I have used primer in my airless sprayer to paint furniture with excellent results (even with having to dilute the primer with water to get it to run smoothly through the sprayer) but I've never tried to use primer (or paint) in the spray can on furniture. I typically reserve using the canned spray paints and primer for smaller things I'm not all that picky about since I don't have real good luck getting a good finish with it. It usually goes on too thin and uneven or too thick and drippy for me. For that reason, I personally would be hesitant to try to use it on furniture. All my furniture gets primed and painted with a (basic $100 model) Wagner airless sprayer. Best money I ever spent!
Thank you so much Shari! I think that's what I need to get- never even thought of sprayer but was leaning to can but you're right: I've had drips and problems getting an even coat. But the hand priming takes so long and I only have about a 2 hour nap window so it feels like it takes forever to get something done!
If you are planning to do much furniture painting at all, an airless sprayer is most definitely the way to go! You don't need to spend a lot of money to get a decent one. As I said, I only spent about $100 on mine several years ago and it has served me quite well. I've painted in excess of 30 pieces with it for my previous and current home and I've got a couple more projects lined up to do soon. It's fast, easy and does a great job. You can spray a single coat of primer or paint on something large like a china cabinet in about 10 minutes! I think you also save money on paint and primer because it needs to be thinned down to run smoothly through the sprayer. A quart of paint seems to last forever when you're using a sprayer! If you're interested, here's a little more info about the sprayer I use and how I paint my furniture. http://mycottageofbliss.blogspot.com/2009/06/furniture-painting-101.html
Personally I would never use an airless sprayer to do furniture. These units put way too much paint on at a time. A HVLP paint system would be a much better choice. A high volume low pressure paint system consists of a small compressor that really is just a high pressure blower and the hose that connects to it is more of a large tube then a air line. The spray gun is more like a spray gun you would find in a auto body shop where they paint cars. Or a furniture shop where they do fine finish work.
The benefit of this type of spray gun is it has very little overspray unlike a airless unit. You can put a finer finish or lacquer or latex finish on with ease. It is easy to clean and easy to use. You can get some pretty good units at the larger big box stores or even sears.
My little Wagner has a dial to adjust the amount of spray that comes out from very fine to much heavier. I paint outside so over-spray is not a concern for me. I foresee no need for me to be using lacquer on anything I'm painting and it has handled the latex paints and primers I've used on my furniture just fine. It is extremely easy to use, not at all cumbersome, and clean up is a snap. Everyone who has seen my painted furniture pieces has complimented me on what a nice job I do and I credit that to my Wagner airless sprayer. I suppose if I (or anyone else) were making a living selling painted furniture (or charging a fee for painting services of any kind), it would probably be worth the investment to have a "bigger, better, faster," more professional HVLP sprayer, but for the non-professional DIY-er furniture painter like me (and probably Kathy) who is painting for their own use and just wants to go a step up from paint brushes and rollers, plus save some time, I think this (or a similar budget friendly airless sprayer) will work just fine.
Shari, My bad, I was thinking about the larger airless sprayers that use long hoses etc. Totally forgot about the small cup types. But even then the HVLP types provide even more control then the airless type you use. But if your results are coming out great, then no need to change what already works. :) Being a contractor we do not use those smaller cup type guns as we normally do things on a much larger scale then the average homeowner.
@Woodbridge Environmental Tiptophouse.com I knew you were thinking on a larger, more professional scale. lol. I can totally understand why you wouldn't even consider a basic sprayer like I use in your line of work.
I've had some pretty good luck with smaller project just using some aerosol cans. Cleaning a paint gun is a pain in the behind. Balancing the cost benefit is where the economy of scale comes in. A simple chair or two can be covered with a single $5 to $6 can of paint.
@KMS Woodworks You must have a much better technique with the aerosol cans than I do! I find the finish they give just too inconsistent. Kathy said above she has problems getting a smooth finish with them too. Since my furniture painting has consisted of larger pieces like dressers, armoires, a daybed, a couple dining room tables, a coffee table and end tables, a couple bookcases and china cabinets etc., the aerosol cans of paint are definitely not cost effective for me. But just like everything else, choosing the right tool for the job is key.
Thank you all for your useful information. Definitely gave me options to consider over the old school brush and can method! I will be heading to the hardware stores this weekend to check these out.