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Painting new MDF Wardrobes in Coventry

Listed under Blog, Graco, hand-painted furniture, Ron Taylor, spray painting Posted Mar 24 2016

This article about Painting new MDF Wardrobes in Coventry is by Ron Taylor, Traditional Painter in Warwickshire. He is a hand-painting specialist, but at times, brushes and rollers aren’t the correct approach.

sprayed MDF wardrobe

In this case, by spraying, he was able to maintain the detail and definition on a very fiddly surface, and also achieved the super smooth finish required by a very discerning client.

All about the details

I was recently asked to paint some new MDF wardrobe doors that had been made and fitted to an extremely high standard by the customer himself.

Tolerances were tight and exact around all the doors to give a precise detail and shadow line, so the paint finish would have to be consistent on all the edges.

bare MDF before painting

Painting with a brush and roller was never an option because of the fine detailing, and a spray finish was both required (and requested by the client!)

The client also went to great lengths to match the colour to the same as some existing free standing furniture in the room. He tried scanning a drawer front on a colour matching machine at the local decorator merchant but, as I and many professional decorators, designers and homeowners have found to our cost over the years, this often doesn’t work.

When OK colour isn’t good enough…

The customer went on to spend a couple of months searching until he came up with an exact match in a colour from a Valspar range. However this was an emulsion and couldn’t be used in this application. I sent a sample of the colour off to Holman Specialist Paints who, as always, came up trumps. We got this colour matched exactly in both Helmi 10 (matt) and Helmi 30 (satin-matt) so the client could match the sheen. Helmi 30 was chosen.

Helmi 30 paint for furniture

A nice little “bespoke” touch

Preparation for spraying

The ceiling had been finished but the rest of the room was to be painted and papered by the client when I had finished.

Masking the inside of the wardrobes and around the edges of the outside was straightforward with Trimaco masking film and Kip 12″ paper applied with the 3M 3000 hand masker. Dust sheets on the floor.

masking mdf wardrobes for spraying

It is imperative to remove all dust to maximise adhesion and achieve flawless finishes. Even if the surface appears clean, it invariably isn’t, and I went through the same routine as ever, giving the wardrobes a thorough dust-down inside and out with the Henry vacuum and brush attachment.

I was then ready to apply a primer coat.

HVLP spray was the wrong obvious choice here!

For applying Zinsser BIN, the obvious tool for the job was my Graco TurboForce 9.5 turbine and Apollo 7500QT gun. This is a very high quality HVLP setup, and for applying shellac based primer on kitchen doors and furniture, it is a proven reliable combination.

Graco Turbo Force

The Turbo Force turbine takes a variety of guns. I used an Apollo gun which is much better than the one that Graco supplied, with more adjustments and a finer atomisation.

The first coat covered very well and looked great.

HVLP is the only way to go if spraying Zinsser BIN, as the amount of thinner and waste thinner required using airless would be a major issue. I can achieve superb finishes with this setup with BIN on smaller and mid sized items but the size of these units and the dust created in a confined space definitely did it no favours.

However the following day large areas of the primer had a fine gritty feel to it. This wasn’t a difficult problem to rectify, as BIN sands easily and consistently, but due to the scale of the doors and the confined space, I was to get a problem with further coats, more of which later.

I had my suspicions about what was going on, and after sanding and vacuuming I tried the water-based undercoat, again with the HVLP. Suspicions confirmed. Different paint type, but again, the finish looked great but the ‘feel‘ of the end product wasn’t to the liking of either the customer or myself.

HVLP v airless

I had chosen HVLP ahead of airless, initially because

a) it uses less paint

b) I didn’t want to get too much paint on the raised detail, which could cause runs or drips.

Decorating is occasionally plagued by curve balls and variables! In this case, the HVLP was applying the paint in a controlled manner, just as I wanted, but the size of the doors was causing a problem for the HVLP, in that I wasn’t able to keep a wet edge for long enough before the paint started to dry. It was also putting a lot of paint dust into the air, which was blowing back onto the surface.

At this stage I decided that the speed of an airless machine was required for the topcoats. I would have to work quickly and get the paint to flash off before we could get a build up on any of the fine detail moulding. No problem.

I switched to my Titan 440 Impact airless and a Graco 308 FF tip and applied a fast first coat of Helmi 30. As soon as I was finished we put the heating on 25 degrees and had a fan heater around the top of the room but pointing away from the doors.

Breathtaking result with airless

This method transformed the finish. The paint dried flat and smooth with none of the issues I had encountered with the first 2 coats applied by HVLP. When the paint was dry we checked the surface and all was well, apart from a small issue under one moulding where paint had built up, but it took no time to address.

I then applied a further coat overall with the airless and the paint dried as before, with a superb finish.

sprayed MDF wardrobes

Conclusion

We are hand-painting specialists but at times, brushes and rollers aren’t the correct approach. In this case, Ron kept the detail and definition by spraying and also achieved the super smooth finish required on a very fiddly surface by radically adapting his spraying approach to the situation.

Trade tip

We have noticed a lot of uptake in interest in HVLP in the UK decorating market, and advances in XVLP and LVLP technology were also making a splash at the Farbe 2016 expo in Germany recently ie many decorators are seeing the possibilities of offering a speedy high class spray service. But as Ron has illustrated, owning a decent H(XL)VLP does not mean you can pitch up at job after job and automatically deliver professionally sprayed cabinetry and furniture, every time! Far from it, the conditions from one property to the next are very variable, very different from a controlled spray shop environment.

There are many resources online about spray painting.

To help explain how to navigate the long slippery slope to training yourself to spray acrylic paints well, Ron wrote a couple of indepth articles on spraying for Traditional Painter readers, based on his experience working in the UK.

A word to the wise: speed of application pointing and shooting paint may prove of interest to tradesmen and clients alike, but on a business footing, spraying requires an investment, if the end results are not to be inferior to other tried and tested application methods.

Spraying, like any other skill, requires an understanding of the different tools, an understanding of how different paints spray, which implies more than one spray set-up for all situations, and plenty of experience, trial and error, which has its costs. With furniture painting, there is a particularly big leap in technique and understanding from spraying primers to offering flawless sprayed topcoats in situ.

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