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I built a customer-ordered Shaker chest of drawers that I planned to deliver over the holiday weekend. Because this project is a future Popular Woodworking article, I had to get an “opener” shot before I left (that’s what we call the pretty picture at the start of an article).

Once again I relied on my “Just in time” inventory system. Two days before the shoot I came into the shop to dye the chest. I mixed the dye and was ready to pour the mixture into my spray gun…but I could not find my gun. I seem to have lost my HVLP gun while moving between Marc Adams School of Woodworking (where I taught a class on finishing) and my shop.

I rooted around my shop like a pig hunting for truffles (probably not the best self-description to use). I found nothing. The Apollo Atomizer (A7500QT) spray gun I ordinarily use is on the injured reserve list and is out of the lineup until it’s repaired. The older back-up gun I have is missing a few crucial parts that were scavenged to rehab the gun I misplaced. It turns out that I left the gun at the school in Franklin, Ind.

With my back to the wall, I purchased a new Earlex 5000 system for my shop. Popular Woodworking Editor Chris Schwarz has used the Earlex 5000 system and told me it did the job, but it’s not the same as the more expensive HVLP units we’ve used. It was my turn to experience any differences.

Here’s my take. The Earlex 5000 Spray Station is a two-stage turbine with a bleeder-type gun. I generally use an Apollo 1025 turbine (four-stage unit) with a non-bleeder spray gun. The Earlex is priced just below $300; the Apollo just tops $1,000.

The more stages in your system, the better the power coming from your turbine. The increased power allows the materials (aniline dye, shellac and lacquer, in my case) to be better atomized thus laying down a smoother coat of finish; to offset the lower power you simply thin the materials, but not too much.

A bigger difference is the bleeder gun vs. the non-bleeder gun. A bleeder gun blows air through the gun continuously. Whenever the turbine is turned on, the air blows. A non-bleeder gun allows the air to start and stop with the trigger action. Pull the trigger a little and the air flows.  Pull the trigger a lot to get the material to flow with the air. When you let go of the trigger, it all stops. All my guns are or have been non-bleeder types, so the idea of constant airflow always makes me wonder , I worry about blowing dust into the air and into my finish.

In using the Earlex unit, no junk found its way into my finish. The two-stage turbine worked fine after I thinned my lacquer (the viscosity of the water-based dye and the shellac thinned to a 1-1/2 pound cut was plenty to spray). I did have to work the spray pattern a bit differently than when I use the more expensive HVLP setup. I noticed the fan spray pattern on the Earlex gun was a little “dry” at the center of the fan, or more fluid was being pushed to the outside of the pattern. I had to keep the spray of the fan at a tighter overlap to get even coverage. If I moved as aggressively, as I do with the Apollo setup, a distinct streak would appear. (This is also why I change the fan-spray direction with each coat , spray one coat moving horizontally then the next coat with a vertical movement.)

I’m impressed with the Earlex 5000 system. It is a perfect starter unit and certainly a candidate for the woodworker who desires to spray finish, but doesn’t want the cost of the unit to equal that of a new 8″ jointer. I would have no issues working with this system. However, due to the number of projects I finish each year, I think I’ll dedicate my Earlex HVLP unit to aniline dye and I’ll stick with my Apollo unit for my topcoat finishes.

I have to get that gun fixed!

– Glen D. Huey

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Showing 2 comments
  • George Wood

    HVLP stands for High Volume Low Pressure.

  • Mike Siemsen

    Glen,
    I read your post on the spray units. If you want to really trick them out take a look at 3Ms PPS spray system. Make clean up and switching cups a breeze. No affiliation.
    I blogged a bit about it
    http://schoolofwood.com/node/33
    It is nice to be able to turn the cup upside down or lay it on its side if you have a pressurized cup.
    I run my on a cheap Harbor Freight conversion gun.
    Mike

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