Plastering- Trade Origins & Information

Plastering is one of the most ancient of the building hand crafts.Historical evidence shows that primitive man plastered mud over a framework of sticks and reeds to enclose a protective structure to keep out the elements.

The Pharaohs of Egypt used plaster surfaces in their palaces and pyramids. It is known that this plasterwork, and the decoration upon it, was applied more than 4,000 years ago. These plaster surfaces still exist in a hard and durable state today.

The methods of applying plaster were very similar to the methods used today. The Egyptians plastered on reeds, a method which resembles in every way our method of plastering on lath. Hair was introduced to strengthen the plaster even at this early date.

Ancient egyptian plaster work & hand tools dating back thousands of years

The earliest plasters known to us were lime-based. Around 7500 BC. Crushed limestone was used to make plaster which covered walls, floors, and hearths in houses.The sanitary value of using plaster was apparent to those early users. The density of the material, plus its smooth surface, provided both protection and a surface ideal for decorative treatment. Later, lime and sand were combined as a mortar to cover both the reed lath and masonry walls and ceilings. The antiseptic value of lime was used by ancient people in preventing the spread of vermin and disease.The early Egyptian tomb walls were coated with lime and gypsum plaster and the finished surface was often painted or decorated.

Over time materials changed but the process remained the same. Plaster was recognized long ago as a protection against fire. Its value as a fire retardant was demonstrated in the many fires that ravaged London during the Thirteenth Century. The king at that time, ordered that all buildings were to have plastered walls. Houses that did not meet this specification within a stated period were to be torn down. .In the 14th century, decorative plasterwork called pargeting was being used in South-East England to decorate the exterior of timber-framed buildings. This is a form of incised, moulded or modelled ornament, executed in lime putty or mixtures of lime and gypsum plaster. Gypsum plaster set faster, but it was too costly for ordinary plain work. It was used only in the ornamental work and for various imitation marble finishes called scagliola, a skill developed in Italy in the 15th century.During this period and through the Sixteenth Century, the plasterer's skill was developed to a height unequaled in history 

Traditionally horsehair was used for plastering  & was the most commonly used binder, as it was easily available before the development of the motor-car. Hair functions in much the same way as the strands in fiberglass resin, by controlling and containing any small cracks within the mortar while it dries or when it is subject to flexing.

Plaster containing animal hair 

Over time reed was replaced with lath shown above & then plasterboard which we use today.

From almost the first use of plastering to the middle of the 19th century, plasterers used lime and sand for the basic plain work of covering walls and ceilings. After about 1860, most plaster was composed primarily of Portland cement, mixed with some lime. This made it even more versatile and durable.This mortar took about two weeks to set (harden) under favorable conditions. Older buildings in Britain will have been plastered using the methods described here.

A plasterer using a rake & bath to mix plaster

 No longer used just as a coating for a substantial material like masonry or log, Plaster could now be applied over wood or metal lath attached to a light wood frame. With this increased strength, it ceased to be just a veneer and became a more integral part of the building structure.

A team of plasterers apply lime mortar to a New York building

With the development of modern processing methods in the early 20th century, gypsum plaster has gradually replaced lime as the binding agent for sand in plastering mortar. Its rate of set can be controlled, allowing the plasterer to build up layers or coats of plaster in a matter of hours rather than the days and weeks required with lime mortar. Speed became an important factor in the continued growth and development of the craft.

1916: The Americans introduce plasterboard

In 1916 the U.S. Gypsum Company (USG) invented drywall . The material was first sold in the form of small, fireproof tiles, but within a few years, it was sold in multi-layer gypsum and paper sheets.In less then a decade, it took on the form we know, consisting of a single layer of compressed gypsum sandwiched between two sheets of heavy paper. Over time Contractors knew they could construct homes and workplaces in one-tenth the time if they abandoned plaster for drywall, leading to higher profits. Solid Plastering methods gradually faded away as people all over the world turned to drywall.

With modern day materials such as drywall adhesive & Bonding compounds, Solid coats such as lime sand mortar are a thing of the past & are used mainly on listed buildings & repairs. These days plasterers use large plasterboard sheets to clad brickwork & timber ceilings which can then be skimmed or jointed. Lightweight power tools, Stilts & paddle mixers have made life a little easier for todays plasterers & with fast setting ,fast drying thin plaster coats,Plastering is no longer a drawn out process & now surfaces can be decorated days after plasterers have finished. 

Plasterers above 1880- 2013, The hawk & trowel remain almost identical in design. Safety wear, alloy stilt design & power tools allow for speed & efficiency

Today's plasterers use high torque electric paddle mixers 

S.D.Roberts Quality Plastering combines the principles & disciplines of a traditional craft with the demand & efficiency of modern day solutions to offer an integrity based service designed to build trust and add value for our customers.


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