How to use an HVLP Paint Spray Gun {video tutorial}

I have little patience.  You know this about me.  I like things done and I like them done right now with minimal effort on my part.  So when I had SIX dining chairs that needed to be refinished I thought the time had come for a spray gun.

This is the spray gun that I have.  It is an HVLP gun which means High Volume Low Pressure.

HVLP guns are largely used for painting cars, so keep that in mind when you read about using an HVLP gun.  The kind of meticulous prep necessary for painting a car is not always necessary for what I use it for (i.e. painting furniture).

You can get a lot of different versions of HVLP guns out there and they all work pretty much the same way.  The reason we bought this one is because we were going to be painting our rusty old van ourselves and needed something that would do the job without looking like we had painted our rusty old van ourselves (we ended up having it professionally done after all when my brother suggested trying Maaco.  MUCH less expensive than the other quotes we got).

There are a lot of craft spray paint guns out there as well as a lot of tutorials.  I have never used them and this tutorial is just for an HVLP gun.  After reading reviews of the craft spray guns and then using the HVLP gun, I am more than satisfied with the results of my HVLP gun.

**Mandatory disclaimer**

I am a DIY kind of mom.  I am not a professional.  Read your directions thoroughly.  Don’t take this as professional advice and come at me with a lawyer!  I will not be held responsible for you not using your product correctly or if you don’t like how your project turned out :)

**End mandatory disclaimer**

When you are going to use an HVLP Spray gun, you will need will need (when possible, I link to the one that I have) :

First things first.  CLEAN YOUR KITCHEN!  You may think I’m joking but trust me, you do NOT want to get started on a job like this with a messy kitchen with a sink full of dirty dishes.  You are going to need that sink and you will need it empty.  If you don’t want to go through the hassle of cleaning your whole kitchen then just empty the sink (preferably by washing the dishes so you don’t have stacks of dirty dishes staring you in the face when you are tired out after your project).

Setting up your HVLP Spray Gun

An HVLP spray gun is not an “use out of the box” kind of product.  We had ours for weeks before I got around to reading the directions and then another week or so went by before Matt could explain those directions to me in plain english.  You should always read the warnings and instructions that come with your tools, but that won’t stop me from trying to translate them into something understandable for you :)

This is my HVLP gun.  We got it from Harbor Freight and I couldn’t be more happy with it.  So far I have only used the large gun, but if I wanted to do two different colors at the same time, having the second one is handy.  In the lid of the box you can see several brushes that are used for cleaning your gun and a few other things that I haven’t had to use yet.

Unless you get your gun in a special kit, you will have to buy a regulator, filter and fitting separately.  If your gun does not specifically say that it comes with these things, assume it doesn’t.  You can always take them back after if you get lucky.

This is my air compressor.  Again, unless it is a kit you will have to buy things like the hose, etc. separately.  Our smaller air compressor came in a kit, so I was able to nick anything I needed for this one from the smaller one.

Things like the coupler and the hose (the coupler is that gold thing on the right in the picture below.  It is the fitting to connect the compressor to the hose.  A similar fitting will be used to connect the hose to the gun).

In addition to the other things I have mentioned, you will want some teflon tape.

You will use the teflon tape to wrap around the threads of the various parts of your gun, etc before you screw them together.  This keeps everything air tight (you can see the white of the teflon tape we used for the coupler on the compressor).

Remembering to attach the teflon tape, screw the regulator on to the gun.

Then the filter on to the regulator (if your filter is plastic like mine, you won’t need teflon tape because the plastic is soft enough to keep it air tight).

Finally, screw the fitting on to the end of the filter.  This is where you will connect to the hose (make sure you have the right kind of fitting).

Prep Your Project

  • Get your project all set up and ready to go.
  • Make sure you are in a well ventalated area
  • use drop cloths and/or other things to protect the surrounding area from overspray
(This is my first video tutorial, please forgive the very amateur filming and presentation,
hopefully my presentation will get better with time and experience)


Prepping Your Paint

From everything I have read, you can’t use regular paint from the hardware store in your gun without thinning it.  It is just too thick and will gum up your gun.  Here are a few things to remember when you prep your paint

  • Some people (and instruction books) will say you can’t use water based paints (i.e. latex).  I have never had a problem and couldn’t be happier with the results.  You should however, be aware of any warranty nullification that may happen by using latex paint in your gun and use it at your own risk.
  • Latex paint is water based and therefore can be thinned with plain water.  It doesn’t take much.  I will usually put two cups of paint into a mason jar (keep a lid handy) and add a tablespoon of water at a time until it is the consistency I want (which is a little bit thicker than whole milk, but not as thick as cream).
  • Oil based paint can NOT be thinned with water.  To thin oil based paint and primer you will have to use mineral spirits or paint thinner.
  • I would highly suggest using latex unless you have a very good reason to use an oil based paint.  It is MUCH easier to clean your gun with water based stuff (hint: look on the label, if it says “clean with soap and water” it is water based.  If it says “clean with mineral spirits” it is oil based).  You shouldn’t be putting mineral spirits or oil based paint down your drains not to mention water from the faucet won’t help in the clean up process at all.  I have had to clean my gun after using an oil based primer and it is a PAIN!  For me, unless I have several large and dark pieces that I can do at the same time it is easier to just brush an oil based primer on with a sponge brush that I can toss in the trash after than to clean my gun.
  • As of yet I have only used flat paint in my gun.  I don’t like glossy paint because it takes so long to dry and doesn’t dry as hard as flat paint.  I would much rather layer flat paint and then use a clear top coat than use a semi-gloss or gloss paint.  That being said, using this spray gun instead of a brush may very well give me better results than I have had in the past.
  • Because flat paint dries so quickly, I can usually get two coats in one sitting.
  • The cup of your HVLP gun isn’t very big.  In my experience however, I was able to put 2-3 coats of paint on this dresser before I had to refill it.  There is very little overspray (though there is enough that you will want to use drop cloths, etc.) and the coverage was excellent.
  • Polycrylic is an excellent clear top coat.  It is water based and does not require any thinning (it’s already very thin).  Because it is already so thin, your cup will empty a lot quicker than with paint.  Polycrylic that has been sprayed has a different feeling on your hand than when it has been brushed on.  If I am comparing apples to apples an one coat of un-sanded polycrylic over paint applied with a brush will feel much smoother than when applied with a spray.  It will still protect your paint, and it is still far easier to clean than flat paint, but it’s not as smooth feeling.  That being said, I’m sure you could get the same smooth feeling if you were to sand between your coats of paint really well and apply more than one coat of polycrylic.  I didn’t do that with my chairs because I was lazy.
  • Polyurethane is also an excellent clear top coat and comes in both oil and water based (though oil based is most common).  I have no intention of ever putting an oil based polyurethane in my paint gun.  If it is oil based not only will I have to clean my gun with mineral spirits but because polyurethane is clear I can’t tell when or if my gun is clean like I can with tinted paint or primer.

Using Your Sprayer

  • There are several great tutorials out there already about how to apply spray paint or when using a craft paint sprayer.  Like those applications you want to use long, even strokes that will go all the way across your piece.
  • Your gun may or may not have an air cap.  Mine does.  The air cap is something that screws on to the nozzle that directs the paint flow.  If the cap is horizontal, the paint flow will be vertical and visa versa.
  • Don’t spray it on too thick because you do not want drips.
  • At the same time, don’t be afraid of it.  You can get really good coverage before getting it too thick.  Most of the time I don’t need more than two coats and some touch ups to have it perfect and ready for the clear coat (not taking sanding into account).
  • It’s a good idea to sand in between coats.  If you sand in between coats, even using flat paint you can get a wonderfully smooth finish (you will still want clear top coat because flat paint is a bear to clean).
  • Don’t be scared when your air compressor turns on in the middle of your paint job.  It will continue to turn on and off as long as you are using it continuously (like when you use a paint gun).
FYI, under normal circumstances I would sand this piece much better and pretty much make it perfect before I painted it.  In a few months when I don’t need the co-sleeping bed anymore I will be turning it into a tiny couch.  I wasn’t too careful about the finish on it because I will be upholstering it later on.  Keep that in mind when I go close up on it.

Cleaning Your Gun

  • If you have to set your gun down for longer than it takes to take a pee break or refill the cup, empty and clean it.
  • If you leave paint in your gun you will ruin it and need to buy a new one.
  • Empty the remaining paint into the mason jar you used to prep your paint with (so you can use it again some other time).  I like to let the cup continue to drain into the mason jar while I clean the gun.
  • Assuming you are using latex paint, turn on your water and unscrew the paint cap off of the nozzle and take it apart as much as you can (do not take the regulator, filter or nozzle off.  Paint doesn’t get into those things or in that area at all.  You can leave those on.)
  • With a stream of water entering where the cup goes, pull the trigger and allow the water to enter the gun through the cup opening and exit through the nozzle.  Since we are only using gravity and water flow instead of compressed air, you will easily be able to see the water flow out.
  • Continue to allow water flow with the trigger down until it runs clear.  If you used a dark paint you will easily be able to see when it turns clear.
  • Rinse off all parts with soap and water and scrub with the brushes that came with your kit (or a toothbrush if you don’t have the brushes)
  • Make sure to scrub the threads of the cup and gun so paint doesn’t stick and make it hard to screw in later.
  • Rinse off everything else a few more times for good measure just to be safe.
  • Let dry.


In case you are wondering how my the HVLP gun treated my chairs, it cut my my painting down from five coats of paint and one of polycrylic down to two coats and touch ups (and one of polycrylic).

It was SO nice to be able to get these all done quickly.  The sprayer was great for getting in all of the nooks and crannies.

Linking to:

”Tip homeworkA Diamond in the StuffChef In TrainingHome Stories A2Z{Primp}Miss Mustard Seed's Creative Blog
PhotobucketSixSistersStuff.comIt's OverflowingI Heart Nap TimeFine Craft Guild


29 Comments Add yours

  1. Lannie says:

    love this entry, I am at work and have to wait to go home to watch it! WE LOVE HARBOR FREIGHT!!!!!! I spray painted my first ever dresser and my finger and forearm is killing me!!! We have a compressor and HVLP might have to try this route next time!


    1. Courtney says:

      Thanks Lannie! I have been SO happy with the results so far. If I wasn’t too lazy to sand in between coats my projects would look AND feel professional (right now they only look professional).


  2. Donna says:

    Courtney, you are amazing.


    1. Courtney says:

      You can call me amazing after I backpack across Europe with my children! I’m SO not brave enough for that!


  3. Wow, that is professional gear, and not so ordinary! Thanks for sharing all ins and outs of a gadget like that. I had no idea! Do come ‘n’ brag: link it up at our linky party,, ‘Time for a Party’ !


  4. Elise says:

    Wow, this is hardcore! Great post. Saw you linked up on some link parties. Would love it if you linked up on my blog hop and added it to your list Also let me know if you’d like to follow each other!


  5. Cheri says:

    Hey you are going to be in our top 10 but in order to be considered as a winner we need you to add our button to your site.



  6. Ann says:

    Thank you so much for this information. I just got the HF sprayer but haven’t used it yet. I have been painting with rollers mostly and am excited to start spraying, albeit hesitant. The compressor is loud and kinda scary. I want to get good at spraying so I can teach my older boys how to do it. We can even turn this into a painting class for high school credits. Yeah!


  7. Natalie Cox says:

    this is great!!!


  8. Ann says:

    I need your help. I have the same gun and air compressor. What do you set the air compressor and the gun to to get such a nice finish? I am not having good luck and I am guessing that I am not setting them correctly.


    1. Hey Ann, I talked to my husband and he says that he had the compressor set pretty high (I want to say between 60 and 100) and then the gun was set between 30 and 35. Hope that helps! The consistency of the paint matters as well, make sure it is just a little thicker than whole milk :) You might want to practice with water and a cardboard box. That way you can see how it is covering without wasting paint. It won’t be a perfect comparison because water and paint aren’t the same consistency but it will be a good jumping off point :)


  9. Lucy M. says:

    This is super helpful, thanks for posting! It’s been taking me a while to learn how to properly use an HVLP spray gun, but I’ve finally getting the hang of it now. In case anybody is looking for a great deal on a starter HVLP spray gun, particularly for auto body purposes, I found this whole site super helpful, check it out:


  10. Jeanette Armstrong says:

    A woman’s way of doing things! After an accident I’m having to learn to do a lot of stuff with air tools. This is an awesome post, thanks Courtney. Its given me a lot of confidence. :)


  11. Sara Ross says:

    Thanks for the tutorial, and I would love your opinion!

    I painted a table with flat white paint and am not a huge fan of how it turned out (bc I didn’t put a polyacrylic coat which made it easy to scuff with things like fingernail polish, and bc I painted it with a brush and you can see the strokes of the brush). I wouldn’t mind redoing it with the same paint color…so here’s my question: Do I need to sand it , or can I just put another coat of the same flat paint and then top with a polyacrylic? Also would you suggest using the gun or a brush for the polyacrylic?

    Thank you for ANY feedback!


    1. Hey Sara :)

      If it were me I would sand it. But just sand it so it’s smooth to the touch, don’t worry about going all the way down to the wood. It shouldn’t take much work if you used flat paint and no top coat. I hate brush strokes and it would take more coats of paint with a sprayer to make it thick enough to cover the strokes.

      It’s up to you what you want to do the final polyacrilic coat with a brush or gun. With the gun it’s a pain to clean and has a less smooth feel to it but it’s MUCH faster and more even. With the brush it’s smoother and you don’t have to clean the gun, but it takes forever and I often have drips because I tend to put it on rather thickly (I’m impatient). But for the paint itself, go with the gun :)


  12. Jill Balzer says:

    HI Courtney, great tutorial. I am looking for a paint sprayer. :) Have you ever used chalk paint in this sprayer? IF so how did that work? What size tip worked for you? I am a newbie and have no background on sprayers and would appreciate any input.


    1. Hey Jill, I have never used chalk paint in my sprayer. Honestly I’m not a fan of chalk paint, I think you get all of the benefits at a fraction of the price with flat, so that is what I use :)

      I just use the tip that came with my sprayer but I don’t know what size it is. Sorry!


      1. Jill Balzer says:

        Thanks Courtney. I totally get the price thing, but I consign at a store where I have to use their chalk paint. Maybe I could just thin it a bit with water. Thank you!


      2. I would say that unless it is gritty at all that thinning it with water would work fine (as long as it’s water bases)


  13. Russ says:

    Excellent tutorial – thank you SO MUCH for the great advice! The part about thinning the water-based latex paints in a mason jar with water to make the consistency of the paint “a little bit thicker than whole milk, but not as thick as cream” totally clicked with me. I bought an HVLP sprayer from an ad on Craigslist, now I have a better idea how to use it. This weekend my son and I will tackle painting the South wall of our house! Thank you!!!


  14. Gary says:

    Unless it has changed, I think that the large gun comes with two nozzles — 1.4mm, and 1.8mm. Which size did you use with the paint? Did you use the same size with the clear?


  15. Thomas says:

    Really enjoyed this article learned alot. Couple of questions how long did you wait between coats of paint? Also how long before you applied polycrylic and also between coats of it. Got a dresser I plan on painting.


    1. I had to wait progressively longer with every coat of paint. So for the first and second coat I only had to wait five minutes or so (since I was using flat matte paint, if you are using anything with a gloss in it it’s going to take much longer). For the third, maybe ten, and then 15. The polycrylic coats took much longer to dry but again, takes progressively longer every time. I would leave it at least an hour for the first and second coat, and then test it in an unobtrusive spot to see if it’s dry (just touch it with your finger). If it’s tacky at all then wait another hour. Polyurethane takes the longest and needs several hours in between coats (overnight is best).

      And if you are going to sand in between coats you may need to take longer. Not sanding (because I’m too lazy) cuts a lot of time off. :)


  16. Mary says:

    Hi Courtney, great tutorial! Thank you. Do you use the paint sprayer to apply the Polyurethane?


    1. Hey Mary, thanks :) I do not us the sprayer to apply Polyurethane. The reason why is because, unlike polycrilic, polyurethane is oil based and must be cleaned out with mineral spirits instead of water and it takes far longer to dry and be ready for a second coat than the water based paint and clear coat and so I can’t sneak in two or three coats before I clean the gun. If my sink ran with mineral spirits I might ;) The oil based paint or primer is cleaned the same way but since it’s tinted you can easily see if the gun is clean or not (even if it is a pain to clean with mineral spirits). With polyurethane, you just have to hope you got it all.

      Even with the tint oil based paint in the gun but I occasionally will if I have to do a LOT of stuff at one time. I used it when I was painting six chairs because by the time I was done with the last chair the first was ready for another coat so I still only had to clean the gun once.

      In general I only use latex paint in the gun and put the clear coat on with a brush or sponge.

      I hope that all makes sense :)


  17. Mary says:

    Thanks Courtney! Yes, this makes sense. ????


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