Tutorial - Airbrush Maintenance

by Roman aka jar

posted by Roman, Jarhead, kong
written by generalpoleaxe

First and very important:

This article is not written by any of the jungle members. It is written by generalpoleaxe over on his blog myrmidon studio and he decided to contribute it to the jungle so more people might have the chance to learn from it.

I got to say: Many thanks, Mister! As the Airbrush section of the jungle still is a kid and Tutorials always need time to be prepared and written this is really appreciated. So let's get it on then from now on I am just quoting Mr. Generalpoleaxe!


I thought as I was doing a fair amount of airbrushing recently that I would give a run down on airbrush maintenance (especially as I found it damn difficult to find any thorough advice until a friend Dave from the Steve Dean forum rang me up and talked me through it.)

Maintaining your tools is vital to good performance, if you don't maintain your airbrush it will mess up any chance of getting a good finish so get used to constantly cleaning it. The more you clean it the faster the procedure will become (stop giggling at the back you dirty minded boy!)

The airbrush I will be using for this tutorial is an AB135a from everythingairbrush.com in the UK as well as the  AB-AS189 mini compressor

As well as the airbrush and compressor get a good quality hose, not the cheap arse plastic hoses that tend to come free (they are seriously poo and that is being polite.)
On top of this a invest in a moisture trap to attach to the brush (having a trap on the brush and on the compressor (the compressor comes with one as well as the pressure regulator) as having a trap on both ends of the hose cuts down on condensation build up in the hose almost completely (remember to release moisture build up by pushing the pin button) which isn't a problem unless you are doing a lot of airbrushing (or forgetting to release the moisture build up on the compressors moisture trap!)

the mini screw driver does not come with the airbrush

Now we are done with basic tools we can start with the maintenance.
First up, once you have finished spraying a colour don't just pop in your next colour, give the brush a quick clean.
We start this quick clean cycle by using a brush loaded with airbrush cleaner (alcohol usually or water in the case of acrylic paints) and start to remove the build up in the airbrush cup.

Once that is appears clean load the brush with the alcohol and work it into the lower part of the cup where the needle slides through. Use the airbrush to blow the liquid out then slide the needle backwards then forwards with the trigger and see if any paint is showing on the needle, if it's clean then move onto the next step.

Slide the trigger back so that the needle retracts, this will help prevent any damage to the needle as it is extremely easy to damage them. Now the trigger is back untwist the cover (nozzle cap) at the front, it comes in two parts, remove both parts.

Now you can separate the  the nozzle cap into it's two parts, the nozzle cap and the needle cap (the needle cap is the front part.)
The needle cap isn't needed for spraying but until you have been using your brush for a while leave it on whilst spraying as it will prevent you getting too close to what you are spraying and bending the needle (I bent mine doing camo on 15mm tigers in the first week I had it because of this, don't make my mistake!)
I also put the needle cap back on if I am going to nip off and make a quick brew as it's better safe than sorry.

Use a brush loaded with airbrush cleaner to remove any build up paying close attention to not only the hole the needle goes through but the screw thread.

Now we remove the fluid nozzle, this directly covers the needle so be careful, not only of the needle but of your finger (the needles are damn pointy!)
Do not use the spanner to undo or put back on the Fluid nozzle, it is way too easy to strip the screw thread. use your fingers to tighten it and do not force it! (you may need the spanner to release it the first few times but after that it will be fine.)
remember to tighten it properly when putting it back on otherwise you won't be doing any spraying (it may even cause blow back and leave paint flying everywhere from the hopper, or just bubbling if you're lucky.)

Using a smaller brush clean this piece as well making sure you get the inside clean by poking the brush through the tiny hole (hold it up to the light when finished, if you cannot see a round hole with light shining through then it isn't clean.)  This is one of the most important parts to clean, screw this stage up and you will have so many problems you will not be able to get any airbrushing done whatsoever.

Now we remove the handle (this part is really easy!)

Now we have access to the needle chuck nut, loosen this and remove the needle from the front of the airbrush, first push from the rear and then slowly (and carefully) draw it out from the front.

Before we clean the needle we now have access to the front of the brush where the needle fits into, give this a clean as well (making sure the screw thread is also clean.

When cleaning the needle ensure it is gleaming, any dirt on the surface will give all sorts of problems. After using the brush cleaner use some 1500 grit paper (wet and dry) to remove any traces of dirt from the needle point.

Now the quick clean is complete we can reassemble the airbrush in reverse order and continue to spray.

Once the spraying session is done we need to do a full clean to ensure that even the rear of the brush (inside) is clean as well otherwise this will lead to spraying problems further down the line (it makes maintaining firearms look easy!)

For a complete clean before starting the normal procedure we need to flush the brush. Fill up the cup with airbrush cleaner then place a rag or damp tissue against the needle cap. This will produce bubbles in the cup, it is cleaning the inside of brush.

After this is done we can completely strip the brush, follow the procedure as before but also remove the needle chuck guide, the trigger and the trigger guide.
Then thoroughly clean all parts of the airbrush (inside as well)

If the needle chuck guide won't come out then loosen the screw (it doesn't need removing) with a small flat head screwdriver.

Before assembly make sure ANY moving parts are oiled, you don't need to drown the parts just a little on a finger tip and gently rub the part (this prevents sticking and long term damage through abrasion.

All done :)
Once you are used to it a quick clean will only take a couple of minutes and a full clean ten to fifteen minutes (as long as you regularly clean it properly when used.)

Here is a look at the stripped down brush I use when working, it speeds up the quick clean process and allows for a little more accuracy when doing fine line work (as fine a line as my shaky hands allow!)
Please don't operate your brush like this until you have a fair amount of experience as the needle is exposed and is easily damaged.

Regarding paints, it's far easier to used ready mixed airbrush paints such as Vallejo model colour. If you wish to mix your own the you are aiming for a single cream consistency, too thick and it either won't spray or you will get splatters, too thin and you are in danger if it spidering (nice little spot that then spreads outwards in all sorts of directions.)
If you really do wish to mix your paints that you paint models with by brush then buy at least one pot of Vallejo air so you have something to compare the consistency with. 

Hope this helps.

Airbrushing dvds such as the ones sold by Everything air brush (link at the top) will really help, unfortunately their are not many dvds for airbrush maintenance on the market (or at least their weren't when I was first getting into it.) 

My gratitude is yours!
p.s. by roman: I am preparing a similar article over a while now and I got to say I have learned some useful hints and steps from this one. Mine will be more like - how can you rescue your airbrush when you really failed in cleaning it all the time - the hard way I would say!


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