Could a $5.00 airbrush actually be any good for anything? I asked this question as I passed the bargain bin at my local Ace hardware and saw this lil’ fella peeking out from between the packs of cable ties yellowed with age and tape measures of dubious accuracy.
Normally I would chuckle my snobbish chuckle and move along, but there were a couple factors that influenced my decision to pick up this thing, first of all my double action Paasche which I’ve owned and used for over 15 years finally died due to complications from being old as dirt, and I had an Ace coupon for exactly $5.00, essentially providing me with a free opportunity to actually own… one of these things.
And what is this thing? As far as I can tell, this is basically a knock-off of the Badger 250-4 “mini spray gun” with a few cheaper components. It is an external mix, siphon feed, single action “airbrush,” meaning that in theory, you press the button and paint sprays out, with very little control over anything past that.
I took it home and opened it up. I was first impressed at the solid, single piece metal construction of the body/lid cap, then repulsed by the all-plastic air valve stem and assembly. I had a feeling I wouldn’t be passing this down to my grandchildren. But does it even work?
I replaced the threaded cap on the clear hose with one that would fit my compressor in a very simple operation of hacking the old one off, and sticking the new piece on. I dilluted a little Delta black with alcohol and filled the jar, turned on my compressor. There was air leaking out from under the button, but when I pushed the button, a healthy spray of paint wooshed out of the nozzle, allowing me to fully base-coat a few models before I ran out of paint.
The spray is not very fine, which may have more to do with the viscosity than the airbrush, and its only real setting is “big and lots.” But after fiddling with the extremely sensitive air and paint nozzles a little I managed to get a slightly finer stream and use much less paint. Tip: The paint nozzle needs to be waaaaay up in the air stream in order to spray properly.
Cleaning was a snap, it only has one tube that paint travels up, and the jar. I did open up the air valve to see how it worked; which was equally simple, just a plastic cylinder with a rubber washer. In fact, this thing is so simple I can’t imagine it not working, if it were any simpler it would just be two straws and a cup.
So what is it good for? I’m currently using it for basecoating models, spraying even coats of color on large areas, and something like this is absolutely essential for working base colors into piles of rubble and heavy texture on scenery. It also sprays thicker fluids fairly easily.
To Long; Didn’t Read Summary: I would recommend this as a backup airbrush, or more of a spray-can substitute. You’ll probably have a hard time painting that wolf mural on your van, but it would be just fine for light dusting effects and quick base coats.
Pros: So simple it has to work, dirt cheap if you can find it in the sale bin, easy to clean.
Cons: Plastic internal parts limit its lifespan. Upwards of $20.00 if it’s not in the sales bin. This is as much of an airbrush as a riding mower is to a sports car.
Three blenders and one jumping chicken.