A Little About Atomizers
August 14, 2011 | 6:37 pm CDT

A Little About Atomizers

An atomizer, or blow pipe, is a simple but useful tool for repairing damaged finishes or adding consistency to varied colors.

By Mac Simmons
The photo at left shows the atomizer by itself and, at right, the atomizer in a small jar.
Many years ago, I suggested that the product development department of a company I was working for consider selling an atomizer which is commonly called a "blow pipe," and is used for blending in color when doing certain color repairs on damaged woods. I sent a photo of the blow pipe, with detailed instructions about how it worked, and included the name of a supplier of this highly efficient, low-tech tool.

A week or two later, I got back a reply that they had rejected the idea, and the atomizer was forgotten for decades and never brought up again. However, while recently looking through the same company's catalog, I saw that they now sell the same blow pipe, listed for doing color repairs. I wondered how many blow pipes they could have sold in the amount of time since I made my suggestion, and how many repairs could have been done with this simple, easy-to-use tool for adding color. I am confident it could have been many.

While this low-tech tool has been around a long time, some people may not be familiar with it, and I think it is worth adding to your finishing arsenal. It can help you blend in color, not only for restoring damaged areas, but also for woods or stains that may vary in color. You can get additional uniformity by adjusting their colors for a more consistent look throughout the finish.

Understanding the Atomizer

There are two tubes in the blow pipe, and a piece of metal holds the two pipes together. The longer, thinner pipe goes into the colorant; the thicker, shorter pipe is the one you blow through. It forces the colorant up through the small tube, out the hole at the other end and onto the work to be colored.

Before I go any further, I want to give a word of caution, obvious as it may be: Never draw in on the pipe, or the colorant will go into your mouth, which can be hazardous to your health, depending on the colorant you use. Always blow out.

The upper left sample shows a finished panel with stain and clearcoat; next to it is a panel with sand-through damage, after a seal coat has been applied. At bottom left is the damaged sample after the first blow-in application was done with an atomizer. The final sample shows the panel after a second blow-in application.
To be safe, you should first practice using clean water. Place the portion of the atomizer with the long tube into a container of water. Then start blowing out of the shorter tube. It should not take long before you get the feel of how to work the atomizer. But however long it takes, be sure to practice enough with water to feel absolutely certain that you are doing it correctly. This is a safe way to learn before you attempt to use it with chemicals and solvents.

Almost every type of colorant can be used with the atomizer. I highly recommend that you use a container size that can be handled easily. One idea is to use a suitably sized jar and drill a small hole in the cover so the long pipe can be fitted into it. For me, a baby food jar works well. (See photo on page 56.) This size makes it easy to hold the jar in one hand and concentrate on blowing out the colorant. It is well suited to handle small repairs.

In some cases, depending on the repair, you may want to have a thicker consistency for better color control and coverage. As you become more familiar with different colorants, whether they are dyes, pigments, toners, shading stains or opaque basecoats, you can add some of your sealer, clearcoat or drying oil to obtain the desired consistency, as long as the materials are compatible.

After working with the atomizer a little while, you will develop your own methods to obtain the correct viscosities for your atomizer applications. Just be sure that the colorant is kept well blended, so that you get uniform color throughout the entire color work. Also, be sure to clean the atomizer and jars thoroughly after you complete the coloring process.

Blowing in Colors

To begin practicing with actual colorants, you want to have the correct viscosity, and you will need to learn how not to over-saturate the area you are coloring. Allow the colorant to evaporate before you add another layer, because you do not want the colorant to drip or run. Go slowly; you can always add more color to make it darker if necessary. But if you get the color too dark to start, you may have a problem removing it and could actually cause damage that will affect the finish. Blow on a little color and allow it to dry, then decide if more color is needed.

An atomizer can be useful for repairing damage to painted finishes, such as these samples showing damage repair on white lacquer. From the original damaged piece, top left, the other three samples show the difference after three applications of color blown in using an atomizer.
As with any finishing method, remember that colorants need to be clearcoated in order to see their true, final color. So you should always test your colorants first with clearcoats on some sample woods before you begin an actual job. This enables you to see if you need to make any color adjustment before you start blowing in color. Begin by blowing in short bursts and slowly move the atomizer. As I always say, "Practice makes perfect, and perfect takes lots of practice."

In some cases, you may have to prepare the finish first by de-waxing, sanding or applying a sealer or primer. These preparatory techniques are important in order to make your color repairs just about invisible.

Once the defects are prepared, be sure to mix up enough colorant to complete your repair work. Shake or stir the colorant so you incorporate all the ingredients, which will allow you to achieve uniform color.

Once you have practiced the technique and made up complete start-to-finish samples, including your clearcoats, to confirm that all your finishing materials are compatible, you will be ready to start the actual project. I think you will find that blowing in color with an atomizer will be a handy skill for doing all types of repairs.

Mac Simmons is a freelance writer and 40-year veteran of the furniture finishing, refinishing and restoration trades. Questions may be directed to him in writing c/o CWB, 400 Knightsbridge Pkwy., Lincolnshire, IL 60069 or via e-mail c/o [email protected].



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