Wednesday, June 17, 2015

[DIY][Project] Spraybooth for Airbrushing

Field of Operations

It was a holiday last Friday (June 12, 2015), but instead of proceeding with my current project (MC Penelope), I decided to build something else.

Black Box

For some months since I have started airbrushing, I have set my main airbrushing booth using a relatively huge black plastic tub or box (similar to the picture above).  It was nothing special at all.  It's just a tub turned on its side.  I just lined the bottom and sides with kitchen filter and scratch paper and fixed a movable lamp on the side to light the inside.  I have my painting sessions on a relatively open-air area (roofed), specifically on our small receiving area.  It is nice since it has enough ventilation and I don't have to worry about dirtying the place up as the place is relatively easy to clean.  The only problem is that this setup is kind of cumbersome in more aspects than its benefits can offer.

  1. The box is huge and it does not score well in terms portability.  For a long time, I wanted to have a spraybooth that can be moved from one place to another easily - this box is not compliant to that criteria due to its size.
  2. Health concerns.  May it be acrylic or lacquer, inhaling atomized paint is not good for anyone.  My booth, as I mentioned, is set on a well ventilated place.  But what if I need to move indoors?  Not good.  My booth lacked that ability to vent out fumes.  I always wear a respirator (mouth/face mask with a filter cartridge), but it will only protect me and not the people around me.  You will also have to deal with the built up fumes and gases indoors.
  3. Area.  Having your airbrush setup on an open-air area can be double-edged.  I already said the benefits, now here are the disadvantages that really irked me to upgrade.  First is the area itself: our receiving area is the side nearest to the street and this will mean that it will gather the worst amount of DUST in just a day.  I always hated preparations before airbrushing in this setup as I need to dust and clean the booth itself to prevent dust from getting to my kit parts.  In just after a day after the last time I painted, it's already filmed with dust and DIRT.  Second, RAIN.  The area is roofed but nowadays, sudden thunderstorms are harsh and windy.  I already experienced windy thunderstorms and it made me lose my appetite to paint because of it.  It also risks ruining the paintjob.
These factors made me decide to finally execute my original plan: to build a more decent airbrush booth.  One which I can use inside my house to counter those 3 above.

A Better Box

Honestly speaking, I was at first actually too lazy to build one and almost decided to just get a pre-made one - a branded one.

Here were my options:

Style X Spraybooth- Style X is a brand I recently discovered.  Style X is a S. Korean brand that manufactures all sorts of hobby tools and supplies.  One of their products is this spraybooth.
The main spraybooth setup is a generic one.  It is just a re-branded package (you will see a similar package with ones that are sold in Global TPC) but it has an included LED strip/bar lamp-unit as the picture shows.  The LED unit can be mounted using its double-sided tape giving this setup its own lighting system.  It also has its own directed exhaust system (with filters) which addresses the problem with the fumes.  It can also be folded for added portability (it is not huge to begin with as I have seen in videos in youtube).

Another option that I also seriously considered was this one from Tamiya:
Tamiya Airbrush System No.38 Spray-Work Painting Booth II (single fan)
Yep, TAMIYA - no further introduction needed.  Reviews are good for this one.  It is also relatively portable and also has its own directed exhaust system.

Despite good feedbacks and seemingly desirable qualities, here are what made me decide to just create my own:

The first problem is the price.  The Style X is only available (as of the time I inquired online) and in stock in Special Toys Center (Philippine Hobby Store) and it costs Php 11500 (shipping not included) as of May 2015.  Too pricey for my taste.  Now, the Tamiya Spraybooth can be pre-ordered from Genki Panda (a shop in the Philippines as well) for only Php 5320.  Not bad at all and I almost went to order it but that brings me to the next reason.

Sustainability, sustainability in terms of parts and repairs.  Being branded, these will come pre-made and ready to use.  But in the long run, you will need to replace parts such as the filter or even the fan itself.  Yes, you can buy these parts but that will depend on its availability and time to procure one (e.g. parts for the Tamiya Spraybooth can bought from Lil's Hobby Shop but it is not always available and knowing Lil's, they usually take a long time to replenish their stocks).  Worth noting is the fact that the parts will also still be branded, therefore will cost more than it should be.

Working with these factors and limitations all listed above, I designed my booth using these criteria:
  • Portability - something easy to move from one place to another
  • Health and safety - indoors or outdoors, the booth should be able to get fumes away.  If this can be done, the problem regarding the area will no longer be and issue
  • Price - it should be as cheap as possible
  • Sustainability - the parts should be easily available.  I need to make sure that you can buy all materials from a single store/source but at the same time making sure that each material is common enough to be bought from any other hardware store if ever a single source will run out of stock.  This will also reduce the total cost of each material (and the whole unit itself) as the supply is high and commonly available.
Given these and after watching sevaral youtube examples of DIY booths, it's time I made one myself.

My Box

The base of my new booth is still a plastic tub/container as it is cheap, readily available and easy to manipulate for the few modifications I will need to do.  This is the one I bought:
The picture shows the 30L version but the one I got is the smaller 18L version.  I chose this box because of its predominantly straight/flat sides and also its clear/transparent finish.  You need the sides, especially the bottom panel to be as flat/straight as possible.  Avoid ones with thick bottoms and ones with wheels as you will obviously need to cut a whole for the exhaust fan to fit into.  Having flat sides will also help you mount other optional accessories later on.  The transparency of the box also will let you make use of ambient lighting in your area that will help in illuminating the parts you are painting.  Overall the box itself addresses portability.

Next you will need the exhaust system, the one that will take out fumes from your immediate area.  I got one that is intended to be a ceiling ventilation fan which you can fit with a duct hose.  Actually, I would suggest looking for the right type of exhaust fan first before looking for a box because the size of the box will be depending on the fan you will use.  For my case, I got this 4" ceiling exhaust fan:
I can't remember the exact price, I think it was at least Php599
It is the right size for the 18L box.  To mount it, I used a knife and heated it over a running stove so that it will cut through the plastic by melting it.  Try not to cut through using an ordinary knife or cutter as it might shatter your plastic box in may places.  The size of this fan and the 18L box will work together in keeping the fumes within the box cavity, long enough for it to be vented out by the fan.
Speaking of venting out, I also got a flexible/collapsible duct that fits the fan like a glove.

The duct is 4" in diameter and has a total length of 10 feet, which can be collapsed for easy storage.
Now the good thing about the fan I bought is that it has a coupling where you can attach (or tape) any duct/hose you would like to use.  The coupling then slides to the main cylinder where the fan is, making sure that air will only exit through the duct.  I used duct tape to attach the duct to the coupling:
With this, you can easily remove and re-attach the duct to the mounted fan for easy storage.

Next thing, I wanted to make my spraybooth have its own lighting.  Given so, I got myself an LED Light Fixture - one that will be small enough to fit on the upper side of the box:
This product comes ready to be mounted and so it comes with mounting brackets which I bolted to 'roof' of the booth.  A good thing about this fixture is you no longer need to get other components as you would with a normal fluorescent fixture.  It comes with a detachable power outlet but you will have to wire that detachable outlet to a male plug - it's not difficult anyhow and you'll be able to figure it out yourself.  Once you finish the simple wiring, it can be plugged directly to your house's power outlet (AC220~240V for my case) and it should light beautifully.  The mounting brackets included are designed so you could detach the LED fixture if needed.

Once everything was mounted and holes were cut for the wires, this is how it looks like - technically ready to use:
It's alive!
If you noticed, I mounted the fan to the left instead of the usual center mounting.  I did this because I am right-handed and with the way I airbrush, I tend to spray pointing to the left.  I noticed this on my earlier spraybooth where most of the paint is collecting on the left side more instead of the center, and so I took that in to consideration and mounted it like so.

Like I said a while ago, this is already ready to use but like the usual suggestion, we must find a way to still protect the fan.  It has always been discussed in forums and in youtube about the fan getting funked with paint particles and paint fluids that might cause it break down earlier than expected.  For this, you should get a filter.  I think the best option is to use air conditioner filters as they are thinner and easier to work with (they might even be washable - but not so sure of that).  The problem is that they can be relatively expensive (Php 300+ a sheet, but you can cut them to fit smaller boxes like mine).  The next best option is this one I have used before in my earlier booth:
It's technically a kitchen duct filter which is made to catch grease and solid particles but lets air and fumes pass through very well.  It only costs roughly Php120 and I only have to use half of it for my booth and the other half as a spare for future replacements.
I also added a secondary layer of filtering.  I borrowed the concept from the Mr. Hobby Spraybooth used by a number of modeller's I've seen in youtube:
In a nutshell, the first layer consists of stacked strips of corrugated cardboard.  The idea is to catch as much dust and/or particles with the cardboard enough for the air to be as clean as possible before reaching the 2nd filter.  The good thing is that the corrugated cardboard is porous enough to not obstruct airflow (i.e. the suction power of the fan).  Using this concept, I found a corrugated cardboard box (my parents just bought a new stand fan back then), cut it into 1" x 7" strips, then glued and stacked them together.  Afterwards, I just put a sheet of paper (or newspaper) on the 'floor' of the booth and here it is in its final form:
I flinged a piece table napkin to it to test the suction power and I am satisfied enough to know that the napkin is staying there not due to friction but rather because the exhaust is working well enough.

For some people, the fan I got might be too weak and too quiet to convince them that it is working.  But I believe it works well given that I only use low air pressures and that will be enough the ensure the fumes will get vented out properly.  I don't smell any fumes anyway.

Another plus of this design is that I can pack the components neatly if ever I need to move locations.  A detachable duct, a detachable outlet - I can store them all in the box itself, place the lid back on, lock it into place and viola!  Ready for relocation :D
It will be kind of skewed because of the fans output on the left side but it is now very handy and easily re-deployable on its destination.

A big plus is its total cost,  the total cost should not be more than Php1900 for the box, kitchen filter, duct, exhaust fan and LED lighting (this is the most expensive).  Also, compared to the Tamiya and Style X ones, (aside from the cost alone) the parts are easily replaceable and the parts easy to find. 

Portability, Health & Safety, Price and Sustainability - I think I pretty much covered them efficiently.  Can't wait to do long painting sessions on this baby in the near future :D

Hope you learned a thing or two from this DIY build.  Until next time!

If you can find a spark-proof exhaust fan, get it.  It adds an extra layer of safety which avoids the risk of fumes igniting accidentally due to the electrical properties of the fan.  This is a very rare chance to happen but if you can find one, get it instead.

A couple of random pics from my airbrush painting setup:
My 20T Air Compressor (TC-20T)
Set includes a hose, air filter-regulator and 1L tank
Try to get this model.  Having a storage tanks means it will keep your compressor from always running unnecessarily.
The compressor auto-stops when the tank is filled up.  This will help give more years to your compressor's life.

Used my old computer table as my new work table.
Lots of space to work on and put tools on.
Mounted my AB holder on the mouse panel so I could mix paint near the ABs.
I have a 0.3 AB for general painting and a 0.2 AB for painting small details and pre-shading.

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