Tool Test: $90 HVLP Sprayer

Timing is everything. The press release that came into my mailbox stated, “Finish Woodworking Projects Like the Pros with New CommandMax® HVLP Sprayer
and the suggested price is $90. I push spray finishing because I think
you get a better finish overall – better than what you get when you
apply your finish using a brush. However, the single most-often asked
question I get is whether units that cost less than $100 can do the job.
This is my chance to work with a less expensive unit to see what it
brings to the table. (Table is a great choice of words because a table
is exactly on what I planned to test the CommandMax unit.)

are a few things that stood out about the unit. When positioned on a
bench or table, the CommandMax HVLP Sprayer sits upright and ready to
grab. The handle rests on the tabletop as does the cup so it’s easy to
store. The unit is lightweight, weighing only 2.7 pounds. Everything –
meaning the motor and the spray action – turns on and off via a trigger.
The unit also has many of the adjustments you see on more expensive
HVLP units – three spray patterns, adjustable spray widths and a way to
regulate the amount of fluids that pass through the gun. On the
downside, the cup is ill-shaped which makes screwing it off and on a bit
of a problem – it doesn’t attach to the gun the way more expensive HVLP
cups do. My hand barely wrapped the cup and on it there are no
indentations to grab and turn, but with the unit sitting on the table,
it is easy to screw the cup tight.

I planned to test the unit
without ruining my project, so when the HVLP sprayer arrived, I took it
to the Popular Woodworking Magazine shop, loaded the cup with water and
shot the heck out of a piece of cardboard. As I sprayed the water, I
felt like the unit was pushing out a heavy load of air pressure. (Surely
there would be a cloud of finish billowing out of my shop as I
sprayed.) I decided that I could deal with any potential mushroom cloud
and that I would dye my table using the CommandMax. I would then
reassess the spray unit prior to my first coat of shellac.

loaded my dye into the unit and set forth to color the table. The
CommandMax worked just fine. The dye was thin enough in viscosity to
push through the gun without problems. The power continued to feel
strong, but the ability to shoot long distances kept me from crawling
under the table to coat the table’s underside. The results looked as
good as I could expect from my other HVLP units and there was no cloud
of over-spray to deal with. Of course, I couldn’t stop there. I had to
at least try the shellac, after the dye was dry and the table lightly

I mixed the shellac to #1-1/2 then loaded the cup and set
about shellacking my table. This is when I noticed that the shellac
wasn’t being atomized as well as the more expensive units – that’s to be
expected. Because it was a cooler day and the shellac didn’t set up too
fast, this wasn’t a problem as the layers flowed out to mostly level.
(Thinning the shellac a bit more would help the atomization, but too
thin and you’ll deal with massive amounts of runs.) I successfully
coated the table with two layers of shellac. I sat the sprayer on the
bench and allowed the shellac on the table to dry so I could knock the
peaks of the bug secretion topcoat into the valleys.

My thoughts
were that the CommandMax wasn’t the best HVLP unit I’ve worked with, but
it did the job and could make a nice starter unit to give spray
finishing a try. I have to admit I was a bit surprised.

About two
hours later, I was ready to move on to a third coat. I mentioned above
about the shape of the cup and the difficulty in attaching it. As I went
to add more shellac to the sprayer, I discovered the bigger issue.
Along with the shellac on my table hardening, the shellac around the cup
edge (there is no gasket at the connection) and the material that
dribbled from the nozzle also hardened. The cup screws off, but with the
shellac hard and the difficulty in grasping the cup, I couldn’t get
that to happen. I tried to clamp the unit in a vise. No success. Also,
any thoughts of adjusting the spray configuration went out the window,

After a couple more attempts to loosen the cup, I gave up
and turned to my “go to” sprayer to finish the shellac work. It was
quickly apparent just how much better the shellac is atomized in a
better HVLP unit. Better atomization translates into a finer spray which
means a smoother coat and better finish job. (Later, I did finally
break loose the cup, but there is no chance to adjust the spray patterns
until I thoroughly clean the unit.)

The CommandMax HVLP Sprayer
doesn’t quite rival the more expensive HVLP units, and I don’t think you
can “Finish Like the Pros” when using it, but if you have an extra $90
and don’t want to shell out a couple hundred more for a better unit, it
could be your start to spray finishing – just remember to wipe down the
cup threads and the nozzle area before you walk away for a couple hours,
or your CommandMax might be a one-time spray tool.

— Glen D. Huey

If you’re looking for a DVD that explains step by step how to finish your projects “Like a Pro,” click here for my “Finishes that Pop.” It’s the exact method I use on all my furniture projects.

Or if you can make do with just having the formulas that I use to finish, click here to read the article from Popular Woodworking Magazine for free.

6 thoughts on “Tool Test: $90 HVLP Sprayer

  1. Glen

    Ken – I realize it’s been a month since your comment, but there are a couple things to mention when using varnish or poly.

    First, you would have to thin those products and test the viscosity before attempting to spray through any HVLP unit. Second, the atomization for varnish and poly is not as big a deal as with shellac or lacquer due to the drying time associated with those products.

    There would be time for the varnish or poly to flow and level prior to reaching a state of dry. Faster drying products need to atomized better because that drying time is short.

  2. Ken Hall

    Gee, I was hoping there was an answer to getting a HVLP sprayer at a reasonable price.
    My understanding is that the atomization of the finish is the real key to how well the finish comes out, the finer the better, if you were concerned with 1-1/2# shellac, then what concerns might you have for the heavier finishes one may use like varnish or a poly?

  3. Glen

    I agree that you get what you pay for, but I was pleasantly surprised at how this sprayer worked. I did get the cup off eventually, so that really is a non-issue.

    I do think this would be a good way to step up to HVLP. I also think that you should try the other (more expensive) units to understand how much different the results are. My bottom-line is that if you’re planning to build and finish many pieces, I would go with a higher quality unit. But if you have only a few pieces a year to finish, the CommandMax is better than a brush or rag.

  4. rotideqmr

    I realize that you are not "Consumer Reports," and therefor never really want to "trash" a product from a potential advertiser so you were kind in the way you phrased your review. Reading between the lines, however, I get the impression that this sprayer is about as useful as a cheap brush where the bristles fall out midway through the application.

    If I bought that thing and then found I couldn’t get the cup off the bottom I’d be demanding my money back from the manufacturer really fast. Spending $90 to avoid spending $300 is no bargain when you’re going to have to end up buying the more expensive product anyway.

  5. Glen

    Morton – For spraying dye, I use a Earlex HV5000 and for everything else that I spray on furniture, I use an Apollo 1025 turbine. No, I don’t yet have the Apollo 7500T Atomizer gun fixed, so I turn to a gun that has been banging around my shop for years. I believe it came with my first HVLP system which was a Wagner Capspray unit back in the mid 1990s.

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