on November 8, 2013
Over the last two years, I wrote something of a book below, so I'll summarize up top. For spraying latex, this setup requires considerable thinning. You can get very nice results and I don't really mind the thinning, but spraying thin paint is pretty miserable, particularly on any vertical surface. For spraying lots of latex, I'd upgrade to the Mini-Mite 3 or 4 to spray with less thinning. For spraying clear finishes, particularly those designed to be sprayed (I've used a couple of products by Target Coatings), this little machine is spectacular and wholeheartedly recommended.
I am a weekend woodworker with lots of projects that involve painting (mostly with latex) and applying various clear finishes. I've been casually eyeing assorted HVLP systems for several years now and seriously considering for a few months. Because I wanted to be able to spray latex, it seemed like the Mini-Mite 4 was the right choice, but I just couldn't justify the $800 price for the amount of spraying I plan to do. The semi-pro 2 was at about the price I was willing to pay, but I was concerned that the two-stage turbine would be insufficient and that there were no reviews (hence this review).
The prospect of rolling/brushing a big painting project finally forced the issue and I crossed my fingers and ordered the semi-pro 2 with the gravity cup. I now have a couple of hours of spraying under my belt (that's a lifetime total, it's worth noting that I'm new at this) and I couldn't be happier with my decision.
In the last few days, I sprayed a couple of big bookshelves with latex primer and paint (Sherman Williams multi purpose latex primer and All-Surface Latex Enamel) and the whole system works better than I dared to hope. I was a little worried the "M" gun would be somehow low-end or lack features, but it's really, really nice. Again, I'm new at this and have little to compare to, but I'm not sure what else I could ask it to do. The spray pattern is adjustable from a wide fan to a tiny spot and you can rotate the pattern anywhere you like. Since I was spraying between shelves, I had the gun tipped over pretty far and it never hiccuped. The gravity cup holds 400 cc's, which isn't a whole lot. So far, that's been about one coat on a bookshelf. If you plan to paint big stuff, the 1 qt cup is probably better.
As for the turbine, it's a little blue box. A noisy little blue box, but most of my tools are noisy, so I wear hearing protection and it's just fine. A quick update, I measure 92 db a few feet away, which is really very loud indeed. I measured a small, noisy shop vac at about the same distance and got 86 db, which is roughly 4X quieter. Still not a problem for me, but perhaps worth noting. I regularly use this in my basement with a baby sleeping on the second floor and she doesn't seem to mind.
My concerns regarding the two-stage-ness of the turbine seem to be unfounded so far. Fuji includes and excellent instruction manual (also available in PDF in the FAQ section of their website) that recommends thinning paint and checking with the included viscosity cup. The manual also recommends a #4 (1.5 mm) tip for latex. I sprayed primer with the included 1.3 mm and paint with the 1.5 mm tip and while the 1.5 mm tip definitely sprayed faster, I think I could have managed with the 1.3 mm tip. I followed the thinning instructions with both the primer and the paint, thinned with roughly 20% to 25% water, added some Floetrol, and sprayed a nearly perfect painted finish. I would recommend practicing a fair amount on scrap wood, cardboard boxes, etc. Cleaning up after spraying is very easy and takes me maybe 10 minutes.
One thing I'm confused about is how a four-stage turbine could possibly be better. Maybe you could spray faster or not thin, but this really isn't all that taxing for the way I plan to spray. I'm really looking forward to spraying some clear finishes next.
I've now been spraying latex for a couple of weeks and I have produced results ranging from truly disastrous to nearly perfect and pretty much everything in between. For my best results so far, I spray a relatively thick, heavy coat of primer (I've tried up to about 50 seconds in the viscosity cup with great results) with the 1.5 mm tip. This does produce some texture, but I end up sanding the first coat of primer anyway. I found that thin coats of watery primer never actually cover spots, fill grain, block tannins, etc. I generally follow with a second relatively thick coat of primer. Then, I switch to the 1.3 mm tip, thin my paint to about 25 seconds in the viscosity cup, and spray very light coats of paint. Much of what I read suggests that the thinner your paint is the better it works, but I found that if the paint is too thin, it's almost impossible to get any coverage and not get runs (the source of my most disastrous results). I experimented with heavier coats of paint and got a bumpy surface (not as bad as runs, but pretty ugly). Two or three thin coats seem to give good results for me so far. The resulting surface isn't glassy smooth, but is very lightly textured. Far better than I've ever done with a brush or roller and good enough for me. Still looking forward to trying clear finishes when this project is over.
This is still clearly a 5 star purchase for me. So far, the included 1.3 mm tip would have been fine for latex. I now think I see the benefit of the more powerful turbines if they allow you to spray less-thinned paint. Thinning isn't really a hassle, but spraying watery paint kind of is. Still, for half the price, I'm happy to thin some paint.
I finally got around to spraying some clear finishes. This summer, I sprayed some Zar Ultra Max waterborne oil-modified poly, which worked reasonably well. I sprayed a picture frame, I think, and it came out looking nice, but with a few small, pimple-like dots. I was able to sand these out, spray again lightly, and get a passable finish. The pimples may have been dust or dirt, as I was spraying outside. Zar doesn't appear to really market Ultra Max for HVLP spraying, so I recently ordered Target Coating's EM8000cv pre-catalyzed waterborne conversion varnish (targetcoatings.com), which is actually intended to be sprayed and includes specific instructions for HVLP (1.3mm to 1.5mm needle). I just sprayed a small cherry shelf with this stuff and my 1.3mm needle and it seems wonderful. I sprayed the first coat on a little thick by accident, sanded it lightly, and just applied a very thin second coat and the finish is absolutely flawless. It also dries to the touch in minutes, which should minimize dust and dirt.
If your plan is to spray clear finishes, I can't imagine why you would look for any sprayer fancier than this one. Clear finishes are nice and thin and spray easily and beautifully. I also wholeheartedly recommend ordering some finish that's meant to be sprayed, since things get really easy (no thinning, etc). Finally, google conversion varnishes. Apparently, they dry too fast to be brushed, which is why home stores don't stock them, but they're tougher than polyurethanes and easy to spray. Newer waterborne conversion varnishes are (allegedly) just as tough and have startlingly little odor. Look at both Target Coatings and General Finishes. They both offer bewildering assortments of water based lacquers, waterborne oil-modified polyurethanes, waterborne conversion varnishes, etc, all specifically intended for spraying.
If Amazon would give me six stars, that's how many I would give this sprayer. I'm amazed in retrospect that this sprayer is as inexpensive as it is.
I recently sprayed a large bookshelf project with the Target EM8000cv pre-catalyzed waterborne conversion varnish and I am really, really happy, both with the Fuji and the Target varnish. For about the first time, when I look at the finish I can't really find anything to complain about.