Earlex 5500 or Rockler HVLP?

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Forum topic by BerBer5985 posted 09-06-2012 12:05 AM 9330 views 0 times favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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445 posts in 2356 days

09-06-2012 12:05 AM

I’ve been debating on going to a sprayer for my finishes. As most woodworkers, I cringe when it comes time to apply finish. I hate it. Same with paint of any kind. I hate it. I was leaning towards getting the earlex as highland woodworking has them on sale for $319 with 2.0 and 1.5mm nozzles, but then I started thinking about how much use it would actually get. I’m a weekend warrior woodworker and I’m not using this thing every day. Part of me says, “you get what you pay for” and the other side says, “buy for your needs”. The reviews on the rockler system seem great for people like me. Is it worth spending double on the earlex unit or is the rockler unit worth it to get started and then if I find my needs exceeding that, splurge on the earlex down the road?

-- Greg, Owner, Quality Carpet One,

13 replies so far

View Jeremy Greiner's profile

Jeremy Greiner

568 posts in 2708 days

#1 posted 09-06-2012 12:17 AM

The Rockler HVLP is a carbon copy of the Harbor Freight HVLP

So if you where going to get the rockler one, I’d save a few bucks .. get a 20% off coupon and get the harbor freight one.

I have the harbor freight one, and I have no idea what I’m doing .. but it seems to work pretty well. Harbor freight doesn’t sell extra cups for the HVLP unit, but rocklers fit just fine (since they’re the same machine).

As for Earlex vs the Harbor freight one, I can’t answer that I don’t have enough skills to know any better when it comes to HVLP spraying.


-- Easy to use end grain cutting board designer:

View Douglas's profile


424 posts in 2496 days

#2 posted 09-06-2012 12:18 AM

I had the same debate, but when there was a sale on the Rockler setup for $99, I went for it. I figured it would be good to get started, and if it broke, I’d replace it with the Earlex. 1 & 1/2 years later, and an entire kitchen cabinet project worth of spraying finish and shellac, its still working great. It sprays wonderfully, and hasn’t worn out. Its mostly plastic, compared with the Earlex, but if it work, that’s good enough for me.

-- Douglas in Chicago -

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2387 posts in 3483 days

#3 posted 09-06-2012 12:32 AM

I have owned the Earlex 5000 and the Rockler. The Earlex was the better unit. I was never satisfied with either unit for various reasons. One issue I had was available parts. I recall needing to replace the cup part on the Earlex and if I recall correctly the price was around 30.00 plus shipping, which meant I was going to wait.

We currently spray with the woodriver HVLP gun from Woodcraft. I pay 30.00 for the gun locally and the gun is amazingly good quality, lays finish with the best of them and is very easily replaceable if needed in a pinch. Online the gun is 40.00.

We spray weekly and produces results that allow us to provide for ouselves professionally.

This gun would require an air compressor and if you don’t have one let me say the compact Rol-air compressors are prices good at around 240.00 with free shipping and are great quality made in the USA. It has a 2 hp motor, 4 gallon and 4 CFM at 100 psi, and is very ample to run a spray gun.

So in short, if I were to do it all over again, I would certainly skip the two models you propose, that I personally bought both at brand new prices, and go the compressor/woodriver gun route. My route saves money in the long run and will provide great quality and production.

With this all said, I know many on this site love the Earlex and likely will promote that unit and no doubt it likely would serve you well. I am just not sure the cost value is there.

-- .

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445 posts in 2356 days

#4 posted 09-06-2012 01:17 AM

I have the harbor freight hvlp gun I bought a while back but have yet to try. I have a 20 gallon oil drive compressor that seems like it would put out that amount of scfm for that. I just worry about humidity and water in the coompressor, etc.

-- Greg, Owner, Quality Carpet One,

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2387 posts in 3483 days

#5 posted 09-06-2012 01:21 AM

Yes, the air compressor does need drained regularly, which we do. I should, but do not, run a water filter in our air lines to our sprayer and I will say that water is never an issue with any of our finishes. When we spray early in the morning we get a ‘fogging’ effect in our finish as the morning dew in the air gets trapped inside the finish. The simple remedy is to splash a tad bit of retarder in our finish and problem solved.

-- .

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2387 posts in 3483 days

#6 posted 09-06-2012 01:25 AM

If you already own the harbor frieght gun, I would give it a try and just see how it works out since you already own it. As stated, it is a clone of the Rockler and likely will be very serviceable for you for hobby woodworking. But if it ever breaks on you, or if you loose a part to the gun (something I know I am more likely to do) and the gun becomes not operable, then look at the Woodriver gun, you would be surprised at the quality of that gun, as I am.

-- .

View Gary's profile


9312 posts in 3369 days

#7 posted 09-06-2012 01:47 AM

I had that same question about 18 months ago. I got the Rockler on that sale mentioned above. It’s still on the shelf, never opened. I just don’t spray. I guess it depends on your projects.

Edit: I just looked at your projects. I would not spend the money to spray those projects. That’s the kind I do by hand.

-- Gary, DeKalb Texas only 4 miles from the mill

View BerBer5985's profile


445 posts in 2356 days

#8 posted 09-06-2012 02:58 AM

Well I broke the harbor freight HVLP gun out and hooked it up to the compressor and voila. Seems to work fine spraying water. That will probably work just fine. I’ll have to play with it and get some strainers and what not, but I think for $20, it may do the trick. Anyone have the gravity feed harbor freight hvlp gun and spray finish with it?

-- Greg, Owner, Quality Carpet One,

View Joeshop's profile


49 posts in 3053 days

#9 posted 09-06-2012 03:11 AM


Check out the Harbor Freight HVLP system as it is identical ( not a clone just labelled different ). Only problem is if you want an additional pot for holding the paint, you have to get the pots from Rockler. Nice savings, especially if you use the HF coupons.


-- ~You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.~ - Joe

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445 posts in 2356 days

#10 posted 09-06-2012 11:47 AM

I saw that ^^ I was gonna stop by and pick one up I think. I don’t think you can go wrong around $100. I’m also going to try spraying some finish out of the hvlp compressor gun from harbor freight that I already have.

-- Greg, Owner, Quality Carpet One,

View Earlextech's profile


1160 posts in 2627 days

#11 posted 09-06-2012 12:35 PM

It would be more appropriate to contrast the Earlex 3500 against the HF or Rockler systems. The 5500 is a professional level, all metal gun with stainless steel needles /nozzles. The 3500 has a plastic gun with brass needle/nozzle at a price that is more aligned with the other systems.
If it’s just going to sit on a shelf, it really doesn’t matter which one you get. Make sure you use whichever one you buy. I hear from guys all the time that they spent the money last year but the system is still in the box.

-- Sam Hamory - The project is never finished until its "Finished"!

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1454 posts in 2921 days

#12 posted 09-06-2012 12:41 PM

I have the Rockler/HF one and a couple conversion guns. The conversion guns are in a whole different league. If you are spraying small projects, you can use the small HF detail HVLP gun with a pancake compressor. I use that gun with a small compressor for spraying guitars. The turbine unit is really made for larger projects, as you can’t change the fan width or shape, and it is very wide. Also, with such a large cup, there is a lot of unusable product in the bottom when time to refill. On a very large project, it’s no biggie. When spraying a guitar neck, it’s a problem. A conversion gun with a compressor really is the way to go, the results are nowhere near similar between the turbine unit and the conversion gun.

-- Brian T. - Exact science is not an exact science

View BerBer5985's profile


445 posts in 2356 days

#13 posted 09-06-2012 02:50 PM

I know the earlex 5500 machine is a much nicer quality machine, so I wasn’t looking for a direct comparison, I just was trying to get a feel for the lower cost item in relation to the extra money spent on the earlex. I think if I sprayed everyday or more often, I’d have one of the more expensive earlex units. I like the fact that they are portable as well. That would be what I really want, but of course money is always an issue and I’m trying to justify the cost of upgrading to the earlex over say the rockler or harbor freight version. I also think since I have a compressor that most likely handle what I need in regards to spraying that I may try that first before spending more. I have the purple spray gun from harbor freight without the pressure adjuster on the bottom. I’m going to mess with it tonight and see if I can get some decent results with maybe just a shellac finish on a few scraps and see how that goes. The compressor I have is an older oil drive 20 gallon compressor with I believe 2hp. It makes about the bare minimum to run the hvlp, so we’ll try it out and see. Anyone have tips for getting the right spray pattern and viscosity of items to spray?

-- Greg, Owner, Quality Carpet One,

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