Friday, September 7, 2012

Experimenting with Cheap Airbrushes

Ah, airbrushing.  This tool pops up on the old inter-webs in lots of guises: the indispensible tool, the magic wand, the frustrating demon best ignored. At any given moment, I have found them to be any or all of these, but what I’d like to talk about today is my experience with a couple of cheap ones.
Most talk about cheap airbrushes as being a low cost point of entry. I do not recommend them for that at all. If you want to do “serious” airbrushing you really need to get a serious airbrush – there is no shortcut, IMHO. I use cheap airbrushes for very simple tasks when I don’t want to risk my better brushes.

The airbrushes today are from Harbor Freight. Harbor Freight is a mail-order tool company in the US which also has some retail outlets. In my opinion, some of what Harbor Freight sells is very good and some clearly show their imported-for-the-cheapest-price roots. Let’s take a look.

Airbrush Kit #47791

The first brush I picked up was Airbrush Kit #47791. Besides the airbrush, you get a hose, two adapters, a ¾ oz. Jar and a 1.5 oz. jar. It was “on sale” for $9.99 (though it seems to always be on sale). My reason for picking up this brush was that I wanted to shoot some enamels as base coats on a Blue Moon SF building. Airbrushes can be a hassle to clean, couple that with enamel paints and you can end up with garbage quickly. Rather than risk a good airbrush, I picked this up.

It is a single action airbrush and you adjust the amount of paint by screwing and unscrewing the brass cone fitting under the spray nozzle. The black body of the brush is plastic. The back half of the body unscrews but it doesn't give access to anything so it’s just there to make the airbrush easier to hold. The tops of the jars are also plastic.  The jars themselves are glass. The hose is a vinyl/plastic material with metal screw fittings at the end.
Set up and assembly was quick. I had to use their hose attachment as neither my Testor’s (Aztec) brush nor  Badger worked.

I've use the airbrush twice and it worked reasonably well both times laying down a smooth coat of paint and had enough control that I could do some gradation in paint tone over a wall that was about 3” tall. Spray pattern control was not enough to be useful for painting camo or doing lines of paint narrower than about an inch. I did note during longer painting sessions the jar lid did not hold on the jar well. It was like the plastic was getting soft and a little twist would get the lid to jump the threads. The lid may have become more flexible due to the paint thinner. The jar never came off when painting, but it did make me nervous. It was very quick and easy to clean.
Bottom line: it did the job, it was easy to clean, and I will get more uses out of it. For simple paint jobs with low to no control required, especially with “hot” paints, it’s worth the $10. If I have to throw it out – oh, well.

Quick-Change Airbrush kit #83506
The second brush is the Quick-Change Airbrush kit #83506 and it was also on sale for $9.99. The kit includes a hose and five jars. In this kit the jars are all plastic, not just the lids. The airbrush is almost entirely plastic. Again, it’s a single action where you screw and unscrew the metallic cap on the jar to raise and lower the little stem into the air stream and regulate the amount of paint.

Here’s a close up of the stem on the jar. Note the odd shape of the lid. There are openings under the stem that the brush clips on to. This is the “quick change” feature.

The fork on the end of the airbrush snaps into the openings on the lid.

I was surprised to find that the threading of the hose fittings were not the same as the Airbrush Kit. This hose screwed onto the same compressor adapter as my Badger brush.

I used this brush to shoot the dust onto the Blue Moon SF building. Paint control was much cruder than the Airbrush Kit. I was spraying craft paint and some paint did bubble out from under the stem on the jar, and the stem needed to be constantly re-adjusted as paint flow stopped. I did like the quick change feature which would allow rapid color changes with no cleaning in between. As the jars are plastic, I would be reluctant to spray lacquer or enamel as I don’t know if the thinner would attack the jars.

Bottom line: handy for acrylic base coating and coating different objects with different colors in the same painting session. I would not recommend it for anything that required any control.

So I was surprised that both of these brushes did a decent job of limited, simple airbrush paint jobs. They would work well for scenery and base coating an army in a custom color. They may not last very long, but $10 is a cheap price to pay to preserve your expensive airbrushes.


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