What is your favorite spray finish recipe?

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Forum topic by Mary Anne posted 02-04-2011 07:34 PM 3408 views 4 times favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Mary Anne

1058 posts in 4265 days

02-04-2011 07:34 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question hvlp finishing spray

I am eagerly awaiting a call from my UPS driver hoping he will meet me in town (can’t get to my house without 4-wheel drive and studded tires) to hand over my new Earlex HV5000 HVLP system. I also need to purchase some finishing supplies while I am in town. Which brings up the question… what should I buy? There are so many options; we could use a whole forum dedicated to finishing! I know from experience LJs is the best place to ask advice. For anyone else considering an HVLP system, there is a lot of great info and tips on my earlier question about choosing an HVLP.

Of course it depends on the project, but what is your favorite spray on finish and why? Poly? Varnish? Shellac? Lacquer? Water base? Or oil base? How much do you dilute it and with what? How many coats do you typically use? Feel free to throw out your favorite brand names or tips for a newbie.

14 replies so far

View patron's profile


13717 posts in 4398 days

#1 posted 02-04-2011 07:43 PM

pre-cat lacquer satin

thin with lacquer thinner

the dust from 220 sanding
between coats
dissolves back in it

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View NBeener's profile


4816 posts in 4231 days

#2 posted 02-04-2011 07:44 PM

”we could use a whole forum dedicated to finishing!”

EXCELLENT suggestion !

-- -- Neil

View bigike's profile


4057 posts in 4345 days

#3 posted 02-04-2011 08:08 PM

Me, I want to know what’s a nice gun is for a compressor ran system? This is how I’m gonna get into spraying finishes only cab lacquer for now.

-- Ike, Big Daddies Woodshop, http://[email protected]

View Kent Shepherd's profile

Kent Shepherd

2718 posts in 4343 days

#4 posted 02-04-2011 08:16 PM

I prefer lacquer, but I’m open to trying new things. I’ve probably spayed about a million gallons of lacquer in my lifetime (Could explain whar’s wrong with me!)

bigike, Binks makes excellent guns for compressors, I use the Binks Model 2001 and the Model 7. They are professional guns, so they are not cheap, but the are are hard to beat. I use both suction feed and pressure pots for mine.


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Kent Shepherd

2718 posts in 4343 days

#5 posted 02-04-2011 08:50 PM

bentlyj, I did try precats when they first came out, maybe 40 years ago. I had trouble on a refinishing job that I ended up redoing 3 times. I just gave up and when back to what I knew. I don’t know if it was me or the lacquer, but I was afraid to try it again. Maybe I should now. Like I said, I’m open to other things, but it is easy to get in a rut.


View ellen35's profile


2749 posts in 4489 days

#6 posted 02-04-2011 08:54 PM

I’m just green with envy… an HPLV… and a place to spray!

-- "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Voltaire

View live4ever's profile


983 posts in 4067 days

#7 posted 02-04-2011 09:16 PM

When I started spraying, I only wanted to do water-based because of some of the hazards of spraying oil-based.

This led me to Target Coatings products, which I think are just downright fantastic. I have used their EM6000 (lacquer), EM2000 (conversion varnish), and EM8000 (production varnish). All are easy to handle and spray for the beginner, with excellent burn-in, drying, and sanding properties. Also, Target has an entire forum dedicated to spray finishing and the use of their products – you can learn a LOT there. Their prices are actually a lot more reasonable than it seems on first pass – once you’re on their email list you can regularly enjoy 20-30% off list.

For me as a beginner, it was nice to start out with water-based because you can sort of spray all over the place…and water clean-up is such a breeze compared to solvent (for me – I don’t have or like having liters upon liters of solvent on hand). Finishing experts will tell you water-based doesn’t quite have the same glow as solvent-based (recent FWW article on this as well), but it’s close enough for me to enjoy the convenience of spraying water-based.

I haven’t really ventured from Target to other brands as their stuff works really well for me. However, one day I’ll have a safe and clean space to spray solvent-based…

-- Optimists are usually disappointed. Pessimists are either right or pleasantly surprised. I tend to be a disappointed pessimist.

View Wes Giesbrecht's profile

Wes Giesbrecht

155 posts in 3868 days

#8 posted 02-05-2011 01:25 AM

Every finish has it’s pros and cons. That’s why they exist.
If one was best for everything, all the rest would disappear.
The only answer to this question is that you need to learn
at least a little bit about all of them.

Lacquer goes on easy, is easy to get a really professional looking job but
It’s poisonous as hell, extremely flammable and horrible for the environment.
Some countries have outlawed to completely.
Also, it’s not tough and it’s susceptible to water stains.

Water based clear is tough as nails, much more enviro friendly but harder to apply,
very difficult to touch up, and it tends to look like a coat of plastic laying on top of the wood.
Birch and maple tate WB well but walnut for instance winds up not even looking like real wood when you’re done.

Most polyurethane varnish takes awhile to skin over hence every dust particle in the room finds it’s way onto your product. Still, a great product if you’re okay with spending a lot of time polishing out the dust nubs after the final spray.

Far and away the easiest is so-called oil finish which is actually a thin, wiping varnish. I add a little poly to mine to bump up the solids content. And you don’t need to spray it.

-- Wes Giesbrecht

View DrDirt's profile


4615 posts in 4799 days

#9 posted 02-05-2011 01:51 AM

I spray the deft brushing lacquer. Though it means drying time is 2 hours not 30 minutes, it is nearly impossible to mess up, unless you really lay it on thick. The solvent extenders that are added to make it brushable and self levelling, also make it nearly impossible to get any ugly orange peel texture. You are nearly guaranteed an ‘off the gun’ finish that needs little to no rubbing out.

And it is inexpensive and available at all the big box stores @ 37 bucks for a gallon can.

-- “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain

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Rob Vicelli

109 posts in 3748 days

#10 posted 02-05-2011 05:40 AM

Mary Anne, I have been using a Fuji pro 4 HVLP and only have been using water based fiinishes. I have use and liked Fuhr and currently using General Enduro-var and really like is so far. It has a yellow tinit built in to ressembly oil finishes. It goes on nice and smooths out well after curing. I have also used some dye which I find interesting. I use the dyes as one of the first coats to tone the wood. I have mostly been using transtint dyes from Homestead Finishing. Have fun!

-- Rob V

View huff's profile


2828 posts in 4342 days

#11 posted 02-05-2011 04:16 PM

Mary Anne, First off, Congrats on your new HVLP system. Learning how to spray your finishes and learning what finish works best for you will take a little time and a lot of practice. Like Wes said, each finish has it’s pros and cons. When I first started spraying my finishes 20 some years ago, I started with just straight nitrocellulose lacquer. It was easy to use, easy to correct mistakes, looked great and felt great and on most projects it was a good finish. I did come to realize that it was not the type finish you want on a set of kitchen cabinets, or vanity, or a table top or any other piece of furniture that got a lot of wear and tear. It’s not a hard finish, does not hold up well to heat, a lot of moisture and most chemicals. Pre-cat lacquers, post-cat. lacquers and conversion varnishes are a much more durable finish…......Just a little harder to use, a lot harder to correct a mistake and not much of a shelf life. I’ve worked with different water based products, but will have to admit that it was a number of years ago. I struggled for about 2 years trying different ones, but the problem I was having was I was still spraying solvent base products too and when you set two projects side by side, one done with a solvent base product and the other with a water base finish, there was quite a difference, especially with a darker wood like walnut or you stained something with a dark stain. So I went back to what I was comfortable with. I’m sure the water base products are much better today, but in my case where I have to make my living in woodworking, It’s hard to take a lot of time to experiment with new products. If I was just starting out now, I would probably give water base products a try. They are safe to have around, environmentally friendly, and easy to clean up. Don’t be afraid to try different finishes and each manufacturer usually has some good tips on using their products. I see on your project page you make a wide variety of projects (beautiful work), so just one type of finish will probably not do anyway….......and you will still be doing some hand finishing. Good luck and will be looking forward to seeing your new projects with the new finishes.

-- John @

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Mary Anne

1058 posts in 4265 days

#12 posted 02-05-2011 08:08 PM

Huge thanks to each of you! You guys provide a wealth of helpful information… real information from real woodworkers willing to share years of experience.

As it turns out, I did not get my sprayer yesterday. UPS didn’t call until after dark, and we had some freezing rain on top of thick, patches of ice on a steep road. Even I had the sense to stay home. :) Maybe conditions will improve by Monday.

I am going to follow your advice and pick up a few different products to try out and experiment with. At least I now have some understanding of the differences and won’t end up spending the entire day reading labels. The pre-cat lacquer sounds great, especially for a beginner. The safety and environmental factors of the water based products is also very attractive, so I will be giving them a try as well.

Thanks again, guys!!

View TheOldTimer's profile


226 posts in 4143 days

#13 posted 02-05-2011 08:35 PM

I have been spraying water base finishes for years, If you decide to go with water base products, I would recommend that you add some retarder to the finish prior to spraying. This will delay dryingg time and allow thefinish to better level out. My finish of choice years ago was lacquor. I can no longer tolerate the fumes of lacquor or oil base finishes. I guess that I have inhaled much too much during my career of 32 years as a firegighter. I was on the job way before there was self contained breathing equipment.
Good luck on your spraying and I use HLVP conversion guns exclusively.

-- TheOldTimer,Chandler Arizona

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Mary Anne

1058 posts in 4265 days

#14 posted 02-14-2011 08:50 PM

The weather has cleared and I finally got my sprayer and several finishes to try. My first impressions with this sprayer are very positive. I like it MUCH more than the old conventional painting with my compressor.

The HVLP system was fantastic for spaying stains and getting nice, even coloration. Simple and quick with great results. For the topcoats, lacquer was easiest, but very smelly and the fumes seem to linger. I like the water based poly for its low odor, but as predicted, it was a little more difficult to get just right. Really though, it only took a few minutes more practice, more thinning and a smaller nozzle, and it also went on just as smooth and easy. Since I’ve only been spraying on plywood panels, I can’t really judge much about the look of either one as a “fine finish”, but I am confident that my closet cabinet doors are going to come out looking great!

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