Learning Curve with Air-Assisted Airless

If you're used to cup guns or pressure pots, you'll want to change your technique a little when you switch to an AAA gun. November 26, 2006

I've seen a lot of posts about air assisted airless and am wondering if I am missing out on some miracle spray setup. Does this suit a small shop? Is the cost justified and can you get better results spraying cabinets? What about the learning curve and cleanup?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor B:
I'm a cabinetmaker and finishing newbee. I've used HVLP before the Kremlin and find I'm a better finisher with the AAA. Cleanup is a snap, material goes farther. I'd start with smaller tips than these guys would use, just to get the hang of it. I'm a one man shop and I think the cost is justified when I don't have to send my work elsewhere for finishing and part with big bucks. I find I can spray just as well, and have been happy with the final product. And no complaints from the client.

From contributor H:
I've got me a Kremlin Airmix setup coming some time next week. I've used other people's AAA (I think it was Graco, not Kremlin, though) and been very impressed. It was also very easy to use. I'm spraying conversion varnish, and hope that with the Airmix, I can do a two coat finish. That will add up to a lot of time and material savings. I'm also a small shop, and I think the cost can be justified if you do a lot of finishing. If you only spray perhaps once every two months, it might not be worth it, but even as a small shop, I've been going through at least 10 gallons of CV per month. The average kitchen for me right now is using approximately 5 gallons with an airless. I'll see how much less I use with the Airmix when I get it.

From contributor R:
I think all the hype sometimes is misleading. Yes, Airmix is an excellent system. So is the CAT Cougar. But none of these work without an experienced finisher who knows how to spray the materials he is using, which tip and nozzle to use, what air pressures settings to use, and how to clean and care for the system. I remember the sales rep came and set up an Airmix, sprayed some thinner and off he went. What a first week.

From contributor E:
Sorry to hear about your bad experience with a rep. There are not too many good ones, but I have had guys who used to paint cars use an aa and be comfortable after two weeks. My point is aa is the only way to go and have other traditional guns for colors or shading lacquers and stains.

From contributor C:
I agree that you can screw up with any equipment. Old time techniques with my Kremlin have been funny events here. I have 2 different friends that came in to see and test the unit. Both would want to back off the material, scoff at not thinning 40%, complain they can't do their mist trick, go too slow (years of watching 50% overspray, I suppose) and basically try to use it like old cup/pressure guns.

It's designed to move. You get a near perfect pattern edge to edge. Sometimes I think a novice has a better chance of breaking in with an MVX than a seasoned finisher, but that's not true. We all had to learn how it lays down the material.

Want soft? Get a small Ultra/Xtra tip. As for cleaning - a quick tip dab and a blast of air, and perhaps a check on the air cap and it's back on the gun and keep going. The lack of air moving material keeps the tip clean for gallons with all but the heavy material. Cycling out and into material is fast. It's not hype.

From contributor O:
Remember when the ball stuck closed on the intake of the pump? If I'd had a gun, I would have shot the pump and put it out of it misery. LOL.

From the original questioner:
How easy is this to clean? How much time are we talking vs a gravity feed gun?

From contributor C:
Just topping 26 fronts today. I removed the tip/cap and put those in a small jar of thinner. Shut off the gun air, removed the tube, and slowly turned on the pump to empty the material back into the 5 gal pail. I moved the pail and replaced with a wash thinner pail and pumped thinner back into the line (tube back in). Turned the pump air off, hung the gun and turned off the lights. I'd guess 2-3 minutes tops.

Reverse to start up again. I let an agitator go for a few minutes before I start, so it's longer. There are many who leave it in material and wet overnight. I shut mine down for 1 to 2 weeks sometimes, so I flush. The fluid line is 3/16 ID, so it doesn't take much to flush it.

Magnamax Dull with an 09-092+ tip today. The tip didn't clog with this material. It needs a quick dip when I use heavy pigment, every 1.5 to 2 gallons, to keep it perfect. I just dip it in thinner and give it a quick blast of air. No need to brush it unless it's been sitting around with dry material for too long. Next is white primer, so I'll check the line filter after that, but it's been fine through 2 large jobs with wash, sealer and clear. I opened the front end of the gun 1 time in a year (mainly to clean white primer from the front tube). It took 10 minutes. Changing hoses takes a minute or so. Checking or changing the screen filter takes about a minute as well. I have a 2 quart SATA, gravity, etc. here, but I dread the cleanup with those. Spoiled.

From contributor M:
It is absolutely worth it. I have a small shop (3 man, and I'm the finisher when the duty calls). We were using a Titan airless pump (non-air-assisted) and a pint-cup gravity feed HVLP. Both gave decent results (the Titan being the one for big jobs, the HVLP for spraying toners and dyes).

We were loaned a CAT air-assisted. We had the wrong tip size (a massive 517) and I had never actually used one before, other than spraying a couple of doors at a stain training class. I do know how to spray a good finish, so this loaner was a fun experience. The job was a medium sized kitchen, and even with the wrong tip size, it was awesome.

Lemme tell ya brotha, we used conversion varnish (our typical clear) and I have never seen a gun that sprayed as smoothly, cleanly, reliably, and with near zero overspray. Even with that huge-arse tip.

Needless to say, we are now the proud owners of a brand new wall-mount unit. I can't wait for the job we're currently putting the final assembly on and color approval, I'll get the chance to whoop this puppy out and have some fun.

Lastly, it's totally air driven - nothing to plug into an outlet (well, other than the compressor). Unlike the Titan airless, the CAT system isn't a fire hazard due to the Titan's DC motor system. You can't accidentally leave it on or accidentally dump thinner on the motor housing and then piss yourself silly. No, I've honestly never done that, but it's still a danger if you tend to be a klutz like me. Go with the AAA. If your distributor will give you a loaner for a job, it will help you decide. It did for us.

From contributor I:
You will, if used right, get better transfer efficiency, a better laying finish, and cleanup is very easy (and takes less thinner). I have a CAT and Kremlin. I prefer the Kremlin. Tried the SATA, didn't like it. It was too heavy and stiff.

Depending on what you spray, consider cutting your material usage by 30%. This alone will give you your payback. Also, you don't have to thin the product. So a coat of unthinned has a thicker dry mil than a thinned product. Translation, fewer coats to get the same build, or thicker build with same coats.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for all the posts. Just ordered the CAT.