Thursday, May 9, 2013

Getting Your Spray On: Working on a project

With the right equipment and work environment any job is easier!
After spraying 20 plus Tater Tot sculptors, a kitchen cabinet job doesn't seem so scary.  But you don't get all you can drink Diet Cherry Lime Aides either. 
In the last two posts, I covered how a HVLP spray system is put together and how to use/trouble shoot the equipment.  Knowing the parts and how they work together can mean the difference between....
Mud Pie
a pie made of mud
The final part of using a spray system is creating an environment both on the job site (to work on the frames) and off-site (for doors and drawers) that is clean, safe, comfortable, and climate controlled.  I am very lucky to have an industrial spray booth that I use for commission projects and to teach cabinet classes.  Our local finishers have also enjoyed renting it for 8 years now.

Most people will not have the space for this type of investment and it is the biggest challenge for every cabinet finisher.  The best space is one that has adequate ventilation and climate control.  And usually the two spaces most available are the basement, which has climate control but poor ventilation, or the garage, which has good ventilation but poor climate control.

If you opt for a basement set-up, make sure you have windows that will open and use a fan to circulate air towards the window(s). A garage is easier to get cross ventilation. To keep either area clean and limit air-born debris, you might consider a Zip Wall system which allows you to create a pop-up spray booth.

A water-based system is great because you don't have the build-up of smelly chemicals but you still need to protect your lungs. A paper dust mask is sufficient when spraying most water-based product especially in combination with open doors/window and a fan.

And make sure you have enough air hose length to keep the turbine outside your Zip Wall, spray booth, or small closed rooms like powder bath.  For large areas, such as a kitchen, I keep the turbine 15-20 feet away from where I am spraying.  If you have asthma, talk with your doctor about spraying as a respirator might be recommended.

The ideal climate for spraying is between 65-75 degrees with little to no humidity.  Good luck with that!  It does mean that you have to be aware of the average seasonal climates for you area and the weather guess report for the week.  Working in the home, talk with the homeowner first about setting the thermostat to the appropriate temperature before you start the job.  New construction is harder because some builders are cheap and won't turn on air conditioning or heat.  In the summer I would spray first thing in the morning and in the winter I would spray in the afternoon on new construction sites.

Be careful of using forced heat and air. Your finish may craze (spidery cracks) if you spray in a colder room and then roll your pieces into a room with too much forced air/heat because the very top of the finish is drying too fast.

The two simple things that will make your life much easier spraying at home are:

1) Buy a cake turner or Lazy Susan.  These are also great to use when you are glazing and detailing cabinets.  You have to be careful not to get fingerprints on the back of your piece. And you don't want to touch areas you have just sprayed.  It is better to get the cheap cake turner-the better ones will tilt under the weight of heavy cabinet pieces.

2) Invest in a racking/drying system.  There are a few companies that make actual cabinet drying systems and these can be particularly useful where climate control is a problem.  In our situation where the room in climate controlled, we use metal racks on wheels from Costco.  The open shelving allows air to circulate and I can easily see drawer fronts to make sure my pieces are matching. The wheels make it easy to move pieces from spray area to dry area.  Racks like this are also easy to label because sometimes you have 2-3 finishes going in a single kitchen. You don't want to paint a door that was supposed to be stained!
 I spray my doors laying flat on the cake turner and start by spraying around the sides.

Remember I am turning the actual cake stand so I don't need to touch the sides of the door.  Then I spray across the top of the door.

If you  spray the top first and then the sides you will be blowing air and product into the area you just sprayed.  The key is to not spray too thick so it pools in the recesses of a door.

Spraying on site is even more worrisome for some people.  Clients are very concerned about over-spray and dust.  Some clients will flat out refuse to let you spray.  You can brush and roll a cabinet frame and spray the door and drawers.  Just plan on taking additional time to keep those frames smooth.

Masking the frames is what takes the longest time when you spray on site.  I like to use a mix of painter's plastic and masking paper with low tack painter's tape.  Always confirm with the client which areas are to be painted/stained and which will be natural wood that only gets clear coat. This has become a popular furniture look for cabinetry.  I mask the floor from the base molding out at least 1 foot and then drop cloth the rest of the floor. Bring clean sheets to drape any furniture that can't be moved from the room.  Always plastic electronics, appliances, vents, and openings to other rooms.
Yes it is labor intensive to mask a room but once it is done you can spray a whole kitchen in under 20 minutes.  Your product dries faster, goes further, and you have less sanding.  Plus the extra effort to mask a room lessens that chance you will get paint somewhere it shouldn't be.
For this job we were working on Birch which is a smooth wood that skews softer then Oak.  Stain blocking is not usually an issue with Birch although it does get fuzzy with the first product layer.  I sprayed the cabinets with water based matte primer from Zinsser and then sprayed a custom taupe silver metallic.
Always do a drawer and door from start to finish before you begin a project.  These are your guides for working in your shop and on-site.  I also recommend finishing the frames first. It is a psychological relief to your clients to see progress and get the kitchen unmasked and cleaned up. 
If they are happy with the frames, you can relax while doing the doors and drawers which are the "stars" of a project anyway!
With a little practice and some confidence you will be able to deliver a factory level artistic finish that will keep you ahead of your competition and increase your profit. 



  1. Thank you for sharing this interesting and informative article, painting with airless spray gun will be faster and more interesting!

    Airless Spray Gun

  2. The results look great! And the mud pie looks nice

    Airless Spray