This blog post is about my paint booth, compressed air supply, and air brush, and it’s in response to an email I received asking me to outline how my painting workspace is set up.
In order to achieve smooth and appropriately thin paint coverage on non-porous surfaces, scale model builders line up behind a nearly universally endorsement of spraying paint with an airbrush. Human beings never behave in ways that can be characterized by absolutes (please ignore the contraction/irony in this assertion), and there are outliers who will swear that they can achieve the exact same results with a brush, rattle-can, or by dipping a model in paint. I’ll lay bare my bias up front: I’m proceeding from the assumption that the best way to create a model that represents sprayed paint on a non-porous surface is to spray paint on a non-porous model surface.
Spraying any kind of paint is a nuanced and at least partly improvised interplay between art and science. Auto restorationists, for instance, go to great lengths to build drive-in paint booths with an array of treatments that allow for the manipulation of temperature, light, humidity, and air pressure, all in the service of an alchemy whereby they transform rust into gold.
I’ve made an effort to create a controlled workspace for airbrushing, and I’ve written briefly on this in the past. Mine is not as sophisticated as what one might see in a professional painting environment because this is just a hobby for me.
Around 1983, my father built a plywood paint booth for me. I cursed it many times during the years before I settled into my first home. That first house was too small to set up my paint booth, so it was stored for years until I bought my current house last fall. Now that it’s set up, I’m glad I kept it. Its opening measures about 2’x2′, and it’s about 2′ deep. It has a short florescent tube fixture installed behind a valance at the top of the opening, and a blower motor to draw air out. I recently replaced the blower that burned out twenty years ago with a new 100cfm squirrel cage outfit. I installed a dryer vent in the side of my house metal dryer ductwork between the booth and the vent so that I can exhaust the air from the paint booth to the outside of the house. All of the wiring for the light and blower are done to building-code standards into a receptacle, so although it might look a little more crude than a commercially manufactured paint booth, the whole thing is sturdy, safe, and functional.
I have a Cambell Hausfeld air compressor with a 3 gallon “hot-dog” air tank. The compressor has a 3/4 hp motor, and will deliver 2.5 cfm at 40 psi. I have it set up in my attached garage so that I can use compressed air there as well as in the house. Having it the garage also controls the noise in my work space.
The compressor has a regulator on board. I typically set that to 40 psi. I have the compressor connected via a quick connect to a pipe and hose line that carries compressed air into the house to my paint booth. At the paint booth, the air line goes through a moisture trap and filter, then into another regulator. This one is a very precise device that is adjustable from 0 to 30psi through a range of about six full turns of the dial. The 2″ diameter gauge on the regulator measures 0-30 psi. It recently stopped working, so until I get a new one, I’ve substituted a gauge that reads 0-160 psi. This is more difficult to read, but it works for now. With the appropriate gauge on this setup, I’m able to dial in precise air pressures. From the regulator, I use a 12′ flexible hose with a quick connect to a 6′ Paasche air hose.
Next to my paint booth, I keep a selection of brushes, solvents, cleaners, and things to strip paint. I also dry my smaller canvases in the paint booth in order to exhaust the fumes from the oil paints out of the house, so all of my oils, acrylics, and related art supplies are kept in this same area. I keep a stack of disposable pipe cleaners, coffee stir sticks, rags, paper towels, a variety of tape for masking, and cheap pipettes that I use a few times before I toss them. I don’t have a decent system for storing paints. I just keep them on a shelf in old Athearn boxes and box lids and sorted by colour range or purpose. The paint booth is set up near the utility basin, so I only have to move about 5 feet to get running water to clean up the airbrush with water.
I bought a Paasche VL in about 1982, just before dad built the paint booth for me. I used that airbrush until about 1992 when the whole works got packed away until last year. Since setting up the paint booth last fall, I’ve been spraying paint quite regularly, experimenting with different brands and viscosities. To help me develop some kind of consistent approach to thinning paint, I keep a small digital thermometer/barometer on top of the paint booth. I also run a dehumidifier to manage the humidity in the room.
I’ve had some issues with my airbrush since my size 1 needle was damaged. I’ve been in touch with my favourite hobby store to get a new size 1 needle and tip for me, but I’m becoming more convinced that I want a new gravity feed dual action airbrush for doing detail work and weathering. I suppose I could just cut my losses on the VL, but there have been times when I felt it would be useful to have a second airbrush handy.
So far, I’ve spent about a week researching airbrushes in my spare time. With so many excellent products on the market, I’m now officially overwhelmed by the selection. Now that I’ve shared my painting setup, I welcome your input on which airbrush you recommend.