A combo How To and Product Review? Why not?
By the time I’d finished putting two coats of stucco on our earthbag-walled home via handheld trowel (which took a couple of weeks), the idea of trying a Tirolessa USA stucco sprayer for the next project was looking mighty fine. A single wheelbarrow load of mixed stucco usually required twenty minutes or more to apply by hand; an air-powered sprayer would logically beat that easily.
That next project turned out to be a 40-inch high “sound baffle wall” built to block some of the noise generated by our portable generator (we live off grid) from reaching my wife’s bedroom window. The exhaust points straight at said opening from a range of roughly 20 feet, yet it made more sense to build the low wall–22 feet in length with 3 short buttress walls at right angles–than it did to reposition the generator.
By the time the Tirolessa USA box arrived, however, so had the summer monsoon rains. Nothing to be done until September.
Which was fine with me. Applying stucco is hard, nasty work. Yay, procrastination!
Today, September 9 (2010) turned out to be D-Day. Yeah, that’s Do It Day for those of us who’ve been stalling all summer. Labor Day is over; time to do some labor. The Tirolessa USA stucco sprayer, first of all, promised to be a joy in action…and it definitely delivered on that promise. A few key points discovered throughout the stucco mixing-and-spraying process were:
1. This stucco sprayer is extremely well made. The construction is solid, all metal (except for one neoprene O-ring) and shouts Made In America all the way. It’s a unit that can be passed down from one generation to the next unless you do something dramatic like, say, dropping a bulldozer on the hopper.
2. The balance between hopper and handle is ideal. Four wheelbarrow loads (eight 80-pound bags of stucco premix plus water) were applied during the session, and I never once felt one hand/arm was working harder than the other.
3. My air compressor was too small. The instruction sheet makes it clear that a minimum of 90 psi is needed for proper sprayer function, and what we had on hand does more than that. Unfortunately, it’s also an aged beastie procured from a pawnshop in Butte, Montana, many moons ago–heck, the thing is probably old enough to vote. Its little pancake style tank doesn’t provide much reserve capacity, which meant that the electric motor had to hum constantly to keep up. After about five hopper loads, unfortunately, it would overheat to the point of blowing the breaker on our generator. Make sure you have, or purchase, or borrow, or rent, a large enough compressor! You’ll be glad you did.
4. This thing is perfect for spraying stucco directly on earthbag projects without the use of wire stucco netting! I just had to try that, in part because Pam and I are considering a dome project–not to live in, but to serve as a storage unit–and needed to know if such a technique was practical…or not. Turned out it was. (Note: It’s possible to do this with a trowel, but it takes a long time and a whole lot more stucco to get the job done.) Yay for Tirolessa!
5. SPEE-EE-EE-EED!! Until you use one of these, you can’t possibly understand just how quickly this thing can go through stucco. Instead of requiring twenty minutes to empty a wheelbarrow, the sprayer did the job in more like two minutes (if dipping the hopper for fast reload) and never more than five minutes (if taking the time to shovel stucco into the sprayer each time instead of dipping). The hopper holds at least ten pounds of stucco and can be emptied in a matter of seconds.
6. There is a learning curve, but it’s steep and quick. I discovered with the first load that it was pretty easy to miss a few deep cracks–any earthbag project has plenty of those–if I held the sprayer at the wrong angle and/or moved the hopper at the wrong speed (usually too slowly, oddly enough). Fortunately, a quick touchup is no problem.
Now, I have a deeply ingrained habit of working alone, but I’ve got to say that (a) most projects documented online seem to involve larger crews, and (b) this Tirolessa USA stucco sprayer is so fast that a “lone wolf” is actually at a disadvantage. Oh, a guy like me can (and will) still use the sprayer to good effect–but the most effective system may well involve at least five men (or women!):
1. Two people mixing stucco constantly. (At least two!)
2. One man handling the sprayer. (Note: You might want to switch off a bit. Besides providing cross-training, it’ll keep your fingers from cramping weirdly an hour after end-of-shift as mine did…until I popped a potassium pill, that is.)
3. One doing nothing but shoveling stucco into the hopper from the wheelbarrow. Believe me, his “resting time” between hopper-loads will be brief!
4. One handling a trowel, going right behind the hopper handler to smooth the surface (if a smooth surface is desired). A nice, thin surface layer over earthbags can start drying awfully fast in a hot wind (as we had here today).
Doing it that way, slapping a coat of stucco over an entire home-sized dome could be easily done in a day. A short day. Shucks, I was using the small jets (the Tirolessa USA stucco sprayer comes with a full set of both “large” and “small” jets as standard equipment).
In truth, this unit is so good that it made me look bad on every other part of the process. But it was worth that bit of ego-bashing. Several times–mostly when my undersized air compressor had to cool down and there was still stucco left in the wheelbarrow–I slapped up a bit of stucco using the old trowel method.
Let me tell ya, folks, that’ll convince you to try one of these machines if nothing else will.
How to rate the product? Hm. Well, it’s light years faster if you’re facing a big project with a five man crew. On the other hand, it does require a sizeable compressor to supply enough air (a pancake compressor is not enough), and it’s not even worth considering for a loner (like me) who does everything single handed by choice.
Overall, though, those negatives relate more to my style than to the unit itself, so….
Product rating for the Tirolessa mortar sprayer: FOUR STARS.