Badger Air-Brush Company: “Air” to a legend
You can’t be in the modeling hobby long and not become aware of how effective an airbrush can be to finishing your models. And almost inevitably, when you ask modelers what airbrush they use, most of them will say one name- Badger. Even if modelers speak of another brand, they tend to phrase things in comparison to a Badger airbrush.
In fact, I was astonished when I first re-entered the modeling hobby a few years ago how deeply committed Badger users were to their airbrushes. I very quickly realized that they are thought of like John Deere mowers or Craftsman tools. Or remember that old saying about IBM? “No one ever got fired for buying IBM.”
Customer loyalty like that doesn’t just happen overnight. The more I talked with Ken Schlotfeldt, the owner of Badger Air-Brush Company, the more I realized why he and his company have so many legions of loyal users- they make a commitment to their products and customers that’s not often found in today’s marketplace.
Tell me more about the history of Badger. Your dad started the company?
Yes my dad started it with funding from my Grandfather. My grandfather owned a swiss screw machine shop that was making parts for three airbrush companies (Paasche, Thayer & Chandler, and Wold). My dad took an interest in the airbrush and designed some mods. He went to Thayer with them and got turned down. About a year later the head sales guy from Thayer had a falling out with George Thayer and came to my dad and told him he could sell my dad’s designs.. and the rest is history. Badger became the world’s largest airbrush manufacturer.
What market was he making airbrushes for when he started?
He started with the art market and got turned down cold as they felt they did not need another airbrush – He had a neighbor who worked for Testor’s who told him to try the hobby market. Badger was off and running.
How early did you get involved in the business?
I’m 43 and have been here since I was 15 – coincidentally Badger is also 43. I tell people I was either the inspiration or the reason my dad wanted to get out of the house. LOL
Were you using an airbrush when the other kids used crayons?
Can’t say I ever became proficient with the airbrush – I’m a stencil guy and know the airbrush inside and out. I teach airbrush and give clinics across the country despite not being overly good at using one – but just knowing which end the paint comes out of is half the battle to teaching others how to use it – if they have the artistic inclination they can take it from there.
Are your kids showing an interest in airbrushing?
Yes, my eldest is very artistic and creates with it and other tools. Both of my daughters have taken my class, and my 7 year old son actually did some airbrushing in the booth at the Ihobby show
Perhaps one of them will take over the business one day?
That will be the middle one, if she is not running the country first, LOL
Where did the name “Badger” come from? Are you a Wisconsin fan?
The guy who came to my dad was apparently from there. I tell people no one would by a Schlotfeldt airbrush, LOL!
A Matter of Faith
How long have you been a Christian?I was baptized at the age of 32 days. My faith has been a constant and the Holy Spirit has been strengthening it within me since I was so anointed at that young age.
How does your faith impact your work?
Every major decision is made with the Bible open and direction being sought within God’s word. We also pray as a group during company functions and have a relevant devotion before our management meetings. I have no qualms with anyone knowing of my faith and the role it plays in my guiding and directing Badger Air-Brush Co.
Do you have any stories of how God has worked in your business?
He blesses us daily, often times in the work challenges He presents that bring me back to Him for guidance. Those same challenges often times turn out to be blessings of opportunity in disguise.
Have you had any challenges in your business because of your faith? How have you handled that?
Can’t say I have – I think as business owner when you’re open about your faith it eliminates the challenges and potential questions.
Do you have a favorite Bible verse?
Has the modeling market always been part of Badger’s users?
Initially Badger had limited success as the art market was not welcoming to another airbrush line. Badger got “out of the red” in the second year of its existence when my dad’s neighbor, who worked for Testor’s, suggested he try to sell his airbrush in the hobby field for model finishing. Things really took off in the end of that second year when Badger came out with a notably inexpensive single action spray gun, the 250, and then a medium priced finer single action gun, the 200, that really caught on in the hobby market.
What are some of the advances that Badger airbrushes have made since their start?
Teflon seals, free standing color cups, and one piece triggers were the first notable advances as well as doing a left handed side feed gun. Badger was also the first to offer different airbrush models with interchangeable parts to help dealers and consumers reduce spare parts needs. Since then we have done numerous things – two piece break away handles, easy needle access, stainless tips, the first airbrush ready paint, the first airbrush holder, the Universal dual feed airbrush, etc, etc… The new airbrushes feature a wealth of new technology as well including micro-precise drop in tips, factory polished needles, and new spring material technology to reduce spring wear and trigger tension change caused by usage – just to name a few things.
Would the airbrushes Badger produced at the start be familiar to today’s users?
Yes – we have never obsoleted any airbrush from the line – quite frankly although they’ve been lost in the array of marketing gimmickry, the 150s and 100s are still some of the finest performing airbrushes in the market – unfortunately airbrushers have gotten caught up in the “what’s the newest thing” mindset and forgotten how great these old designs still perform.
Are there any significant technology milestones that have been “breakthrough” kind of things?
I think the micro-precise drop in tip, which premiered on the SOTAR airbrushes falls in to that category, as does the Universal dual feed airbrush design – both are patented Badger items. I would also say the original design ideas of Teflon seals and free standing color cups were important then and are still key to the way airbrushes work today – which is of course is why everyone now does them. But it was Badger that originated those ideas that have stood the test of time.
Are there any technology limitations that make you think “If we could only….”?
We’d like to find a good way to do the multi-color attachment idea – the current things just don’t get the idea done simply enough. It’s great concept, but there’s got to be a better way to get it done. I think a simpler functioning pistol grip airbrush is something we might work on. I also think there may still be some airbrush paint technology to be discovered – but until Badger starts making it’s own paints we won’t get into that. Did I mention we may be making our own paints soon?
Besides modelers, what other uses have you seen for your airbrushes?
We have a wide of range of markets and applications we sell too – Bakery, Beauty, Taxidermy, Ceramics, Art, Crafts, Automotive to name a few – there are other new markets we’re exploring, but until we decide what we’re doing to pursue them we’d just as soon keep those a secret.
What is your best selling airbrush among modelers?
Depends on how you define modelers – in the group that I think makes up your community it would vary between 150s, 100s, 155s, 200s 360s (for the do everything guys) and SOTARS for the model contest entry people. Those are the top 6 out of a wide array. I can’t really put them in any order as it really depends on the application perspective of the users as to which airbrush of those he or she would prefer. The Thayer & Chandler OMNIs are also excellent and popular airbrushes for elite modelers.
What is your relationship to Thayer & Chandler? Did you buy them?
Thayer & Chandler was the original airbrush company starting in the 19th century. That is the company my dad brought his designs to. Ironically 7 years ago Badger acquired the company that turned my dad down 45 years ago
How has the web impacted your business? I would imagine it’s certainly increased exposure to the Badger name.
It has increased exposure for the entire airbrush industry. My only concern with the internet is that its an often times adversely double edged sword and people have forgotten the old adage of if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say it. Too many times in our increasingly negative focused world people are permitted to unjustly bash good companies without true cause. There’s not much that can be done about it – other than to hope the folks with something good to say will stand up and do that, and that people will find out about good and reputable companies and their products for themselves.
Because of the internet exposure, both good and bad, established companies must continue to do their best to make excellent products so when people use them they can’t possibly have anything bad to say to the internet masses that would be believable to people who know the difference otherwise and would say so. That alone is a manner in which the internet has companies like Badger more conscientious than ever about product quality, if that’s possible. Since day 1 we’ve actually use tested every airbrush that’s left our factory, and we always will.
There are quite a few airbrush companies out there- what do you feel sets Badger apart?
Product Reliability, Product Innovation, Product Knowledge, and Product Support – those four in whatever order applies to any given airbrusher at any given time. I believe we’re more attentive and responsive to all aspects of airbrushers’ needs.
You’ve got a new line of airbrushes coming out that you must be pretty excited about. Tell us about those.
Too much to tell. I’d just refer folks to www.badgerairbrush.com for all the info. The teaser info I can share is that the Renegade Airbrush Series Features:
- “Tensionsense” ultra responsive trigger stability control system with new spring material technology
- “Stopset” accu-precision trigger setting mode
- Exact taper fit, non-thread micro-precise paint tips
- “Pointperfect” carbide polished needle micrology
- “Smartcenter” nozzle technology with a patented “guide and hold” assembly design that ensures perfect paint tip centering for tighter line production
- .21mm paint tips (.33 on R3R)
- 6 degree needle point linear air flow angle (6.5 on R3R) – finest line angle ever
What goes into a major new release like that?
Brainstorming, forum eavesdropping, researching materials and manufacturing process. Testing, both internally and with end users. And frustration and patience.
Was there a lot of user feedback that led to the development of your new line?
Yes – we really listened to the “artist” we asked to assist us, and we picked up a few of the key ideas by just observing posts in some of the key airbrush forums.
Let’s talk about some practical tips for picking an airbrush. For a modeler who has never airbrushed before, what would you recommend is a good, affordable model to start with?
I always tell people when selecting an airbrush figure out which airbrush best does what you want to do and buy it. Once you’ve got it – practice with it and learn to use it. Don’t buy one airbrush with the intention of then moving into another and then another – save yourself the money of thinking it’s a graduated process. It shouldn’t be. I know that’s an odd thing coming from an airbrush manufacturer – kind of discouraging someone from buying more airbrushes, but it’s the honest integrity based answer to the question of what is a good airbrush to start with.
Regardless of what any other airbrush manufacturer says – if you know what you want to do with the airbrush, you only need the one airbrush that does that best. The only time to buy more than one gun is when you are dealing with more than one application. That is actually what makes the Badger Universal and the Thayer & Chandler Matrix so great. Being dual feed they are great for bottom feed general purpose apps or gravity feed detail applications. So even with multiple apps you can use one airbrush. Anyone can tell me their application intent and I can tell them which airbrush to get for that purpose. The only reason there are so many different airbrushes is that there are so many different applications.
A quick guide is…
If you are only doing protoypical one or two color finishes, just get an internal mix single action airbrush like the Badger 200NH (the 200-20 for more detail with a single action gun). Save some money and be happy with the results for that application.
If you’re doing a lot of multi-color unmasked finishing, color gradations, non-intricate camouflaging and weathering – “artistic” but not overly detailed – go with a bottom feed dual action airbrush like the Badger Anthem 155, Crescendo 175, or Thayer & Chandler OMNI 3000 (the classic 150 if you want a little bit tighter spray).
If you’re doing detail weathering or fine scale camouflaging, putting veins on figures, or other fine line apps – essentially being a fine artist who has chosen a model as their canvas – you need a dual action gravity feed airbrush like the Badger 100 or the Thayer & Chandler OMNI 4000 or 5000 (the SOTAR 2020 if you want to win the modeling contest 🙂 rather than just enter it).
If you’re doing any combination of the above apps you’re a candidate for multiple airbrushes, or the Universal 360 or OMNI Matrix.
How about a more advanced user, who has been using an airbrush for a while?
Same answer as above. If based on their application intent they initially purchased the correct airbrush, then they should not require another airbrush unless the specifics of the application have changed. Most of what you might categorize as advanced users are generally at the point of seeking absolute museum quality detail, and thus they’ll fall into the dual action gravity feed category (Badger 100 / OMNI 4000 or 5000 / SOTAR 2020) for at least some notable portion of their airbrush finishing process.
How about some usage tips- what do you think are most important factors a modeler should know to use their airbrush effectively?
Practice – the only thing we cannot teach you is practice. Paint pop cans, shampoo bottles, scrap plastic. Remember your practice stuff is probably not going into the Louve – or any other museum. Like anything else the more you practice, the more proficient you become at airbrushing. The most common way to success is to eliminate the ways to not do something until you find the way to do it – this applies to airbrushing as much as anything else.
How about tips to extend the life?
Spray cleaner frequently – this will help you avoid paint setting up in the airbrush and ever having to disassemble your airbrush. In fact, I recommend a 3 step airbrush cleaning process, that if you do step 1, you never need to do step 2 or 3! (Requires the free Adobe Reader.)
Have you seen any usage tips from your users that made you think “Now that’s pretty creative- I never thought of that?”
Every clinic I give I hear something new – some of it I have a hard time recommending. The storing your paint upside down with plastic wrap under the lid makes some sense. I hear the strain paint through a nylon a lot, but Badger actually has a siphon filter that makes paint straining unnecessary. I am often amazed by what people find to use as a masking medium for different effects and techniques they want to accomplish with the airbrush – the art of utilizing the found object in the airbrushing process is often times amazing.
Any new stuff in your airbrushing accessories? Is that a growing part of your business?
Nothing major new for this audience. It is a good part of our business, but most of the growth is in other industries. We are looking into doing a line of paint brushes, but it’s too early to tell if we’ll do that or not. A lot of research needs to be done on that still.
Do you model? What do you like building if so?
My son and I have been working on a couple of Batman models for quite awhile, no photos to share yet. He keeps sidetracking us with the train set he likes playing with more
What other personal hobby use do you use your airbrushes for, if any?
I really don’t – I’m a baseball card collector, not a lot of use for an airbrush there. It’s not a hobby, but I do temporary tattoos with the airbrush at my kids’ school fun fairs and birthday parties from time to time.
What do you see for Badgers future? Are there any products or developments specifically targeted for modelers? Can you give us a glimpse into what may be coming for airbrushes in the future?
Hmmmm…tempting but I must refrain. We do have a few projects to work on once the new airbrush line is out. We’ll also have some new retail packaging we hope your community members we’ll see in their local shops soon.
Finally, tell us a little bit about yourself- who is Ken Schlotfeldt?
Well, I’m 43 years old and have been married 20 years to my high school sweetheart, who I dated for 8 years before being wed. She is the greatest blessing of my earthly life, and has led to the 3 blessings tied for second- my children. Elizabeth 14, Jessica 11, and Benjamin 7 – and yes they are all named for biblical reasons. I’ve been at Badger for 28 years in some capacity. Coincidentally Badger, like I, is 43 years old – I tell people I was either my dad’s inspiration or the reason he needed to get out of the house when he started the business – he says it was the latter, LOL.
Whatever the reason, I think modelers worldwide would say “Thanks” to Ken’s dad! And thanks to Ken for taking time to do this interview!