In the past, spray finishing was largely reserved for commercial shops with plenty of space and the deep pockets necessary to invest in state of the art equipment. But that’s rapidly changing. More and more, small professional shops and hobbyists are coming around to the fact that the there just isn’t a better way to put finish on a piece of wood. Spraying is faster, and almost always turns out a more professional-looking product. Spray finishing offers more options. Nearly any brush-able finish can be successfully sprayed. In contrast, a number of finishes that spray extremely well just aren’t designed for application by any other means. And with efficient, easy-to-master HVLP sprayers ever more affordable and readily available, spraying finish has become a cost-effective proposition for just about any woodshop.
No doubt about it: for a wide variety of wood finishes, spraying wins hands-down on just about every front. In fact, it would be an almost perfect solution, if it wasn’t for one pesky problem. Along with many advantages, spray finishing comes with a single, considerable drawback: the arduous and solvent-intensive process of cleaning guns, paint cups and pressure pots, mixing containers and strainers – often many times over before all of the stains, sealers, clear-coats, toners and whatnot are on. In fact, as any experienced spray finisher will tell you, in most cases cleaning up between different types of finish and at the end of the job takes many times longer than the actual spraying.
But remarkably, even the clean-up problem has been solved – within the past few years for industry, and just recently for everyone else. Thanks to the clever engineers at 3M, there’s a spray finish delivery system that fits almost any gun, and makes clean-up easier than washing a paintbrush. And now, through the combined efforts of 3M and Rockler Woodworking and Hardware, this once cost-prohibitive spray finishing solution is in reach for just about any woodworker. With the new EZ-Clean™ Spray System, for the first time you can have the most useful components of 3M’s hugely successful PPS™ paint preparation system in a small, affordable package – perfectly sized for the needs and means of one-off professional shops and weekend woodworkers.
What is EZ-Clean? In essence, it’s a unique delivery system that eliminates needless inefficiencies in the spray finishing process. In terms of basic components, the system consists of a clear hard-plastic mixing/application cup, disposable plastic cup liners, disposable lids equipped with a built-in strainer, and a screw-on collar to hold the lid, cup and liner together. A special adaptor fits the components to the sprayer, where they replace the supply cup that came with the gun. The system also includes a couple of handy auxiliary items: plugs used to cap-off the disposable lids for short-term storage of finish, or for mixing finishes that require “shaking”, and a mix ratio film that slips between the liner and the cup to aid in accurate thinning and mixing of two-part finishes.
This simple arrangement allows the finisher to measure and mix a finish and spray it on using a single, disposable container. The end result is a negligible amount of clean-up. Apart from the few seconds it takes to rinse out the tip of the gun, in fact, the entire cleaning process consists of unscrewing the collar and dropping lid and liner in the trash. Very slick indeed, compared to the usual routine of mixing the finish in one container, straining it into the gun’s supply cup, cleaning the mixing container, cleaning the strainer, spraying the finish, cleaning the cup, cleaning the gun, and repeating the process not only when you’re done, but every time you change finishes. It’s such a striking contrast, in fact, that everyone from furniture and automotive manufacturers to aerospace equipment makers have happily adopted industrial version of the system, and continue to report huge labor savings and solvent use reductions on the order of 70 percent.
Along with obvious advantages centering on the cleaning process – a healthier work environment, less time wasted on cleaning up, and far less solvent consumption – the EZ-Clean system offers appreciable benefits for the spraying process itself. EZ-Clean is a “closed” delivery system, meaning that once the air is bled from the liner – which is accomplished by pulling the gun trigger for a few seconds – only finish is available to the gun. With no outside air available to the feed system, the gun can be held upside-down, sideways or in any orientation – the liner will still collapse as intended and supply an even flow of finish to the tip. Difficult spray angles aren’t a problem, in other words. The entire inside of a cabinet, for example, can be sprayed without having to flip it over to spray the top.
The complete absence of air in the delivery system also helps as you near the end of the finish supply. There’s no chance that the gun will start sucking air when you run low on liquid and ruin a coat with a sudden blast of un-atomized splatter. And the fact that no outside contaminants can enter the system makes for almost perfectly clean finishing, and a virtual absence of inclusions. Each and every time, you’ll start with a fresh, clean container; one that’s equipped with its own integrated strainer and ready to catch anything that might be lurking in the finish.
Still another attractive quality of the EZ-Clean™ Spray System is its almost universal applicability. Adapters are available to fit a huge range of existing sprayers from manufacturers including DeVilbiss, Binks, SATA and many, many others. The system works equally well with gravity and siphon fed guns, and even offers a kit for pressure fed guns. The wide range of applications works out great both for shops that already spray finish, and for woodworkers who are getting ready to take the plunge. A quick look through the EZ-Clean “Adapter Reference Chart” will, in all likelihood, turn up any sprayer that you already own, or a gun for any type of system you might want to buy.
The EZ-Clean system also offers a number of options when it comes to finish capacity. Starter kits, which include the mixing cup and collar, the mix ratio film, and enough liners, caps and plugs to get you started, are available in three sizes. For most projects, the 22 oz. Medium Starter Kit is a perfect choice. A good balance between of weight and capacity, the medium kit will supply enough finish to put a few coats on a good sized project, with no stopping to reload. For extra-large jobs – like an entire set of cabinets – the Large Starter Kit, with its 28 oz. capacity, will keep you going longer and help you save on liners and caps. The diminutive 6 oz. Mini Starter Kit makes for a lightweight, agile set-up, and is the most economical per batch of the three sizes. The Mini Kit is perfect for small jobs, like touch-ups, toners and small-scale projects.
Whichever starter kit (or kits) you choose, the permanent components – the mixing cup, mix ratio film and the collar – are a one time buy. After that, you’ll be able to replenish the disposable elements at a price that’s easy to swallow. A refill kit for each size is available, and contains a manageable 10 each of the disposable lids and liners, and 5 lid plugs.
If you’re getting ready to set aside your brushes and pads in favor of the speed and consistently good results you’d get from a sprayer, it’s worth factoring in the relatively insignificant cost of the EZ-Clean™ Spray System – a cost that you’ll easily make up in the long run with savings on solvents, strainers and rags. If you do, you won’t have to experience the drudgery and potential heath risks involved in cleaning your equipment the old fashioned way even once. And if you already own a sprayer, we encourage you to check and see if there’s an adapter and kit that’s right for your gun – unless of course you really like spending significant amounts of time needlessly elbows deep in thinner.