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Cleaning Airbrushes

Posted: Fri Jul 17, 2015 4:01
by smeg1959
First up, to devotees of the Almighty Hairy Stick, you can giggle and guffaw to your heart's content. To the rest of us who often or occasionally resort to using an airbrush, your input will be valuable. I talk of the one big downside to using these tools, namely cleaning the things after each job.

As painting protocol recommends, I start with the lightest colour first wherever possible. If a second (or more) coat is needed, I seal the nozzle area of the airbrush in a plastic bag and tape off the air bleed hole in the cup lid to stop any potential drying and blockages. If I can get away with it, I simply rinse everything out at the end with thinners or water until nothing but clear liquid comes out the nozzle, then do my next colour. Periodically, of course, issues start to arise. The paint starts to spatter or come out unevenly ... blockage time. That's when the thing gets totally dismantled and every nook and crevice gets cleaned.

How often this occurs depends upon many factors, not the least of which is the brand of paint used. As my preference lies with acrylics, I tend to go with Lifecolor, Tamiya and Humbrol, all readily available locally. Also have some Gunze which I've had the occasional issue with, despite others saying it is the cat's whiskers. Do have the occasional enamel but this is strictly Hairy Stick application only. I really like Lifecolor acrylics (thin and needs more than one coat but dries very evenly, even when using Hairy Sticks) BUT they are notorious for drying in the nozzle, particularly at higher air pressures. Tamiya is much better in this respect but the range doesn't include numerous RLM colours for the Luftwaffe or aircraft from other air forces like the VVS. Humbrol paint is as thick as a whale omelet so needs thinning before spraying, but again meets the brief with only minimal risk of clogging. The company's Oxford Blue (104) is lovely. Only issue there is that most vendors here stock shiploads of the Humbrol enamels and few of the company's acrylics.

Which leads me to the point of this thread. After spending an hour and a half last night dissembling and cleaning my two dual action airbrushes, is there a quicker way to keep these things clean and ready for action? I see airbrush cleaning jars online but all these seem to be is a means of simply collecting the rinse solvent and crap that comes out with it. I just spray onto a bit of newspaper. Others recommend a small ultrasonic bath. We use these at work to clean glassware and instrumental bits and pieces used in the labs and they certainly do a good job, but no paint of any description is involved.

Anyone got ideas on this? That 1.5 hours was allotted to working on my Peter's Planes' Beaufort, which sat forlornly in the corner of the Man Cave watching me curse and swear at a pile of airbrush bits. And those needles hurt when they skewer your forefinger ... :oops:

Re: Cleaning Airbrushes

Posted: Fri Jul 17, 2015 9:00
by spejic
I have an Iwata Revolution and I disassemble the main paint pathway (all the nozzle parts and the needle, pulling it out the front) and directly clean it all immediately after every paint I use. It just takes 5 minutes. If I do anything less it just doesn't work right and later cleanings are just more difficult. Just spraying thinner through it doesn't really clean it at all.

I've heard of people using ultrasonic baths too, but I think it would be for an occasional deep cleaning and not a regular thing.

Re: Cleaning Airbrushes

Posted: Fri Jul 17, 2015 9:52
by Wege
All I can say is that I am envious. I would love to have the time, space, money for an airbrush and stuff (yes.. they are not expensive/cheap etc.. but money going into other areas yadda yadda) mostly for the ability to paint clean solid areas of hard to paint colours: I am looking at you Mr White and Mr Red!

Re: Cleaning Airbrushes

Posted: Sat Jul 18, 2015 10:44
by smeg1959
In my defence, Wege, my compressor is almost 40 years old (dating back to my post-teen/first full-time job/no dependents' modelling days with a Paasche airbrush, sadly long departed) and my two airbrushes are both evilBay dual-action cheapies (the second cost $20 inc postage). Actually, I noticed that ALDI of all stores had a dual-action airbrush and 1/2-hp compressor package for $99 this week.

After doing some online reading, I'm considering adding Windex to the Lifecolor to improve flow and reduce nozzle clogging. I was originally thinking about adding Tamiya's retarder (the Lifecolor range doesn't seem to include one) but am very wary of mixing the products of different manufacturers. After all, I don't want to synthesize some multi-hued superglue that screws up my airbrush for good.

Oh, and for those fellow Victorians on the forum, have you noticed the TV advert for RACV Insurance includes a guy with a pretty impressive model collection? Good lad. Definitely worth insuring IMHO ... :D

Re: Cleaning Airbrushes

Posted: Sun Jul 19, 2015 4:17
by machinehead
I would love to have an airbrush and compressor but I can't justify the cost. That and I don't have a clue as how to use one, would be afraid of screwing up either the model or the airbrush.

Re: Cleaning Airbrushes

Posted: Sun Jul 19, 2015 14:36
by spejic
machinehead wrote:I would love to have an airbrush and compressor but I can't justify the cost. That and I don't have a clue as how to use one, would be afraid of screwing up either the model or the airbrush.
Quality airbrushes and compressors should last you a lifetime, so it's not that much if you think about how much use you will get out of it. Harbor Freight has airbrush compressors for a good price, if you have one of those stores nearby. And it's really hard to permanently screw up an airbrush outside of losing one of the small parts.

It really improves the quality of your models.

Re: Cleaning Airbrushes

Posted: Sun Jul 19, 2015 19:27
by JBr-Decals
I have to agree with spejic on this one. I was happy with a brush until I bought a cheap Revell set with a small compressor and a single action airbrush gun three years ago (basically a Fengda gun without the brand name written anywhere on it). The difference in the surface quality and not to mention the ability to paint a 1/144 jet with just few drops of paint is amazing. Now I can't go back... not that I want to anyway :D

Re: Cleaning Airbrushes

Posted: Mon Jul 20, 2015 12:57
by smeg1959
As I said before, I still use hairy brushes for smaller details but there's nothing like an airbrush for coating larger surfaces evenly. And I can now attest that adding the non-ammonia version of Windex in a ratio of around 1:2 with the Lifecolor paint not only prevented the nozzle tip from blocking, it also made life so much easier during clean-up with the residue flushing out of the cup and feedlines like a charm. Just hope the paint doesn't fall off or something equally horrendous because this looks like a potential lifesaver for yours truly. :D

Re: Cleaning Airbrushes

Posted: Wed Feb 17, 2016 23:31
by smeg1959
You do have to be careful when cleaning these things. The newer of my cheapies (identified as a Fengda BD-203 and, no, it didn't cost me 56 quid!) kept blocking last night so I stripped it down completely. Yes, there was a number of areas of dried paint residue build-up that had escaped the regular post-session cleans. All channels clear, I reassembled the thing and poured the paint back in.

Now correct me if I'm wrong, but paint shouldn't start to dribble out the front of the airbrush before it's even connected to a compressor. Stupid me in remote control mode, I flipped the latter on by mistake and, a millisecond later under pressure, the lid on the paint reservoir shot 3 feet into the air, followed closely behind by a stream of Lifecolor UA004. Fortunately, this was one of the few times the model under construction was at the back of my workbench, thereby avoiding an Interior Green wash (but only just). As the model in question only needed canopy frames and decals for completion, you would have felt the tremor round the globe if the paint had found its way onto the pristine finished surfaces. Well, pristine by my crude standards.

After washing the thing out, I dismantled it again and, lo and behold based on the exploded parts diagram, one washer in an area I'd never accessed until last night was missing. Some checking on the Fengda UK site (nothing here in Oz) gave me that the missing culprit was a "6.1 x 1.8 O-ring". I declined Fengda's offer of a spare part (GBP1.50 is steep enough for an O-ring; add £23.79 postage and I might as well buy an Iwata airbrush and be done with it). I've concluded that the O-ring is a standard imperial one with an internal diameter of 1/4" (6.07 mm), an external diameter of 3/8" and a cross-sectional thickness of 1/16" (1.78 mm), and I've bought one (along with a collection of other O-ring odds and sods) from a local auto parts outlet for a couple of dollars.

Only time will tell if that's the only bit missing. Needless to say, any trial runs will be with water only. And yes, I'll be wearing a raincoat! :oops: :oops: :oops:

Update: %^@$ thing still leaks like a sieve so I've no idea what's missing. As far as I can see, everything is now there that should be ... :(