Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Airbrush

This week, the Sprue Cutters Union is talking all about airbrushes and other tools vital to the painting process!

When I was growing up, one of my fondest memories was watching my dad paint models. To this day, even the slightest whiff of a Tamiya rattle can, or an open bottle of Testor's enamel will send me back down memory lane. I remember him laying down the newspaper so the over spray wouldn't mar the table top. I can hear the hiss and rattle combination of a spray can hard at work. He'd step aside so I could see the shiny wet olive drab hue bedazzling his latest 1/48 scale aircraft. The smell was over powering, and would linger in the air, but to me it was as good as fresh baked cookies or mom's apple pie. My father never graduated to an airbrush though. Though he raised me to be a modeler, I don't think he took it as seriously as I do now.

Which is why, one of the first big purchases I made for the hobby was an airbrush. Okay, well, it wasn't that big of an expense. I was a poor high school senior so all I could afford was a $30 plastic no-name airbrush from Michael's. No cheap airbrush would be complete without the can of compressed air propellant to operate it. Ever use one of them? Mine had a tendency to frost over like a car's windshield on a cold morning. It wasn't long before the airbrush broke and I returned to painting models the old fashioned way...with paint brushes.

It wouldn't be until maybe five years later, after I got married, that I made the jump into the 21st Century. As a Father's Day gift, my wife purchased an airbrush set for me from Paasche. Specifically, the VL dual action siphon feed, complimented by the D500 air compressor. I was in heaven.
This is the airbrush system I have been using since 2008 and have not encountered a single problem. Most recently, one of the fine nozzles broke but that was easily replaced. 

The airbrush is very simple and sturdy. Some people don't like the siphon feed but I don't mind it. I bought two additional color cups to facilitate faster changes of color in one paint session. I was not a big fan of having to wash out the single color cup multiple times in one night.
It comes with three different sized needles and nozzles depending on the fineness of your work. I find that I use the 0.7 mm VLT-3 tip for just about every thing. It works great for larger volume if held at a distance, and is thin enough for line and detail work when its closer to the subject. This means less swapping out of parts, and more time actually painting!
Cleaning it is also easy. Since I use Tamiya acrylics for airbrushing, after each color and when I'm done for the night, I'll shoot a good amount of isopropyl alcohol through it. Then I just take the tip off and remove the needle, wash them off as well as the inside of the brush and I'm done. Maybe not as easy as some brushes, but its fine for me.

The compressor is decent. Its fairly quiet and comes with an automatic turn off for when its not in use. Though, I suspect mine is broken because it turns off and then on repeatedly when I'm not shooting air through the brush. Its no big deal though. The only downside I can see is that it gets extremely hot so I am very careful when handling it after a long night at the bench. More so, I'm wary of where I put it while working. Other than that, I purchased a regulator and moisture trap for it and it works like a charm.

That about covers my set up. I've never been the kind of guy to own several different airbrushes as I have seen other modelers do. I don't like to add complexity to my sessions. Time is of the essence for me, so swapping out airbrushes during a build just doesn't seem appealing. 
I do, however, have my eye on a Grex brush. I demo'd one while at a show several years ago and it was so smooth and so quiet that I have been considering having an affair with it. Of course, in my world, justifying the expense for another airbrush when I have one that is working perfectly fine is a battle I'm not willing to wage...for now. Never the less, its on my radar.
Aside from the airbrush, I only use rattle cans for gloss and matt coats, never for paint. I never developed the control for them, and usually end up with runs in the finish or bubbles. If you can use them, more power to you.

To end, here is a toast to my faithful airbrush. I hope for many more successful years together (but not too many because I really want that Grex).
Thanks for reading!


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  1. Great stuff Jon I can relate to this in so many ways. We use the same airbrush and like you I'm in love with it, even though I am considering cheating on it with another. So no rattle cans or anything for you?

    1. Brilliant airbrush isn't it? Not flashy but gets the job done. No rattle cans for me. I'm too afraid of laying the coat on too thick, causing runs and drips and unevenness. I was never sold on their benefits, and considering I do a lot of modulation in the paint scheme, the cans don't really allow for that.
      I could see how they'd be useful to a more monochromatic scheme like autos. I do however use rattle can clear coats.

  2. Enjoyed reading and nice set-up, Jon.

  3. Interesting post Jon, I swear one day one of you scale modellers will talk me into investing in an airbrush myself!

    1. You should get one. I am even considering using it for my next figure painting. I have some ideas that I want to try with it. We'll see.