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March 2008

The Plaster Zone: Drywall, plaster or both?

By Robin Raymer, The Plaster Man

I've had some exciting things happen in the 25 years I've been plastering. But I believe getting in on the launch of this magazine has to be up there near the top.
There are two things that I really enjoy doing: sharing knowledge about plastering and writing. And so this column is a great opportunity to bring both things together.
I also hope you'll view it as a "two-way street" - where your questions and comments are always welcome. In this trade, no one knows all the answers. But if we combine our knowledge and share it freely, a great deal can be accomplished and everyone benefits.

Over the years, I've received many letters and e-mails from contractors and others who wanted information about plastering. Once in a while, someone will write and make a comment that brings up an important issue. This was the case recently with an e-mail I received, and as soon as I read it I thought that it would be a good way to start this column. So here is the letter and my comments on it. Let me know what you think.

Plaster Man,
I am a drywall guy from Rhode Island. I've been doing drywall and plastering work for 20 years. My family does plastering, taping and also hanging the board. Most of the homes in this area are plastered with a veneer-coat plastering system. From what I understand, most states do not use this method of covering the entire ceiling and walls with plaster - they use drywall finishing instead. Is this correct?
I choose to do drywall finishing. I really don't like plaster, as I've seen too many bad plaster jobs. I think drywall is a much better way to finish ceilings and walls, but that's just my opinion. What is your opinion as to the benefits of plastering? To me, it's more expensive, for both the labor and materials. A lot of people I have talked to from other parts of the country haven't even heard of plastering being done. I don't mean any disrespect to you as a plasterer, but I think it's a waste of time and materials, and I only do it if the customer really wants it done. Thanks!

Rick from Rhode Island

I thank Rick for writing, and I think he said a mouthful! Each point he brought up could be a column in itself, so I'll just comment briefly for now on a few of them. (Hopefully I will hear from you on what you think about these points too.) So here are my thoughts on what he wrote:

The state of plaster

Yes, drywall finishing is the most popular finishing system used today. And yet there are many areas of the country in which veneer-coat plastering is still going strong. What's more, from what I've been hearing, the demand to learn this type of plastering is increasing. I am contacted on a regular basis by painters, tapers and hangers who are interested in adding these skills to what they already do, and I believe this need will continue to grow.

Bad jobs

From my vantage point I run into "bad jobs" far too often - where both plaster and drywall have been used to do the new or repair work. I believe we're in a time of crisis and something drastic must be done to turn the tide. Some of the problems and challenges include where the union and independent contractors are concerned. The union is one of the last places that true training is being carried out, where skills are passed on and preserved for the next generation. The challenge is that the union is not in the residential sector. I personally think this needs to change, and soon.

Plaster repairs and work done on putting remodeling projects back together are often horrendous. This is often the case because the knowledge and skill to do such work is being lost as older independent contractors retire, and those now carrying on in their absence are working with skills that are partial at best. This will only continue to worsen, since no organized training outside the union is really going on. How and when this is going to be remedied is an open question, and how it's answered remains to be seen.

One thing is certain: A bad job is a bad job whether it's drywall or plaster. Raising the standards so that fewer bad jobs are done is our intention, and we will devote tireless effort through the pages of this magazine to make sure this is accomplished. I have no doubt that we will succeed.

Plaster vs. drywall

One of the reasons I'm so excited about this magazine is that we're attempting to bring together the drywall and plastering fields and to bring back pride in both trades. For the past two years now I have had the privilege of being able to call Myron Ferguson, "That Drywall Guy," a friend of mine. We both have been bothered that there has been a rivalry between the two trades which goes way back (much farther than we can remember), and this magazine is our attempt to work together in helping both trades see that there is room for us all to work together and profit well from such association. We both feel that it's not a matter of "this or that," but more a winning blend of both worlds. Much more on this topic later.

Why plaster rocks

I feel that a person can only speak on what they know. And so I wanted to conclude this piece by including what impresses me so much about plaster. I do a tremendous amount of plaster repair and restoration work. When the worst has happened - water damage from a storm or broken pipe, cracks that have developed from years of settling, or a sudden piece of plaster that falls in the night, I enjoy being called in and putting things back together again. One great advantage plaster gives is that it can be applied in heavy coats in quick succession, thus straightening uneven areas in short order, and all without sanding. This gives me the ability to make major transformations in a few short hours of time. I don't compare this to drywall work. I simply set it out there as something that plaster makes possible. And I feel strongly that these skills are ones that every painter and hanger and taper would do well to add to what they offer their clients.

I'd appreciate hearing your take on the topics brought up here, and I thank you ahead of time for writing. I look forward to meeting up with you again the next time around.

Archives: The Plaster Zone
Spring 2009
Ornamental considerations
by Robin Raymer

Robin Raymer, The Plaster Man, has more than 25 years of experience in the art of plastering. He specializes in training individuals and crews in how to do plaster repair and advanced plastering, and he has produced a number of plaster training DVDs. Reach him at robin@plasterzone.com. He answers all comments and questions personally.

The Plaster Zone >
Ornamental considerations
by Robin Raymer

The Preservation Plasterer >
How to repair historic plaster
by Rory Brennan

That Drywall Guy >
Building the best arches and curves
by Myron Ferguson