Bedroom wardrobe & HVLP spray review

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Project by bluekingfisher posted 01-19-2015 07:27 PM 2776 views 2 times favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This small wardrobe was built at the bequest of SWMBO to replace an older and larger wardrobe in a small back bedroom in our house. Despite this being a small wardrobe of simple design it has taken me almost 3 months to complete. Not because of complex design or difficulty joinery, merely a case of not having the freedom to invest the necessary time. Too many other chores needing attending to I’m afraid.

The unit is simple, although there are a couple of interesting points, for me at least which are new to my repertoire of woodworking skills, which if you can be bothered to read I shall mention later. The carcase is MDF, the top is made from the left over oak T&G 18mm floorboards from the room in which the wardrobe stands. The boards are pre finished, I added a breadboard end, pegged from beneath (fixed at the front, slatted for movement in centre and rear) to provide a little feature and to cover the ends of the boards, which are factory grooved on the underside to reduce cupping when laid on the floor. The doors are hung on a face frame of tulipwood.

The drawer box is made from acacia and oak utilising hand cut dovetail joinery. The oak came from an old kitchen cabinet door panel, at 15mm thick I left it at that size for the drawer. The acacia was an internal shelf from an old sideboard. I planed it down to 15mm to match the oak sides then applied a false front. I also applied a 6mm cock bead lip to ensure a little integrity to the MDF false front edges, it also helps visually I think? I didn’t have enough large sections of plywood for the drawer base so I cut two smaller parts and braced them where the two panels come together. Acacia is not a timber widely available here in the UK if you have never worked with it, it creates some issues of its own. I must say however, it has some fantastic grain pattern and when cut gives off a sweet odder much like smoked ham, very pleasant. It is also extremely hard and brittle, to the point where the oak seems like pine in comparison. If you have not milled or cut it before, make sure your tools are very, very sharp. I initially thought my recently sharpened dovetail saw was blunt, just take care and take your time with it otherwise parts shear off due to its brittleness. Working with acacia was the first new thing I learned on this project.

Before I go any further I must to offer thanks to Keifer, (Klaus) for his method of creating simple yet aesthetically pleasing panelled doors. I knew my time was limited and so had considered the best way to build “frame & panel doors” quickly. Well, his method doesn’t come much quicker or simpler. Thanks Klaus, much appreciated. The panels are just 9mm MDF, the rails and stiles are also 9mm MDF, ripped to the desired width with a 30 degree bevel, glued and pinned in place (Klaus just uses a rubbed glue joint) I used 3 headless pins on each rail & stile as I had to set them aside to allow the glue to dry while I worked on other aspects of the build. With the carcase being made of MDF I was concerned the feet would sheer off if any sideways pressure was applied to the cabinet, so I braced the feet with oak off cuts using pocket holes and glue to ensure a sturdy foot. Adopting the “Keifer” frame and panel method was the second new learning experience. I will definitely use this as my quick and dirty remedy for panel doors.

The third new learning experience was the use and effectiveness of spray finishing, something which I have wanted to take on for a long time. I like to keep all aspects of my woodworking simple and fuss free (as with life), so with that in mind I had a look at various options for applying a spray finish. The simplest method I felt was the HVLP system. After some research I plumped for the Earlex 5500 spray station because it was simple (judging by reviews) to use, easy to clean and maintain and simple to achieve satisfactory results. I watched all of the online videos for the machine via the Earlex webpage prior to and after purchase. The videos were a great help although one has to experience the machine for himself to ensure best results.

I used a matt latex paint for this project, picked by SWMBO to match a fold down sofa bed in the room in question. As it turned out the paint was not premium quality, which was probably why it was on sale, two cans for the price of one. I have known for sometime paint is one of those items where you get what you pay for and so it proved to be the case on this occasion. The direction is to thin the paint down to enable it to flow and atomise through the gun. There is a procedure shown on the video on how to achieve the right consistency of your chosen finish, in effect, you pour the paint through a small cup (provided in the kit) with a hole in the bottom. The length of time it takes to flow through determines the surface tension of the finish acceptable for the gun. This particular paint, known generically as “emulsion” in the UK was initially very thick when I opened the can, much like the consistency of double cream. I kept adding water and stirred, testing in the cup from time to time which seemed to take forever. However, now that I know the rough state of thickness I can add water until I get close to what is required then dial in the amount of thinner ready for spraying.

It is recommended a finer needle is used for spraying the likes of paint and top coat suitable for furniture. The gun comes with a standard 2.0mm needle, which you can use for the paint I was using; however I purchased the 1.5mm needle (£18 UK) which provides for finer atomisation of the paint. This is where the cheaper paint showed itself. The spray pattern was difficult to adjust for a fine spray. I initially thought it was down to me due to my lack of experience. The paint was spitting and not consistently covering the substrate. I fiddled with the adjustment screw and varied the distance from the project until I got what I thought would be acceptable (obviously practice on a scrap piece or an innocuous section of the project is necessary). I eventually phoned the service centre and was pleasantly surprised to be put through to “Brian” in the workshop (no dial 1 for credit card details, dial two if you want to speak to someone remotely interested in your dilemma etc etc) Brian offered a few options, primarily try quality paint next time. I have since, and it has produced far superior results. Anyway, three coats did it, the first coat I rubbed back it being water borne base then applied the two final coats. I used a commercial grade water based floor lacquer for the two top coats. What a difference, I was spraying like a pro by this time lol, further proof quality material produces better results.

Some other points to consider should you decide to invest in this spray unit, ensure the paint is strained, a pack of paint strainers (190 microns) costs pennies. I also invested in a paint strainer stand at £5.30 all in from EBay it was too good a bargain to pass up. I also purchased, again pennies a pack of 50 calibrated paper cups. These are just waxed paper cups, such as found in McDonalds with a volume scale printed on the side to show how much paint/thinner you are mixing. The gun cup holds around a quart of finish. Being a tight git I have only used the one cup so far, I just rinse them out after I pour the paint into the gun. I drew the line at reusing the strainers though.

Cleaning the gun takes around 10 minutes (if using water based material) I would recommend cleaning after each coat (assuming more than an hour or so between coats) I left one of the top coats in the gun for a couple of hours between coats then had to clean out the needle as the lacquer had gone off and it would not atomise properly. No big deal as it was a water based material, just something to be aware of. Again the videos show how to care for and clean between coats and then for final storage. Simple stuff really and once you have gleaned the basics achieving great results is within anyone’s grasp very quickly. I found keeping the gun around 75 – 100mm from the surface produced the best results. Determining the speed at which you pass the gun over the surface is trial and error, so take the time to practice on a scrap piece first.

The machine is powered by a 650W turbine, it blows out a lot of air from both the gun and from the base of the unit, so ensure you vacuum the dust from the shop before you start to spray, otherwise you may end up with a work piece covered in debris. It is also quite loud, much akin to the noise levels of most shop vacs, so hearing protection may be required if you have sensitive hearing. I had my air filter operating; additionally I turned on my DC and opened a couple of blast gates on my machines dust ports to ensure movement of air within the shop. When spraying I found there is a little overspray, to be fair, much less than when using air compressors I am led to believe. However, the moving air dispenses the overspray around the shop and not onto your work piece so take the time to cover your equipment otherwise you will have a fine layer of paint dust on your gear. It is easily cleaned up using a little WD40 and a fine abrasive media, such as scrunched up newspapers. I had very little debris fall onto the piece by this method, again something I would recommend you do too.

One aspect not covered in the “how to videos” is the turbine itself. There is a small filter on the base of the unit, comprising of a small foam disc, you can pull it out and replace easily with your fingers, just clean this out from time to time by taking it out and blowing some air from the hose to prevent it from clogging and overheating the unit.

It is also recommended you keep a “wet” edge when applying the paint. If the paint dries before it hits the project you will experience, orange peel. To avoid this use quality paint, a paint extender, such as Lamix (I believe that’s the name) and allow the turbine to reach full running temp. When the unit starts up from cold it blows cold air through the gun, after a minute or so the unit heats up pushing now warn air into the gun. To ensure consistency of paint application, wait until the unit is at full running temp then start spraying. The difference between paint sprayed by cold air and warm air is quite noticeable.

You may have noticed the carcase is upside down while finishing, this was the other tip I ask you to consider. I read somewhere recently that any defects, such as drips or runs are less noticeable when the piece is turned right way up after applying the finish, seemed to work for me, not that I had any runs lol.

And finally!………………would I recommend the Earlex 5500 unit, yes I would, for most weekend woodworkers or even those in a semi pro environment this will produce more than satisfactory results. I believe with the appropriate needle (0.8 -1.0mm) the machine will deliver on automotive panel spraying. I guess you can’t ask for more than that for the money.

I also have to say I have no financial interest in the Earlex 5500, just giving an honest appraisal based on my limited experience to date.

Pros on this machine -

Inexpensive. Simple to use. Great results. Fast learning curve. Great customer after care. Available accessories. Online video help. Easy to clean and maintain. Small footprint for storage.

Cons -

Power cord too short (my power outlets are high up) some parts of the casing and handle seem lightweight. Noisy.

Anyway, apologies for the prolonged ramble on such a simple job although I trust my little review on the Earlex spray station will be of interest/use to you.

Thanks for reading.

Apologies for the format of this post, typing on an iPad trying to upload photographs is a right royal pain in the butt


-- No one plans to fail, they just, just fail to plan

12 comments so far

View tyvekboy's profile


1822 posts in 3213 days

#1 posted 01-19-2015 07:37 PM

Good post and description. Looks like it turned out really nice.

Thanks for sharing.

-- Tyvekboy -- Marietta, GA ………….. one can never be too organized

View DonB's profile


524 posts in 2892 days

#2 posted 01-19-2015 07:50 PM

Quality review mate. I appreciated the time it obviously took to post this experience – on an iPad no less. I also have an Earlex a smaller 2901. Same issue with the needle and quality results when using the smaller needle. This for posting. Looks nice.

-- DonB

View HillbillyShooter's profile


5811 posts in 2492 days

#3 posted 01-19-2015 08:28 PM

Great project and post. Thank you for sharing!

-- John C. -- "Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the peoples' liberty's teeth." George Washington

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18389 posts in 3875 days

#4 posted 01-19-2015 09:48 PM

Awesome turn out David. Project looks great and you have many new skills to capitalize upon.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View bluekingfisher's profile


1302 posts in 3179 days

#5 posted 01-19-2015 10:04 PM

Thanks very much fellas for taking the time to post a comment.

Another lesson learned, don’t use an iPad for posting projects…...what a chore that was.

Thanks again all


-- No one plans to fail, they just, just fail to plan

View BusterB's profile


1970 posts in 2208 days

#6 posted 01-20-2015 12:12 AM

Awesome build Dave!!! And it looks like you got a handle on the earlex sprayer…needle issue and all. Nice finish.

-- Buster, Ocoee TN (Critics are men who watch a battle from a high place then come down and shoot the survivors - Hemingway)

View scarpenter002's profile


606 posts in 4104 days

#7 posted 01-20-2015 02:22 AM

Great review David. You should post it to the review section also, so it easy for others to find, tied to the brand and model.

I have the Earlex 5500 also. I have used it on two projects so far, and found it very user friendly. After the first project, I purchased the 1.5 & 1.0 mm needles. I too found the videos very useful.

Thanks for sharing.

-- Scott in Texas

View kiefer's profile


5622 posts in 2866 days

#8 posted 01-20-2015 03:14 AM

David always remember GOOD WORK TAKES GOOD TIME .
This turned out very well and it looks like the door making method worked for you but I had no doubts as I have used it for years with great success .
Well done right down to the finish .
Well what is up next ?


-- Kiefer

View bluekingfisher's profile


1302 posts in 3179 days

#9 posted 01-20-2015 10:24 AM

Buster – Thanks mate as always, hope you are well?

Scott – I may do that (if I can handle the necessary IT tech skills) Thay are indeed a great little machine, very pleased i made the investment. I too may try the 1.0mm needle. I have a couple of vac collection drums I have been thinking about painting, may be a good excuse to buy the smaller needle.

Klaus – Thanks again, the dors are so incredibly easy to make and have a very pleasing look. I guess you could even apply the technique to solid wood doors?

Next up in the shop is probably another plane til. I have been collecting LV planes of late and need a safe house for them. That will of course depend on the time SWMBO permits me.

Thanks again all who took the time to offer a comment.


-- No one plans to fail, they just, just fail to plan

View Rick  Dennington's profile

Rick Dennington

6301 posts in 3394 days

#10 posted 01-20-2015 03:38 PM

Hey Amigo…..Stellar job on the wardrobe project for the bedroom….I laways like plenty of details when someone does a project, and you my friend, have come through with flying colors, as they say…..Beautiful job…The color really accents the bedroom, and fits nicely…..I like how you incorprated the drawer in the bottom, too…..Who taught you how to build drawers, anyhow….?…...You come up with some good, innovative things to build, especially for your home…..I can just hear Julie now…....!!!! Thanks for posting, and keep up the good work…..As always, your amigo across the pond….!!!!!.......Oh yea…..learn to operate that iPad….!!!

-- " At my age, happy hour is a crap and a nap".....!!

View Roger's profile


20952 posts in 3003 days

#11 posted 01-21-2015 02:37 PM

Very nice build, and thnx for your review. Looks like you had fun with this.

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed.

View bluekingfisher's profile


1302 posts in 3179 days

#12 posted 01-22-2015 09:00 AM

Rick, Roger – Thanks boys for taking the time oot to comment.

-- No one plans to fail, they just, just fail to plan

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