How to Get a Great Sprayed Finish

Overspray, uneven coats and drips? Here's how to avoid them.

Ah, spray paint: The easiest and quickest way to customize just about anything, right? No, spray painting is kinda tough! About eight years ago when I started working behind the scenes on home makeover shows in Miami, I was mesmerized at exactly what it took to get a good looking finish out of a can of high gloss. Art department and design assistants made it look so easy. For any of you who’ve tried your own hand with canned magic only to end up with a sticky, gloppy, over-sprayed mess, this post’s for you. Now step 8 inches back from the surface of your object, and let’s get down to business.

To get that perfect sprayed finish, you’ve gotta do some hard time. Not behind bars but behind the paint — with the proper prep. Invest in an orbital sander, medium-grit sanding block, spray primer and a spray paint handle. These things will come in handy time and again. While the orbital sander is ideal for removing heavier finishes from larger, more expansive surfaces, a sanding block will get into tight nooks the orbital cannot. A can of spray primer is essential to getting your first finish coat to adhere properly. The spray handle? We’ll get to that later.

In addition to the supplies that actually prep or paint the surface, it’s equally as important to protect your work area. Sounds simple, elementary even, I know; however, you’ll be surprised at what a pain in the @$# it is to spend an extra few minutes to do this. My rule of thumb is to collapse cardboard boxes, then overlap them about 2 feet beyond the piece you’re working on. Not only does this protect your floor, it also makes clean up quick. And protect your eyes. I cannot tell you how many times overspray has resulted in me looking crybaby-just-came-from-seeing-Toy-Story-3-ish. While it’s not really necessary to go all Bob Vila with your gear, a good pair of sunglasses goes along way.



And now, back to the spray handle. Located in the spray paint aisle of home improvement stores, this $5 item attaches to the top of the paint can to ensure a steady, smooth stream of paint.

After prepping, the trick to a fine finish is to keep the can 8 inches away from the surface of the piece. Then add coats in a quick up-and-down motion. Holding down the button and then going spray crazy is pretty much a one-way express ticket to Oversprayville.

When it comes to iron pieces with intricate cast detail, I recommend renting an HVLP (high volume, low pressure) sprayer and using high gloss exterior paint.

I found these Asian scroll-back chairs in really horrible condition for $25 each. Investing $75 to rent an HVLP sprayer was totally worth how much time it saved me and the level of quality it gave to the new white finish. The sprayers are easy to use, and they usually come with a instructions manual.

When using an HVLP sprayer on thin surfaces, take into account how much paint gets wasted from spraying straight into the air. While that’s kind of a bummer, I will tell you what is not: how quick you’ll get through each piece of furniture using the HVLP. In fact, loading the paint into it, then cleaning it out once you’re done takes more time than actually spraying your item.



And here’s my last example of when spray paint won’t do and HVLP sprayers are a must: expansive surfaces. Years back, I’d pick up dressers from flea markets and then kick myself when spray paint cans resulted in totally uneven, blotchy finishes. When you use a sprayer, it allows for wider coverage which means a more professional, seamless finish. For large pieces, it may be smart to opt for porch and deck paint instead of regular latex. It’s much more durable and goes on thicker.

If you do a ton of furniture painting, I suggest the Citation from Axis Pro. This is the sprayer my team has been using for three years.

In conclusion, if there’s anything you learned today, boys and girls, it’s (a) always keep at least 8 inches from the surface of your object to your spray can; (b) Toy Story 3 made me cry like a six year old with a skinned knee; and (c) professional finishes on larger pieces of furniture are the result of using a sprayer versus a spray can. Class dismissed.

Why look! Here’s a step-by-step kitchen cabinet project where I used an HLVP sprayer.

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