Positive red perfection

A few weeks ago, Andrew brought this little table home from work for me to paint. One of his coworkers found it at a garage sale for $5 and wanted it painted to go in her new office when they move buildings in the next month.

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Easy enough, right? It’s a small table, hasn’t been previously painted or stained, and she said she had no preference as to how it was painted (sprayed, brushed, rolled), but she wanted it a glossy red. She chose the color Positive Red from my Sherwin Williams COLOR book (SW6871).

Though she didn’t have a preference for the method of painting, I knew I wouldn’t be happy with it unless it was sprayed. Asking for a glossy red finish probably indicates you want a sleek, modern piece of furniture, but the brushed texture gives off a more rustic, shabby vibe. And I didn’t want to disappoint!

Spraying red can be problematic for several reasons, though. Paint stores have several different bases available to use for different colors. Generally base 1 is a white base, going up to base 3 or 4  which are used for darker colors. These bases have less white and more room in the can to add more colorant. If only white bases were available, it would be almost impossible to add enough color to create deep tones without diluting the other ingredients (diminishing the effectiveness of the paint) or overflowing the can. For red, there’s almost always only one option for the base.

The real problem is that this one base is only available in the “paint and primer in one” variety of each brand. Better coverage means the paint will be truer to color and consumers will be more likely to get the color they were hoping for without having to apply 4 or 5 or more coats. But this also means the paint will be thicker, which is a definite negative when you’re hoping to spray it through an HVLP gun. I’ve sprayed paints and primers in 1 before, but only after thinning with about 10% water. When you thin blue, you still have blue. When you thin grey or brown, it’s just a tiny bit lighter. But when you thin red what do you get?

Pink! So I knew I had to try it without thinning. We color matched Sherwin Williams Positive Red to Valspar Signature in semi-gloss. It’s a bit thick for spraying, but in general I really do like this paint. Great coverage and durability!

Thankfully, when working on our shutter project we realized that simply by turning up the PSI on my compressor, we got better coverage and more material flow through the gun (i.e. it laid down a thicker coat of paint). The gun says it’s rated for 40 to 60 PSI, so I’ve always set it at 60. When spraying continuously, though, it drops to about 45. So we turned it up to 80 and it was like a whole new gun! I was hoping this discovery would be helpful when spraying red, too. First, we sanded the table lightly with a high grit sandpaper and then sprayed a coat of Zinsser 1-2-3 latex primer…


After allowing ample time for the primer to dry, sanding it to a smooth finish with a high grit sanding block, and wiping it down, I got my sprayer ready, un-thinned paint and all. As I hoped, it worked!


For the thicker paint, it definitely helped to use a higher PSI! For some reason the pictures make it look more orangey. This one is a bit truer to the actual color. It’s definitely red, not orange!


Another problem I have had in the past with spraying glossy paints (semi gloss or high gloss) is that the wood soaks up different amounts of the paint in different areas, causing the sheen to appear uneven and stripey (even after a coat or two of primer), almost as if you missed spraying those spots.

I never could figure out what I was doing wrong. I increased the volume of paint, thinned paints more, sprayed slower, went back over those areas several times in one coat to make sure it wasn’t drying too quickly…couldn’t figure it out. And I had always heard thin coats were the key to a good paint job with an HVLP. What?! Well, apparently the other part of that equation is lots of coats! I never felt I had time for it before, but this time it had to be perfect. And I wanted to test it out and see if that really solved the problem. I think I sprayed at least 5 thin coats on this table!


But it was definitely the solution I needed! With each coat, the finish got better and better and the sheen was more even. I’m so happy with how it turned out! It’s so smooth, it’s hard to capture the finish on camera!


I sprayed the wooden knob with a quick coat of Rustoleum’s oil rubbed bronze spray paint, but she can decide if she prefers it or a different knob from around the office (MASCO owns Liberty Hardware, so there are no shortage of available knobs!)


And, of course, I had to put some accessories on it just to see how it looked, but it will need to cure for a few weeks before the tackiness goes away. I also let it dry for several days before transporting it to make sure it wouldn’t get scratched or dinged up.


I think it turned out really cute and the finish looks nearly flawless. I’m also so glad to have my first red piece under my belt, and relieved that it wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it would be. It just takes a lot of time and patience! Now I know that I can do bigger pieces with my HVLP and have an even sheen…it will just take lots of coats! Either that or a lot more brushing and rolling might be in my future!


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