Seems just about every time I come to the site, there are lots of questions about airbrushing, and associated problems with airbrushes. So Iím going to write a series of articles covering the airbrushes I use on a steady basis. Now before any of you think that I think Iím the great airbrush guru, well let me say that Iím not! There are plenty of much more talented airbrush users than I am. Iíve just been using airbrushes since the early 70ís, thatís in the 1900ís, not the 1800ís as so many believe. Therefore I really donít run into problems. I also spray 98% enamels, but the few acrylics that I do use; I still clean the airbrush the same way.
The first airbrush Iím going to cover is the Badger 150. The Badger 150 is the first airbrush I ever owned, the one I learned on, and the one I still use for my general model spraying, the one I use for gloss and flat coats. I normally keep the IL head (Medium) and needle in it. Being a bottom feeder, or a suction type airbrush itís a little more work to clean, and really needsí a higher air pressure to operate properly than a gravity airbrush. Being a dual action, dual-purpose airbrush, able to take three different size heads and needles that cover most general model work, having parts readily available and affordable; itís one I would recommend as a good solidly built introduction airbrush. As I do not do ďItalian Smoke Ring CamouflageĒ on 1/44 scale aircraft, I have never been concerned if this airbrush can do it! Being ďdual-purposeĒ simply means it can act as a single or double action airbrush, and the design of it allows you to switch back and forth without a second thought, which is a pretty good deal in my book. You set your 150 up for single action by simply adjusting the tiny screw on top of the barrel. This keeps the needle a set distance from the tip. You now operate by simply depressing the trigger- instant single action, need more flow, depress and pull back- instant double action.
Besides practice, practice and more practice, the most important thing that any airbrush user needs to learn is keeping it clean. If itís dirty, it not going to work. Cleaning it and maintaining this airbrush is really not as hard as a lot of people want to make it sound. Or maybe Iíve been doing it for so long it really doesnít bother me the five or ten minutes it takes to do a good cleaning. A habit I developed from the beginning.
Photo 1 shows the assembled and ready for cleaning Badger 150 airbrush.
Photo 2 shows the items I use for cleaning. Nothing really special, just a few jars of thinner, since I spray mostly enamels, the thinner I use is lacquer thinner. I suggest using this with proper ventilation! I have a few plastic pipettes cut to size to hold the head for flushing. A small brush I made up, some paper towel, q-tips, nothing really not found on Joe Average workbench.
Photos 3 and 4 show me cleaning the color cup, nothing really fancy, after dumping the unused paint into the trash can, (Never put thinned paint back into the jar or tin, youíll save yourself some future head aches) I simply stuff one of the pipettes into the suction tube and flush it in the jar of thinner until itís clean.
Photo 5 shows me flushing the airbrush, nothing fancy again, I use a cleaning jar filled with water, and this cuts down on the ďlacquer thinner smellĒ somewhat (not 100% though so you still want ventilation!) This is the only time I ever use the airbrush jars, as I have always used the color cups, they hold enough for my spraying style, and are a lot easier to clean.
Photo 6 and 7 shows me starting to disassemble the airbrush. First remove the rear handle. I then remove the head. Make sure you do not lose the little white Teflon gasket on the head, if itís not there, check the body. DONĒT LOSE OR DAMAGE IT!
Photo 8 shows me with the head inserted into a cut down pipette, cut down enough so I can actually screw the head into it. This one is several years old, and still going strong.
Photo 9 shows me flushing the head in the thinner. Notice the air tip is still on. Iíll remove it after I flush out most of the remaining paint left from flushing the airbrush. Also notice we are using different containers of thinner. As this container gets dirty, I dump it out and refill it. I try to keep the final container clean. Any color showing up tells me there is still more paint in the head, and it needs to be flushed some more. I simply progress through the small containers of thinner, and normally by the time I reach the third one, there is no longer any color showing. The pipette, sucking and blowing out the thinner does 99% of the work, and itís a no stress and no brainer process.
Photo 10 shows me removing the needle. Notice I remove it from the front of the airbrush. I do this as any dried paint on the needle can score and damage the Teflon needle bearing.
Photo 11 shows cleaning the needle, again really not a hard job, I simply soak a corner of a paper towel in thinner, and wipe the needle down removing any signs of paint.
Be careful not to bend the needle or the point.
Photo 12 shows me cleaning the body. I immerse the forward part on the airbrush in the container of thinner, and use a pipette to suck and blow the thinner through it: progressing through the small containers of thinner. Normally by the time I hit the last container, itís showing no color.
Photos 13 and 14 I then take my homemade cleaning brush and dampen it with thinner run it through the airbrush from the rear to front to clean off any paint from the Teflon needle bearing. I do this several times until no color shows up on the brush.
Photos 15 a quick dip and swirl on the end of tweezers cleans the little Teflon head gasket. Now is a good time to check it for cracks dings or splits, and signs of wear, yes they do wear, usually they become compressed too much and therefore wonít do a good job of sealing. Replace if any defects show or you are in doubt. I then wait for everything to dry. Any haze that appears on the metal parts is wiped off; itís nothing more than the thinner residue.
Average cleaning time is five minutes. Putting it all back together! GEE WIZ whereís this go!
Photo 16 with the air tip removed, check the nozzle tip for splits, bends, damage, out of roundness etc. Since Iím old and half blind, beside senile, I wear a set of magnifiers for this. Using the highest power I have-donít ask because I donít know what power they are - if the tip looks good then itís ok to go back on. If it shows any damage or wear, splits, out of roundness, or flaring at the tip- replace it. A new tip runs about $5 and a new complete head runs about $15, and the new heads are now coming with crown caps. (Replacing the tip will be covered in the next article- hey I have to do something to keep you coming back donít I?)
Photo 17 Being old and senile, and old fashion to boot, I still use beesí wax. I put a little on the threads for the air/crown cap; this prevents any air leakage on these threads.
Photo 18 Still being old, and all the above, I also use a little beesí wax on the headsí threads. Besides insuring the head is really sealed, it also helps prevent any paint from making the head stick. Just a tiny amount is needed and be careful not to use too much as you could block off one of the air passages; which is not a good idea. Make sure you reinstall the little gasket here. Use the little wrench that came with the airbrush to tighten the head snuggly; just donít over tighten it. The threads are tiny and easily stripped or you could completely snap off the head, and that would really become a major problem.
Photo 19 I use a drop of Badger Needle Juice on the needle. The idea is to try to put it where the needle slides through the needle bearing; which is just a best guess really. Itís a good idea to check the tip of the needle for damage, since Iím already wearing my store bought eyes, this helps a great deal, you can also rotate it as you drag it along the back of your hand, if itís hooked youíll feel it. The IL and HD needles and heads (Medium and Large as they are called today) are pretty robust and can take a pretty good beating. The fine is easily damaged.
Photo 20 Insert the needle from the rear, gently seating it to the tip. (Over the years I have developed the habit of leaving the needle away from the tip, and seating it when I need that airbrush again.) Be careful inserting it so it does not hit the trigger or the trigger curved thingy. Youíll probably bend the point if you do. Easiest way is to depress the trigger as you insert the needle. Tighten down the retainer at the end of the shaft, and reinstall the handle.
You now have a clean airbrush. If by chance the next time you want to use it you find the needle stuck; donít panic, it just means that the needle bearing had a little crap still on it. (And that a little better cleaning the next time is needed) Do not remove the handle and yank on the needle to free it, although itís tempting to do this. You will score the Teflon Needle Bearing, simply turn the airbrush upside down and put a few drops of thinner into the suction opening, and wait a few seconds, it should free up the needle. (Now you know why Iíve developed the habit of not seating the needle. In case I have a stuck needle which sometimes happens, I can simply spray a cup of thinner and it always frees up the needle.)
My Badger 150 has 99% of the time nothing but the IL or medium head and needle in it, which is easy to ID as the needle has 2 rings on it, and the head is marked. I replace the needle and tip at least once a year. They are cheap enough, and they do wear out. The tips wear from the inside out, and no matter how good your eyesight is, you really canít see this wear unless itís worn so much the tip starts to split or flairs out, and the needles do wear down. The only other part I ever needed to replace was on my original 150; that was the air valve. The shaped eyed readers will notice I didnít take out or disassemble every part. I have rarely found it necessary to completely disassemble or soak the body. If you are getting paint and crap up around the trigger area, chances are you have a worn needle bearing and it should be replaced.
As I said earlier, all the new complete head assemblies come with a crown cap; which is nice, in the old days you had to buy these separately. These allow you to get closer to your work than the old fashion air caps. And the closer you can get the tighter pattern you can achieve.
Future articles will cover another Badger airbrush I use; then weíll cover a Paasche, and an Iwata I use on a regular basis Cleaning an airbrush really isnít the most exciting or fun part of the hobby, but it certainly doesnít need to become a drastic, unpleasant messy chore either.
I never expect any airbrush I use to do something it was not designed to do. No matter what brand of airbrush you buy or use, they all have designed specifications and parameters, and will not perform outside of these, no matter how much you stamp your feet or curse it. Cleaning and maintaining your airbrush is half the battle. Learning to thin your chosen type of paint properly and adjusting your air pressure accordingly will make any airbrush perform within its designed parameters, if you fail to learn this no matter what kind of airbrush you use, or how expensive it is, youíll continue to have problems.
Iíd like to thank John Fortier-Pvt Parts- for taking the time off work to come over and take the photos for this article. Of course he dropped off his Badger 360 for me to clean and repair. Thanks John!