the instruction manual that comes with the spray tool you decide to purchase. Many of them are well written and assume you've never sprayed before. There is a technique you need to employ to get professional results, but it doesn't take long to figure it out.

Wear the oldest clothes you own when spraying paint for any length of time. Don't wear jewelry, wear a hat and realize if you intend to spray for hours you'll get thousands of tiny dots of paint on you, especially if you're painting anything over your head.

The paint I used with my new DIY spraying tool was a top-quality exterior paint. It was quite thick and I decided to thin the first container of paint. If you decide to thin the paint you use, pay close attention to the thinning instructions on the paint label. My paint said I could not add more than sixteen ounces of water to the gallon of paint. I decided to thin a quart of paint, so I added four ounces of water and stirred it well.

After using the first quart of paint, I decided to test to see if the sprayer would handle the paint unthinned out of the can. It did a marvelous job using the thick paint and I couldn't see any difference in the final results.

It's really important to know how to adjust the volume of the paint that's being sprayed. If you apply too much paint too fast, you'll waste paint and you could end up with runs and sags in the paint. The tool I used had a simple adjustment knob. I'd start with the knob in a position that delivers a minimal amount of paint. You can always turn the knob if you feel too little paint is being broadcast by the nozzle.

One of the nice features of the paint sprayer is you don't have to fret and worry about the paint skinning over and drying if you stop for a few minutes. The only paint exposed to the air is the tiny amount at the tip of the nozzle. If you're using a water-based paint and want to break for lunch, answer a call from a friend or Mother Nature, you can just drape a wet paper towel over the tip of the nozzle to keep the paint from hardening.

Before you start to paint your first thing, get a large scrap piece of drywall, OSB board or a large cardboard box and practice. Pay very close attention to the distance the tip of the nozzle is from the work surface. Most sprayers want the tip to be about 6 to 8 inches from the surface being sprayed. If you're too close, you'll end up with a mess and if you're too far away the paint can drift away in the air.

If spraying outdoors, be very, very careful on windy days. Paint overspray can happen and it might be a nightmare to clean up. You may not think overspray is happening, but believe me, the paint can drift 10 or 20 feet away making a huge mess. Use drop cloths to protect anything you don't want paint to cover.

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