Troubleshooting Fisheye Problems with Waterbased Lacquer

Fisheye is a well-known, common problem. Here, finishers round up the usual suspects again. December 1, 2005

I am using Compliant Spray Systems Enduro lacquer and seem to be getting fish eye like problems of late. I did just switch from a turbine HVLP to an air setup but have it double filtered with an oil filter also. I think I could be getting contamination from my edgebander as it is recent to me. Has anyone tried putting silicone in the finish as recommended for solvent based finishes? Any ideas or suggestions are appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor D:
If you're not spraying too heavy and you're removing all the dust between coats then it's some sort of contaminate. To me it seems like water base is more prone to contaminate issues (the whole oil and water don't mix thing).

From contributor R:
I'm having the exact same problem. I've been using Enduro for quite a while and both Turbine and HVLP conversion guns. I’ve never had a fisheye problem with the turbines (but had plenty of other problems hence the switch.)

My solution is to spray light coats. Unfortunately, I get real impatient and start putting the finish on a little heavy and I get fisheye. I add color to my Enduro Poly (to make a toner) and the flaws become real obvious.

Sometimes what looks like fisheye is the surface tension of the finish pulling away from a seam or crack in the veneer or solid wood piece I'm spraying (a serious problem when spraying oak.) Here again, light coats help. A friend who also uses Enduro has had some success by thinning the finish with Enduro's Conditioner - about 10 percent. I have not tried any kind of fisheye eliminator so I can't make suggestions there. Does Compliant make one?

From the original questioner:

I don't know if Compliant has a fisheye remover or not. What are you using to get the air to the gun DB? I gave up my turbine as the main gun because of the noise. I used compressed air to pressure the 2 gallon pot on it and had no problems. I did use an in-line desiccant filter though and wonder if that pulled out all the last bits of H2O and stuff, though the filters I have should be doing that. Of course, it could be that the turbine puts out nice warm air and the CA is not. I've run through everything I could think of so I was thinking maybe someone else had an idea.

From contributor A:
If you’re experiencing fisheye with WB products:
1. Check the air supply.
2. Clean the gun only with water, soapy water, ammonia, alcohol, or acetone. (Do not use lacquer thinner)
3. Check your sandpaper. Do not use stereated paper with the exception of the Mirka brand or the 3M really expensive gold stuff (unless you are absolutely positive about your brand, most use white Sinc stereate).
4. Do not add conventional Silicone additives they are meant for solvent products.
5. Try using a product like Crystalac's Fisheye remover wash.
6. If none of these are solving your problem seal the wood with Zissner's Sealcoat or Bin shellac primer.

Also make sure to use only a WB compatible gun lube.

From contributor B:
I've been using Enduro going on two years and the only real fisheye I've gotten has been directly related to my compressor. I changed the filters and tossed the hose (for my pneumatic nail guns) and the problem went away.

Richards comment about surface tension is also correct. Too much and it'll look just like fisheye. I spray light to medium (before the money coat) coats tack on tack so I don't get that problem. Or if you have the space you could spray horizontal and then you can go heavier.

It also sounds like you also build your own cabs, what do you clean your tablesaw top, jointers and etc with? A lot of cab builders I know use silicone spray or sprays that contain silicone when they clean their big appliances.

From the original questioner:
Since I had made several changes all around the same time, I figured it could be any one of them. What type filters does everyone have? I bought the mid-grade Speedaire's from Grainger but might step up to the coalescing-type from Accuspray or other. Sandpaper, cleaning supplies, etc I can rule out. Operator error and air quality are the last two to rule out. Let's see if I can fix them before I spray a whole job again.

From contributor T:
I use Enduro too with good success. One time though, I had fisheye everywhere. It turned out to be gun lubricant. I cleaned the gun with lacquer thinner then water and now I'm very careful with the gun lube. I haven’t had any problems since.