All in the Blue Collar Family: Plasterer

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Have you ever stared at your ceiling and thought you saw a silly face or maybe even a lopsided ice cream cone? While those vague images might not have been created intentionally, they were the work of a plasterer. In addition to adding decorative textures to our walls, these skilled tradespeople are responsible for sealing them for proper functionality – features no house or building would be complete without.

The art of plastering has existed as long as humans have needed permanent protective shelters. Early builders used earthen materials like clay, sand, and straw that were applied to walls and hardened by the sun. Today, plasterers use a wide variety of materials and techniques to strengthen and enhance the walls of our homes—a critical job that requires a combination of technical and artistic skills.

History of Plastering

Some of the earliest examples of plastering date back to around 7500 BC, when the walls and floors of dwellings were made from mud and marble. In the centuries following, it is believed that ancient Egyptians began using lime and gypsum to coat their pyramids, palaces, and tombs, which can still be seen today. Then, as Greek and Roman societies further developed the practice, more decorative applications arose, such as creating sculptures and architectural features.

As time went on, plaster continued to prove useful as both an essential building material and an artistic medium. Native American societies utilized dense clay to create structures that were highly energy-efficient and climate-controlled, and many European castles and cathedrals were adorned with ornamental plaster ceilings. Over the past several centuries, plastering has evolved along with science and technology, leading to the creation of advanced tools and machinery that streamline mixing and application processes, as well as new ingredients and formulations that enhance durability and appearance.

The Role of Plasterers

Within the process of constructing new walls and ceilings, plasterers are responsible for adding the finishing touches before painting begins. Generally, they mix and apply a layer of plaster to seal the walls, protecting them from atmospheric effects like moisture and providing added functionality like fire and soundproofing. They are also responsible for creating the final texture of walls, which can have a decorative effect on the finished product.

What Plasterers Do

While their jobs may seem pretty straightforward, being a successful plasterer involves utilizing significant technical expertise and creativity. Their work generally involves:

1. Surface Preparation: Plasterers must meticulously prepare surfaces to ensure they are clean and have the proper texture to receive the plaster. This may include leveling out uneven walls, removing rough particles, or even scratching up ceilings if they are too smooth.

2. Mixing Plaster: Depending on the desired result, plasterers will mix a specific combination of water and a dry powder such as cement, gypsum, or lime to form a spreadable paste. Applying knowledge of different material properties is critical for proper adhesion and texture.

3. Applying Plaster: Plasterers’ main job is to apply plaster to interior walls and ceilings or exterior walls to seal them. They typically use equipment such as trowels, brushes, and sprayers to create a finished look and protect the walls from the elements.

4. Decorative Finishes: While some projects require smooth finishes, adding intricate patterns or textures with plaster can enhance the visual appeal of interiors. Plasterers can create intricate designs, such as crown moldings and cornices using specialized tools and techniques.

5. Repair and Restoration: In addition to new constructions, plasterers may also repair aging and broken plaster walls and fixtures. This may include filling holes or cracks in walls, restoring decorative molding, or adding new finishing coats for protection.

Becoming a Plasterer

The main requirements for becoming a plasterer generally involve basic competencies in reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as physical stamina and artistic skills. Some of the typical steps to becoming a plasterer include:

1. Education: In addition to math and English, taking shop or building-related classes in high school will create a strong foundation for an aspiring plasterer. While not always necessary, earning an associate’s degree in construction or plastering at a college or vocational school can also be beneficial.

2. Apprenticeship: The most critical learnings take place during an apprenticeship, where they work alongside an experienced plasterer and become familiar with crucial skills like mixing plaster, applying plaster, and mounting plasterboard. Apprenticeships typically last two to four years and involve a combination of classroom instruction and hands-on work.

3. Certification: Some locations may require certification to legally practice as a professional plasterer. This generally involves taking a course through an organization such as The National Plastering Industry Association (NPIA) and passing a skills test.

4. Specialization: To diversify their market, plasterers often choose to specialize in areas like solid plastering, drywall finishing, or ornamental detailing. This allows them to use different techniques and materials and work on a greater variety of projects, such as historic restorations and others with special requirements.

5. Continuous Learning: Staying abreast of new materials, techniques, and safety protocols is crucial, especially when it comes to working on new builds. Professional plasterers should continue to develop their knowledge and skills, which may be accomplished by reading trade publications, attending workshops, and networking with others in the industry.

Plastering is a fusion of craftsmanship and tradition that has shaped the architectural landscape for centuries. It has maintained its importance in the construction trade and continues to be reminiscent of its roots, using similar tools, techniques, and materials to protect and decorate the structures we live in every day.

To learn about other jobs in the blue-collar family, check out these articles about plumbers, electricians, and welders.

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