Tool Test: Airless Paint SprayersPumped Up: Small-scale sprayers for pro painting results

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    HVLP Function

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    The Milwaukee unit has the distinction of combining a light-duty airless paint sprayer with a light-duty HVLP (high-volume low-pressure) finish sprayer. Typically used for fine finishes on cabinetry, trim, and other woodwork, this air-assisted sprayer introduces a soft blast of air at only a few psi to the spray mist to further atomize the finish being sprayed. Because of its multi-use nature, the unit has a combination gun, and its paint hose is limited to the length of its air hose – a very short 25 feet, in this case. The box at the bottom of the tool is the air turbine, which works like a little vacuum cleaner motor by moving a lot of air without building much pressure. As this was a test based on house-painting abilities, the utility of this feature was not fully explored.

    Rolling Cart

    Most small pumps purchased by professional painters are "stand" or "skid" models, situated on short frames just off the ground instead of on wheeled carts like the tools we tested. In fact, it is estimated that these small-stand models outsell the cart versions by as much as 20 to 1. Since the less-expensive models we tested are only available on wheeled carts, we tested them all in that configuration – but we also included the stand-model prices in our spec chart. According to manufacturers, painters buy the more compact versions to fit into smaller work vehicles. And painters with spare hoses around may find it easier to add more hose within the pump's capacity rather than move the pump once it's connected to the paint.

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    But guys who buy a single unit with 50 feet of hose – like the models in our test (except for the Milwaukee, which only comes with 25 feet) – may find it advantageous to be able to roll the unit around the house when it's connected to a 5-gallon bucket of paint. We also like having the cart when we're hauling the unit around a large yard or bouncing it upstairs to an attic remodel. If you have the vehicle and storage space, we say a cart is a worthwhile luxury. The suction tube always sits just right in the paint bucket, and the cart gives you a good place to coil your hose around and keep everything together.

    We did a test to see how well a cart would hold and transport a 5-gallon bucket of paint, and the results were surprising for our otherwise top-rated units. With the Airlessco, the bucket bail hangs up on the prime/paint switch and pump filter instead of being supported by the frame below. Bending the bail can help some. For all three Graco units, the weight of the paint bucket rests on the filter screen at the end of the suction tubes instead of on something structural. The same goes for the Titan Advantage 400. Only the Titan Impact 440 (shown) holds the bucket securely between its sturdy legs as intended. The Titan XT420 and Wagner pumps support the bucket with their bottom leg bracket and storage caddy respectively, and the Milwaukee balances the bucket between its flat platform and the back of its motor housing. Based on our disappointing findings, we advise that you go easy when rolling around a full bucket of paint, and don't tilt the cart back any further than you have to.

    In general, the sliding-handle carts offered great tilting leverage and rolling control when up and a very compact silhouette when down. Unfortunately, none of the handles lock in the down position, so anytime you lift the frame, the handle snaps fully up. This made them harder to load into the back of a truck. The fixed-height cart models don't have any wiggle or flex, but make sure they aren't too tall for your rig. As for wheels, the skinny plastic ones on the Milwaukee and the Wagner are no fun to roll around on bumpy surfaces; the pneumatics of the Airlessco provide the least rolling resistance; and the foam-filled, flat-free rubber tires on all the rest were our tester's favorite because they require no maintenance.

    Thanks to Sherwin-Williams for providing the ProGreen 200 paint and spray tips used in some of our testing (800-524-5979, www.sherwin-williams.com).

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