Painting With An Inexpensive Handheld Paint Sprayer

Brian and I had always heard that inexpensive, handheld paint sprayers didn’t work and weren’t worth the trouble. We have borrowed a contractors airless paint sprayer a couple of times to paint the entire inside of our house and more recently when we painted the outside, so we know what they can do and how well they work.

However, I’ve always got a LOT of small painting projects in the pipeline that are too small for the hassle of a big sprayer. Which means I inevitably put them off because of the time involved in brushing on paint. Or because I’d prefer to not have brush marks.

Or that I’m too lazy. But we don’t need to go there.

I liked using a can of spray paint (make that a couple of cans…) to paint the curved base of our dining room table last year- it went on easy and covered nice and smooth. But at $5+ bucks a can, one project can easily get to $15 just for the paint, which is not the most frugal thing. Not to mention all the little cans that go in the trash.

When it came time to paint our new dining room chairs (or past time, since we’ve had them since last October!) I started with a can of spray paint. When I realized it was going to take two cans for each chair (that would be close to $40 for four chairs, plus a cramped finger unless I also bought a spray can trigger, which always breaks after about one can’s use…), I started researching electric handheld sprayers.

Which was very interesting. There are a LOT of naysayers out there. “Don’t waste your money,” and “clogs and spits paint,” and even “tricked into buying!” The funniest was, “This is a great sprayer…for me to POOP on!” Goodness- who writes these kind of things?

When I zeroed in on this Wagner HVLP Control Sprayer:

What I found even more interesting were all the people who said things like, “worked great for me,” or “very pleasantly surprised,” and “great gun for the price and saved me a ton of time.”

Oooo, they’re talkin’ my language here. When I read the most recent reviews – “Great product- don’t be fooled by the bad reviews” and “Be patient and don’t listen to the naysayers,” it seemed people either loved it or hated it (there are very few in-between reviews), and the reasons for the hating seemed to be in the way it was used (or not used). I decided I would take a chance and try out the gun to see for myself which camp I would fall into.

I’m so glad I did, even though Brian was firmly on the side of “you’re going to be disappointed.” And the reason I went for it is because I knew what painting with a big, expensive sprayer was like- there’s always a lot of overspray (I could barely see Brian when he was painting the interior), drips are an issue, and clean-up is a hassle. I would expect these things with any sized sprayer.

In other words, my expectations were low. I just wanted something for small jobs, like chairs, bi-fold doors, and cabinet doors.

There was actually some good information in the reviews about how to get the sprayer to work the best, and I followed some of the advice.

  • We bought the Wagner paint conditioner called “Paint Easy” to thin the latex paint we were using.
  • I didn’t hesitate to use it with latex paint because so many reviewers had used it with good results- even though water-based latex is not mentioned in the materials that come with the sprayer.
  • I followed all the directions meticulously, thinning the paint as directed on the conditioner bottle.
  • I used a large piece of cardboard to start spraying on, so that if the paint spit some at the beginning, it would be on the cardboard (though it really didn’t much).
  • I practiced first on the cardboard, getting the feel of the trigger and how the paint came out.
  • I set the chairs in an old three-sided shed, making a “spray booth” of sorts.
  • I applied thin coats in order to avoid drips.

It was actually the hardest to do really thin coats- it seemed like I wasn’t putting enough on, but I’d get drips if I tried to put on more (which is the same with a spray can…).

You can see here that it does spray with “droplets” of paint (not sure what to call them…). The first coats do not look smooth at all, and I was a bit worried.

This picture of the bench Brian made out of a couple of our broken chairs shows better how the coats look as they are applied. You can even see at the top where I had to brush a drip when I got overzealous with the spray gun. The first coats should be so thin you can still see the original finish- by the third coat, it will be covered.

Since I was using a water-based latex, the thin coats didn’t take long to dry and I could easily finish a project in a couple hours (depending on how distracted I got between coats!).

I did need to wait overnight (I couldn’t fit all the chairs at once in the shed), so I took one of the reviewers suggestions to just let the sprayer sit without moving, letting the bit of paint dry on the nozzle to create an air-tight environment for the paint in the sprayer. In the morning (I actually did this every time I needed to leave it for a few hours) I took a thumbtack and gently pricked off the dried paint on the nozzle – it pulled right off – and started spraying on the cardboard. It took about 30 seconds to start again, but then sprayed like normal!

I then only cleaned it when I was done with all the projects I had planned. I did take my time cleaning- following all the directions and making sure I got all the paint off where ever I could. It cleaned up really well.

I was pleasantly surprised that after the coats were applied and the paint dried, the finish on the furniture appeared smooth! Much, MUCH better than a brush. They aren’t quite as smooth as the finish from a can of spray paint – but you can only tell if you rub your hands over them (and it’s still pretty subtle).

My verdict? I LOVE it! It’s exactly what I need to help me paint chairs, my kitchen cabinet doors, our closet bi-fold doors (think about how easy the louvers are going to be!!), and our large room doors. I’ll have to remove them and take them out to my “spray booth” but I will save HOURS of work, so I’m totally OK with that. *smile*

Have you had experience with one of these sprayers? Which camp do you fall into?






  1. Denise Humphrey says:

    You can smooth the finish a little further by “sanding” it with a piece of brown paper bag. This works for between coat sanding, also.

    • Jami @ An Oregon Cottage says:

      Wow, I have not heard of that before – just regular brown paper smooths the finish? I’ll have to try it – thanks!

  2. I have been looking into sprayers and was so excited to stumble over your post and your blog! I feel the same way, that if I get something for cheap, I don’t want to spend a small fortune on supplies! I also saw a really small sprayer at my local Ace hardware store, that would work for frames, and accessories – I’ll have to go back and get the name, but I think in the meantime, I’m going to check out the one you bought. Thanks for sharing and love your ideas!! Hugs & Smiles, T

    • Hey, Theresa, glad you found me! Hmmm, the small sprayer sounds interesting – it would be nice not to be limited by the colors of spray paint available. That would be great if it worked, that is. :)

  3. Hi,

    Do you need to use a spray booth or can i use my garage?

    • There is a bit of overspray and of course what falls to the ground, but nothing that some sheets of plastic wouldn’t fix. When we don’t have an available shed, I plan on taping plastic sheets to a corner of the garage, cover the floor with it and paint there, so yes, use your garage. Just be sure to prep and cover areas you don’t want overspray on (just like when using cans of spray paint).

  4. I’m glad I found your post it’s just what I needed to hear to push me over the edge in buying a handheld airless sprayer.

    I have a couple ideas from a small paint booth I built in the shop at work. I used a kitchen stove hood in the top of my paint booth to vent out the overspray. The one I found had a small squirrel cage blower so it was more powerful than one of those three blade fans. I also cut out 6×8 pieces of cheap furnace filters in place of the grease screen the hood originally had.
    The most important item was a Lazy-Suzan from an old cabinet. Once you use one of those in your paint booth you wonder how you ever got along without it!

  5. Julie White says:

    Hi Jami – just found you!! I’m heading out to purchase the Wagner sprayer to paint my louvered doors. The thought of brushing them is just too overwhelming and I’m willing to risk a new technique based on your advice!! So thanks …. how did your doors turn out, btw?

    I also love the lazy susan idea from Brian.

    Off I go ……

    • Ugh, my doors are still a dingy beige waiting to be painted! It’s so low on the to-do list, it’s not funny – even though they bug me Hmmm, maybe I should move them up? :) Let me know how yours turn out!

  6. ShaShanna says:

    Thanks for the honest review. I am about to purchase a used kitchen table and chairs and have been debating in my head whether I want to leave it brown (which I hate) or to paint the set. I really want to paint it but dread the time and trouble of painting with a brush and I like how spray paint works but cannot afford the cost of painting the whole table and six chairs. I always do my research before making a purchase such as this, and I think you’ve got me sold. Should I be as successful as you, so many things in my house will now get painted! I am excited to get started.

  7. Just bought one of these spray painters after reading this post. Did you spray on primer before the paint on these chairs?

    • I didn’t, Shannon, I just sprayed the light coats of paint. I’m sure real painters would advise it, but they’ve held up really well since I’ve painted them (and they’re used everyday) and I didn’t want to have to empty and clean out the sprayer, ha! Your choice. ;)

  8. Jami,

    I was also surprised on how well the Wagner Paint Sprayer gun works on interior items. My wife bugged me to get her something for her interior jobs for months and I finally gave in and I can say it was one of my best investments to date. She is now painting things that I had on my “to do” list because of the Wagner paint sprayer. Great post !!

  9. So happy I found this page when I did. My husband was in the midst of building us a new bed and I was tasked with painting it, and not looking forward to it. After reading this, I bought the sprayer, much to the annoyance of hubby, who is in the camp of ” it won’t work, you will still have to back brush it, etc.” He has a bad history with the use of paint sprayers, for all of the reasons you cited. Well I followed your recommendations, and those of some of the commenters on the reviews, and could not be happier! Love it! The finish was awesome, and it was so quick once you got into using it. and I think I made a believer out of hubby. Can’t wait for warmer weather to paint more things. thank you!

    • SO glad it was helpful to you, Kathy! We are the same way and I just love how it makes painting things like louvered doors not such a problem now. Anything we can take outside to paint we use the sprayer with now. :)

  10. Jami, so glad I was surfering the web and found your blog. I have been wanting a paint sprayer for the same reason many have stated. Now I am off to purchase one this weekend let the ptrojects begin I have about 8 to 10 right now thank you for the input. I will let you how that turn out.

  11. Sheryl champy says:

    Thanks for your post, I stumbled across it. Was looking at sprayers today at my local store and decided to do some research before buying. Glad I did and thanks for the advice. Am looking to pain a small cabinet and didn’t want brush strokes. Will be buying the sprayer tomorrow and hoping for the best. Thanks.

  12. Hi Jami! I, too, am so glad I found this post. I desperately need a paint sprayer as I paint furniture all the time – for myself and for others as a small business. Right now, I have 6 adirondack chairs and a lounge chair that need paint. I can use this sprayer for those, right? I also would probably use this outdoors or in the garage when spraying furniture. I’m guessing an “exterior” sprayer is purposed for painting houses, etc.

    • Yes, this works great for furniture and it made repainting our doors last summer go quickly, too. We always use it outside to not worry about spray, but I’ve seen some people set up a ‘tent’ in their garage to be able to spray in inclement weather. I’d have to look at the sprayer labeled ‘exterior’ but I would guess like you did that it’s for painting houses (and it would be more expensive, too, right?).

      • Thanks so much! You are good getting back to me so quickly. I think for the fairly low price (compared with the speed of the results) it is worth a try. Let you know how I make out. Thanks for a post full of good information.

  13. Loved this! I decide to buy a spray painter after finishing reading this post.

  14. Just ordered! I have 4 or 5 pieces of patio furniture to paint. Also a deck and some railings. Hope I am lucky with this. Thanks for your review.

  15. Jennifer says:

    Hi Jami,

    I noticed the sprayer you recommended is for stain. Am I correct in reading that you bought the stain one, but just thinned your paint? And it works?

    Thanks for your help.

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