All posts by Emma

How advertising has changed for plasterers

advertising concept with smartphone on yellow wooden backgroundTen years ago, advertising your plastering services was simple.  People actually read the parish or community newsletter and print media, in general, this was still a viable way of spreading the word.  Having flyers printed and doing a door to door leaflet drop was a good way of drumming up trade in your local area, and it was even possible to pick up some sporadic work just through talking to other tradespeople in the pub.  Having your contact details on your van was, and still is, a good way to attract attention and make sure people know that you are a plasterer, but with more and more clever names and personal number plates attracting the attention of the general public it is becoming harder to stand out among the noise.

Adverts and listings in the Yellow Pages were a must have for any business, and a decade ago people were still using these traditional listings directories to find plasterers and other tradespeople.  Move to the present day, and it is all about your online presence.  As people get busier and busier they expect to be able to find information anywhere and at any time; the thought of waiting until they get home to check the Yellow Pages is now unthinkably old fashioned – they want to be able to get that information on their smartphone on a train, or during a break at work.

Word of mouth is still a very reliable way of getting work, as you are trading on your reputation, but then it should be borne in mind that you are only as good as your last plastering job, so those that always do a good job, clean up after themselves and are polite to customers will do well from personal recommendations.  Having said that, when a friend or relative recommends a plasterer the person looking to employ you will still want to check you out, so having a web presence, whether that is a website or a Facebook page, is incredibly important.  These methods of advertising allow you to put up pictures of your latest and best plastering work, so potential customers can see what they will be getting, and you can also put up good customer feedback to reassure those browsing that your past clients are happy.

Sites like mybuilder.com, checkatrade and ratedpeople are worth checking out if word of mouth alone is not bringing enough business in.  They are the modern-day equivalent of the community noticeboard.  Of course, there are drawbacks and the site subscription fees can put some people off, as well as the amount of time you will inevitably spend bidding for plastering jobs that don’t result in actual work, although this is not too common.  The plus sides to these sites are that, generally speaking, the people looking for a plasterer are already going down the path of employing someone, what is referred to in the marketing industry as a “warm lead”.  This means that you won’t be wasting your time putting a quote together for someone who isn’t going to go ahead with the work.  Yes, there is some competition with other plasterers in your area, but that would be the case even if the client was contacting individual plasterers directly.  If you can spend less money on flyers and other advertising by using these sites, then the fees are worth it in the long run.

Broadly speaking, the way you advertise your plastering services has not changed a great deal, word of mouth and reputation is now moving to the online world of customer reviews and recommendations on trade sites and websites or social media pages have replaced flyers.  It is as important now as it was ten or twenty years ago to have some sort of presence and get your name out there, it is just the method by which you do this which has changed.

Plastering machines – why aren’t they used more on domestic projects?

49608655 - plasterer operating sprayer equipment machine for spraying thin-layer putty plaster finishing on brick wallPlaster spraying machines made light work of commercial plastering jobs when they were first developed, and have become the mainstay of any firm specialising in external rendering, new builds or large scale plastering projects such as sports centres, stadiums, schools and office buildings.  The speed with which they get the plaster on to the wall saves a lot of labour costs, as a single person can cover an area up to four times the size compared to a manual application in the same time.  The surface is then finished by hand around features, but the finish achievable by the most modern spray plaster machines does not need smoothing once applied.  It is worth bearing in mind that this finish is not as smooth as a manually finished wall, but passes muster for most commercial projects and is acceptable for plastering walls that are then going to be lined and painted.

Plaster spraying machines can be used on domestic projects, but the amount of preparation that is required to cover all other surfaces and items in the room is considerably more than with conventional trowel plastering.  As the plaster is sprayed on it travels a lot further than the trowel could ever send it; there may be fewer instances of plaster falling off the trowel and spots around the bucket, but if the nozzle of a plastering machine ends up facing the wrong way, even once, there will be a lot of mess to clean up.  This extra covering and preparation costs money, as you need more sheets, tarps and tape to get everything stuck down properly, but if the homeowner can do this preparatory work it can make sense to get the plastering done quickly and keep costs down for everyone.  Domestic new builds are often plastered with a spray machine, as there are no carpets or furniture to protect and multiple surfaces need to be covered; but once the homeowners have moved in there is often too much to protect or move to make spraying worthwhile in single rooms.

Another reason plastering machines are not commonly used on small jobs, is that they perform best when applying first coats and renders, and the cheaper models can struggle to achieve the very smooth surface that most customers associate with a good plastering job.  There are time and training costs associated with starting up a machine plastering offering, and sometimes this can be prohibitive for sole traders and small outfits.  Larger plastering or building services companies could do well to invest in a plastering machine and the associated training, as it can significantly increase the volume of work that can be achieved by the existing staff, leading to increased profits which will pay for the machine in a matter of months.

Of course, cleaning the machine can take time but it is a good job for an apprentice or casual labourer.  There are also maintenance and repair costs to factor in, but a plastering machine cannot be off sick, so while there may be more outlay on maintenance, the reliability of service makes plastering machines a good option for companies with changeable or casual workforces.  Of course, single rooms and re-skim work does not call for a plaster spraying machine, but if these jobs make up only a small percentage of your workload and there are many more larger jobs, that can be time consuming when done entirely by hand, plastering machines make commercial sense.  The other good thing about plastering machines is the gadget factor, who doesn’t love a new toy every now and then?

Hawks – plastic versus metal

69572405 - construction worker wearing worker overall with wall plastering tools renovating apartment house. plasterer renovating indoor walls and ceilings with float and plaster. construction finishing works.Hawks or hand boards, whatever you call them (and there’s certainly a North/South divide on that debate), every plasterer needs one.  They are simple in design and to the untrained eye they all look the same.  Although there’s a set shape, the differences between manufacturers run a lot deeper than just the label.

Metal hawks can be more solid feeling in the hand than a plastic one but are a little heavier.  Plastic hawks are lighter and although they may feel different to hold, they are less of a strain to hold all day.  Older plasterers who may work infrequently may find a plastic hawk easier on the hand and wrist than a metal one.  Plastic hawks are also a good investment for a novice plasterer or a DIYer, as they are cheaper than metal ones and the ridged surface helps hold the plaster on it even if it is held at a slight angle.  Getting used to holding the hawk at the right angle can take practice, so a plastic one is great for learning and not wasting too much plaster as it slips off a metal one.

The other great factor in choosing a plastic hawk over a metal one is the cost.  They are cheaper, so if they are lost or left behind on a job they can be easily and cheaply replaced, and are available from most DIY stores.  For those with sensitive ears or a particular dislike for the sound of metal on metal then a plastic hawk also eliminates the scraping sound.

Metal hawks are longer lasting than a plastic one, however, and there are some with a ridged surface to help keep the plaster from slipping off, as well as flat ones for the experienced plasterer.  Nela manufacture three sizes, giving you a choice of weight as well as surface area, and they also have concentric circular ridges, and they are a little cheaper than the Marshalltown alternative.  All in all, it is a matter of personal choice, but there are advantages to both plastic and metal hawks, it just depends what you are looking for.

Plasterboard taping tools

house under construction
Taping tools are invaluable for dry-liners and plaster-boarders, saving a lot of time when fitting plasterboard in large buildings such as factories, retail and commercial buildings as well as student halls and other places which offer accommodation on a large scale.  Applying scrim tape by hand doesn’t take a very long time for a small room, or in a house, but when this is being done on a large new build then the time, and therefore saving costs start to add up.  There is also slightly less wastage, as the tape stays firmly in the machine at all times, stopping it from getting stuck to other surfaces and being wasted.  Taping machines also cut the tape, doing away with a taping knife entirely, and they can apply tape accurately in corners, which can be a struggle for the novice plaster border.

Taping tools have a fairly long history, with the first prototype model being produced in 1945, by brothers Robert and Stan Ames in Georgia, USA.  It weighed around 45 kilos and was battery powered, and obviously quite cumbersome, a far cry indeed from today’s hand-held models.  Drywallers by trade, the brothers began experimenting with inventions for improving their job in 1939, but did not create the first automatic taping tool until 1954, after improving on their initial bulky model.  The people involved in these inventions went on to found or advise most of the plasterboard tool manufacturers we know today, including Belmont Tools, the Ames brothers’ first company.

Although Plasterers 1 Stop Shop mainly sells machine and hand plastering tools and equipment, focusing less on the plasterboard side of the trade, it is still interesting to know how these inventions came about, and how they can be useful.  You never know, this could come up in a pub quiz and as a plasterer, everyone will expect you to know the answer!

 

Plasterers stilts – what pair should I go for?

stiltsWorking at height for a long time can be a challenge in any trade, and many decorators use a work platform or trestle to provide a large working area to stand on, with easy access to the wall surface and no need to keep moving a stepladder or a small hop up every few minutes.  For plasterers, there is a much bigger requirement to be at the wall-face for long periods of time, usually two or three times over for all the preparation and coats of plaster on each wall.  Plastering ceilings is also much easier with stilts, as you can get close to the ceiling without having to keep moving work platforms and can move around very easily with no fear of slipping off a tall trestle.

It is this need to be close to the wall but still mobile, to gather more plaster to work with, that led to the development of plasterers’ stilts.  These allow you to work safely at height and still move around, give you easy access to the mix when needed.  Better still, there is no need to be moving a trestle or work platform at all, and the stilts will take up less room in the van, being a lot easier to pack in to tight spaces than a trestle.  There is also the added bonus of seasonal work as a circus performer, if the plastering work dries up!

Putz manufacture a great line of stilts, which have been tried and tested by plasterers for many years with excellent results.  There are cheaper models out there, but they don’t have the same build quality or comfort as the Putz Profi-Line, and can cause back problems due to exacerbating poor posture.  The Profi-Line are available in three sizes, relating to the height available from the stilts rather than shoe size – all the Putz Profi-Line plasterers’ stilts can be worn by any shoe size.

The medium height stilts offer five height adjustments between 38 and 58 cm and weigh 5.8 kilos each, while the large ones give heights between 45 and 75 cm through 7 steps at a weight of 6.2 kilos each.  The extra-large plasterers’ stilts go from 60 cm to 1 metre, in 9 increments and weigh in at 7 kilos each.  The choice of model depends entirely on the amount of extra height you need – very tall people may find that they can achieve a good range of heights with the medium size stilts while shorter people may need the extra large.  All the Putz Profi-Line stilts have rubber non-slip feet and fasten round the foot and calf for excellent stability.  They are also spring loaded, to make them comfortable to walk in, so you are not dragging around that extra weight and it feels like walking naturally.  Priced between £165 and £215 they are not cheap, but are great value compared to the more expensive models.

It can take a while to get used to working in and walking on stilts, but the benefit of not having to set up trestles and reducing the fall risk outweighs the short teething period you’ll need to get used to wearing stilts.  Just remember to watch out for heavy light fittings and doorways when you are on them, as there is obviously a small risk of banging your head on these.  Aside from the risk of knocking your head on a door frame plasterers’ stilts are much safer than using trestles and ladders and therefore are a good choice for health and safety or risk assessments.

Gyproc EasyFlex Pro – or the old-fashioned way?

69572405 - construction worker wearing worker overall with wall plastering tools renovating apartment house. plasterer renovating indoor walls and ceilings with float and plaster. construction finishing works.Plastering corners is one of the hardest techniques to learn, it takes a lot of practice to perfect the 90 degree angle, commonly found in modern buildings, and it is even harder to achieve the technique for the unusual angles that can be found in bay windows and old buildings.

A twitcher is the tool of choice for most plasterers, although some old hands prefer to use other small trowels and a very steady hand, to get the same effect.  Ask any plasterer the best way to plaster a corner and you will get many different responses, but the most common technique is to use a twitcher on the second pass; using one on the first coat can cause drags around the corner, that then need to be levelled out with the second coat, which can lead to a poor finish and lumps around the corner, drawing attention to what is supposed to be a perfectly smooth angle.  For this reason many plasterers adapt their tools to suit their technique, cutting down the wings of the twitcher to reduce the drag lines that can be left in plaster that is still slightly too wet.

It is best to wait until the plaster is a little more set than usual to finish the corners; the firmer the product, the less damage you can cause with a corner trowel.  If the plaster has gone slightly too firm you can sponge the surface to make it more workable, but it is best to get the timings to perfection and not have to backtrack or make amendments to plaster that has already gone off.

As with anything in life, practice makes perfect; so the more corners you work on, the better your technique will be.  It is also worth picking up alternative techniques from other plasterers, as they may have a method that works better for you; some plasterers just don’t like corner trowels at all and if you don’t get on with them either, it might be better to try another way entirely than keep struggling with a technique you can’t master.

Using beading on external angles is a common method of ensuring a smooth angle, but some beads don’t make enough of a positive difference to be worthwhile, and ensuring that they are covered can lead to more problems than they are supposed to fix.

is a new corner tape that lays the foundation for a smooth corner, without being difficult to work with.  The tape is flexible and can be used on any angles, so it is not only a replacement for 90 degree beading, but for all types of angled bead in one product.  It is memory free, meaning it can be measured in place, creased and cut without spoiling the product.  The polymer core leaves a smooth angle wherever it is used, and it makes short work of tricky angles, leaving you to concentrate on the whole job, rather than lose focus because you’re concentrating too hard on just getting the corner right.

The pre-formed hinge that runs down the centre of the tape makes sticking it down easy, as you can follow the crease into the corner.  This is a great bonus for raked angles as it is hard to get this tape stuck in the wrong position, or have it sloping up or down at one end.  If it needs to be replaced, it can be done very easily but it is very hardwearing, accommodating framing movement and resisting impact damage much better than other methods of corner finishing.  If you really struggle with corners, try out EasyFlex Pro for a hassle-free corner plastering experience.