Apply Wood Stain Sprays with a HVLP Sprayer

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HVLP Sprayers for Wood Stain Sprays

Selecting and applying the right wood stain to your masterpiece is one of the most difficult (and necessary) steps of a project. There are two major questions you need to think through as your project nears completion:

  • What stain should be used? Should I use true oil like tung oil or boiled linseed? What about an oil-based or water-based stain?
  • How should wood stain be applied? Do I wipe it on? Brush it? Or get real brave and try to spray it with an HVLP sprayer?

Instead of trying to answer all these questions in one pass, let’s will focus on how to apply wood stain spray using a HVLP (high volume, low pressure) sprayer.

Applying Wood Stain Sprays with a HLVP

Many woodworkers stay away from using a HVLP sprayer to stain wood because it seems too difficult to get a good finish. Like everything else in woodworking, spraying finishes just takes a little practice. The first thing to remember with spraying wood stains is to wear a respirator, regardless of whether you’re using oil or water-based stains. The second thing to remember is preparation – proper planning will help eliminate missteps in the finishing process. By following a few basic preparatory steps, you can take the hassle out of staining wood with a HVLP sprayer.

HVLP Wood Stain Spray Preparation

HVLP Sprayer Safety and Wood Staining Ventilation

The first thing to do is to check your equipment. Make sure your gun is working properly – run some water through the gun to check the function. If the gun needs to be cleaned, clean it and then check it again by running some water through it. This will also helps you get reacquainted with how the HVLP sprayer operates.

Applying Wood Stain Sprays with a HLVP - Sprayers

Next, clean and set up the area where you will be spraying. Unless you have a dedicated spray booth you’ll need to set up an area to work in. Use canvas drop clothes set on both the floor and as a backdrop to help stop overspray from getting where you don’t want it.

Make sure your spray area is well ventilated. Whether you’re using oil-based or water-based stains, good ventilation is important for your safety and to provide a good finish.  Inadequate ventilation could result in your work space getting engulfed in a cloud of stain, thus hurting your ability to properly see and stain your wood. Open a door or window and set up fans to pull excess spray out of your work area and through the door or window. It’s also important to wear a respirator; all stains contain solvents that can be harmful, and yes, even water-based finishes. Don’t bother with paper masks – use a quality respirator with organic vapor cartridges to ensure your safety.

Applying Wood Stain Sprays with a HLVP - Sprayer and Mask   Applying Wood Stain Sprays with a HLVP - Mask

Prepare to Spray Your Wood Stain

Now you need to figure out how you will spray your piece. Below are some important questions to consider.  Planning now will help eliminate any future mistakes.

  • Will the project sit on the floor on cleats? On sawhorses?
  • Do you need access to all four sides?
  • Will you need a step ladder to spray the top?
  • What order will you need to spray in?

Once you planned your spray, it’s important that you practice before you do the real deal. You most likely have some scrap wood laying around – use it to practice and to get your HVLP gun spraying how you want it to and ensure you’re getting a smooth, consistent finish that you’re satisfied with.

Remember that a consistent finish relies on consistent application; keep the gun a constant distance from your work piece and keep it moving at a steady speed. Changes in speed and the angle and distance of the gun to the work piece will change how the stain hits the wood – thereby changing how the stain looks.

Applying Wood Stain Sprays with a HLVP - First Coat   Applying Wood Stain Sprays with a HLVP - First Coat

Start spraying before the gun is in front of the wood and don’t stop spraying until it’s past the work piece. This will eliminate heavy spots at the start of the spray path and light spots at the end. By starting and stopping the spray when it is not in contact with the work piece, we ensure that the gun is spraying at a consistent volume when it’s in contact with the work piece. Several light coats result in a better finish than a few heavy coats. Applying heavy coats will result in runs and orange peeling, and follow-up sanding to correct the problem. Just like any other application technique, the first coat of finish from your HVLP will raise the grain of the wood and require sanding (with a light grit like 320) before any additional coats are applied.

Applying Wood Stain Sprays with a HLVP - Second Coat   Applying Wood Stain Sprays with a HLVP - Second Coat

Applying Wood Stain Sprays with a HLVP - Second Coat Finished   Applying Wood Stain Sprays with a HLVP - Second Coat Finished

Spraying Multiple Coats and Sanding Your Stain

Be patient. Let the first coat completely dry before you sand or apply a second coat. Many wood stain sprays will say on the container how long the recommended drying time is for different application techniques. If not, check to see if the wood stain is tacky to the touch or try sanding in an inconspicuous spot.  If the sand paper starts to clog up with uncured finish give it some more time.

Applying Wood Stain Sprays with a HLVP - Third Coat   Applying Wood Stain Sprays with a HLVP - Third Coat

Once you start sanding, sand lightly in between coats. Between each wood stain spray, sand lightly with progressively finer grit sand paper; start with 320, then use progressively finer grit with each sanding. If you have any trapped dirt or rough spots after the final coat lightly buff it out with a 2000 grit sanding or buffing pad.

Give yourself time to get comfortable using a HVLP sprayer to apply stain to the wood. Don’t jump in and spray the buffet you made your spouse as a present for your first spray project;  practice on scraps or make some new jigs for the shop and spray hose. With a little practice and some preparation you may find that applying a showroom-quality wood finish with a HVLP sprayer is far less hassle than you thought it would be.

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Chad McDade is the owner of Housewright Construction. His company performs residential remodeling, new construction, and the occasional custom woodworking project...Read more

24 comments on “Apply Wood Stain Sprays with a HVLP Sprayer

  1. John S

    Glad to see your first article Chad! It has been a pleasure having you on board at BTP since day one!

    How often do you clean the sprayer itself? Does it just depend on the model one buys?

    1. Chad Post author

      Thanks John!

      I clean the guns after every use; in between coats I give them a quick cleaning by running either water or thinner (depending on type of finish i used) through the gun to prevent it from gumming up. After I am finished spraying I again run either water or thinner through the gun then tear the gun apart to give it a thorough cleaning.

  2. Jim

    Thank you for a great article Chad. I have a question about the sprayers. Is there a big difference between a cheap sprayer that you see at Menards and a good quality sprayer? Do you recommend any sprayers?

    1. Chad Post author

      Thanks, Jim. There is a difference between the cheap HVLP sprayers from Menards/Home Depot/Lowes and the top of the line guns. Unless you are going to be doing a lot of spraying the cheap set ups are fine. I think the most expensive compressor driven sprayer I have cost me $30 and the electric Wagner system I have was around $150. Obviously, like any other tool, you get what you pay for – the more expensive systems do work better, hold up better, etc than the cheap set ups. But…I have been using my cheap Home Depot sprayers for a couple years and they probably get used 10 to 20 times a month.

  3. Matt

    Great article Chad, I’m motivated to get out my HVLP guns again after a long time. How do you find the Wagner compared to the air driven guns? I have a decent 20 gallon compressor and a dessicant dryer setup that does ok – should I consider a unit like the wagner for staining? would it work better for paint?

    1. Chad Post author


      The Wagner works great – you don’t have as much adjustment on the spray as you do with the air driven guns but that has never caused an issue with me. What CFM does your compressor put out? That is the important number with HVLP; most guns run at 30 to 40 psi but require 9 to 12 CFM. If your compressor puts out 8 CFM at 40 PSI, you can run a HVLP gun but you probably wouldn’t be able to run non stop, you would need to let the compressor catch up so that lack of air flow didnt effect the spray. Many manufacturers also make HVLP guns that require lower CFM’s, most of these guns are rated for 6 to 10 CFM’s. Buying a low CFM gun is cheaper than buying a high CFM compressor.

      1. Matt

        Hi Chad, I currently have a 20 gallon compressor that puts out 7.2CFM @ 40 PSI / 5.6@90PSI. It’s a great rig, and the odd time I’ve needed more, I also have another portable unit that I plug in to my air system that adds another 4.2CFM @ 90 – not sure of the 40 PSI number off the top of my head. I think my biggest hesitation has been the fine particulate that gets over things in the shop. I think I just need to make a $20 investment in some drop cloths as you suggested so I don’t have to worry about that. I also recently picked up some zip poles so they might work well together to help when spraying. Really enjoyed the article and your comments on the wagner – I’ve had a fence that needed painting for quite a while and thought it might be a good solution over my HVLP air gun.

        1. Chad Post author

          Zip poles are a great way to set up a nice little spray booth. I often use zip poles to put up a quick plastic ceiling over where I will be spraying.

  4. Cliff Golden

    I’m trying to stain some new pine ‘bat wing’ louvered door and want to know if I can spray my stain. I’ve got the doors prepped buy I want a uniform stain on this raw wood. Using a rag left ‘puddles’ in the corners I have to go back and clean.

  5. Chad Post author


    I would go with a nice coat of wood conditioner on the doors before I stained. Raw pine tends to get blotchy if you don’t.

    Spraying louvers can be tricky – you will most likely get some material build up in the corners of the louvers, keep a lint free rag handy or a foam brush to pull it out. Get one side sprayed and then rag it before moving on to the other side. When spraying the louvers watch for material build-up/runs on the opposite side too.

    1. Chad Post author

      I spray polyurethane fairly often – poly sprays well. Just stay with light coats, it is easier to spray an extra cost or two than it is to sand out runs. I always do a light scuffing between costs with a finishing pad to smooth the finish out before the next coat.

  6. Ysrulowitz

    I would really like to know which stain should i use a regular stain straight out of the can will work r i need to thin it ?
    In whats works best oil r water ?
    Which brand is the best whan it comes to spraying?

  7. Bailey Davies

    Thanks for the heads up on sprayer cleanup. I’ve always used Dawn dish soap for cleaning any water based products, but the acetone after sounds like a very good idea. That seems like it would eliminate the water & oil problem.
    Again thanks for the tip.

    1. Chad Post author

      Yes, you can stain pressure treated wood but because PT wood is usually still wet when you buy it, you need to let it dry before applying stain.

  8. Tandra

    Thanks for sharing a guide related to applying stain with help of HVLP spray. Can you tell me from where you have bought your HVLP spray gun. I don’t have HVLP spray gun and I want to buy it.

  9. Kevin Tchir

    I just sprayed a small deck and steps i built out of pressure treated and cedar decking with an HVLP gun and Behr Premium waterproofing product. The gun i used was a Princess Auto HVLP with a 1.4 mm nozzle. I have several guns and it worked great for me. 30 psi and material nozzle/needle quite open.

  10. B G Bancroft

    I am in the market for a good HVLP gravity feed sprayer with different size needle avail. for different viscosity and types of product (acrylic paint, Water based stain with pigment added, and misc. uses in the shop… what, if any brand would you suggest?

  11. Ralph Tomaccio

    I have little to no knowledge about sprayers and I have a deck that is 12 years old in need of restraining. Pigmented stain was used. I have filled holes and most cracks with wood filler and have sanded everything. Can I use a sprayer to apply pigmented stain? If so, what do I need to know? Can you direct me to more informations?


  12. Louis A Persic

    Lou Persic
    10/26/2017 at 5:20 AM

    My painter stained my two panel garage doors using Minwax 325 but did not wipe down the stain afterwards. I’m told the clear top coat will flake off. How do I correct this so the finish goes on properly? Can I use mineral spirits?
    Thanks, Lou

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