Category Archives: Plastering Info

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.

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.

Those who can, teach plastering

collegeThe skills required to be a good plasterer can be taught to just about anyone, the key to learning properly and with enthusiasm is having a good teacher.  Teaching is a rewarding thing to do, especially when you have a passion for a subject and enjoy seeing others appreciate the particular techniques and skills of different vocational pursuits.  Plastering is a popular trade to study at college and there are many apprenticeships available for young people willing to learn.  These new students need teachers, as well as assessors to visit their workplaces and evaluate their progress as they learn, which presents a career change opportunity for plasterers looking to partly retire, or who have had enough of the building site.

Plasterers looking to become teachers or workplace assessors must be competent, qualified to NVQ level 3 and experienced.  The pathways to becoming a tutor or an assessor are different, but both require these basic criteria to be fulfilled.  To become an assessor, you need to study for and pass a Level 3 Certificate in Assessing Vocational Achievement at college.  Many technical colleges offer this course, as well as their vocational qualifications that you would be responsible for assessing when you qualify.  In some cases, it can also be done online and there are lots of providers out there to choose from.  The actual work is not full time, as the workplace assessments of trainee plasterers (normally) takes place at the end of each module, rather than on a regular weekly basis.  This is a good side job for a plasterer wanting more work, or for a semi-retired plasterer who would prefer to work part time.

Becoming a tutor takes more time, but is more secure for long term employment.  As an employee rather than a sole trader, you will have more in-work benefits like sick pay and a pension, plus there is no requirement to find your own work.  As with the assessor job, an NVQ level 3 in plastering is required, along with many years of experience. Although some courses have low requirements in terms of years of experience, the more you have the better.  Additionally, you will be required to teach all different types of plastering, so your fibrous plastering skills must be up to scratch.  It is not simply the case of just teaching people what you know, you will be teaching them everything they need to know to pass, so it’s a good idea to brush up on your own plastering knowledge and skills.

To become a plastering teacher you will have to achieve a Certificate in Education, or a longer Post Graduate Certificate in Education (which can be completed at a later date if you wanted to become a head of department or progress further within the academic sector).  These courses can be done at a University or College and typically take one year to complete.  As these qualifications are studied by people that are also working part or full time, there is more time allowed to finish the course, usually two years, so you don’t have to rush.

Teaching jobs obviously come with the upside of summer holidays, half terms and time off over Christmas and Easter, but there are OFSTED inspections to contend with, as well as lesson planning and marking that can eat into evenings and weekends.  On balance, however, it is a rewarding and natural career change for experienced plasterers who either do not want to continue plastering for a living, or who have experienced injuries that stop them from physical work.  It is easy enough to know if you will make a good teacher – think about whether you have enjoyed training apprentices and whether they have learnt well from you.  If the answer is no, then teaching probably isn’t the career for you.  If you answered yes then considering teaching as a career change could be the best life change you ever make.

Rendering Extensions – what to be aware of

28172093 - plasterer spreading out plaster with trowel around the windowsExtending a home is a popular choice among growing families who do not want the upheaval of moving house to gain more space.  With the current uncertainty in the housing market and prices set to drop further, more and more people will opt to extend and increase the value of their home rather than sell up at a loss for the sake of an extra bedroom.  Plasterers and renderers are in a great position to benefit from this activity as they will be in high demand to finish the extension both inside and out, but there are some important points to consider when surfacing extension walls.

Timber framed extensions are a common choice among homeowners but there can be problems with the settling and movement of these newly built parts affecting the plaster and render.  Sometimes homeowners do not know about this movement factor and they should be made aware that cracks in plaster can commonly occur as the construction settles.  It may be worth offering to set aside a day or two for them in a years’ time to rectify any small cracks, as by this time most of the movement that will happen has been and gone, and the structure has been through a whole year of seasonal changes.

External rendering of timber framed extensions often means putting in a movement joint, between the original building and the new part, to reduce the effects of movement on the surface render.  Silicone based renders are naturally more adaptable to movement than cement based ones, so it is worthwhile discussing the choice of materials with the customer to ensure they are aware of the potential problems, and what can be done to minimise them.

Another big factor when rendering an extension is the blending of the old and new renders.  Some people plan to paint the entire house afterwards to create a seamless look and blend the new part in with the original house; but some may be open to the idea of re-rendering the entire house if the old render is damaged or not to their tastes.  It is worth providing a quote for rendering the extension as well as the whole house, as this gives the homeowner a choice of the work they would like done – they may have been pondering re-doing the whole house anyway.  Once they take into account the upheaval of having scaffolding up (essential for a two storey extension) they may decide that it is worth getting all the work done at once rather than waiting a year or two and then having scaffolding put back up.

Of course, some builders will offer to render the extension they build and while there are some builders out there with decent rendering skills, often they are not as good as they think.  If the homeowner says their builder will do a scratch coat for the render it is always worth explaining the shortfalls of unpractised people doing half the job, and that you may have to remove that first coat if it is not up to standard before you can start the job.  As with any plastering or rendering job, educating the customer is vital in order to achieve a result that everyone is happy with.

What happens when too many coats of render are applied?

cracking plaster wallsHouses built in the early part of the 20th century and prior to that have often been rendered several times; with coat after coat going on, sometimes sandwiched with a layer of paint and various render textures.  Homeowners typically aren’t aware of how many layers have gone on, and they also don’t usually understand why continuing to render layer over layer is a bad idea.  They may be aware of cracks appearing in the render but put this down to the house settling, opting to literally plaster over the cracks.

Cracked external render that does not line up with similar cracks in the internal plaster is often caused by there being too many layers of render on the house, and not to do with movement or seasonal changes in the walls.  Although a layer of render is not that heavy in itself, when there are three, four or more coats there the weight increases to a point where it cannot sustain itself and it starts to crack.  Once water gets into the cracks and freezes the cracks get larger and can even lead to chunks of render flaking off the walls.

If it is possible to find out how many layers of render there are from the homeowner, this will give you a good starting point on deciding whether to re-render, or to knock off the existing coating and start again.  If the homeowner has owned the building for several decades they should have a good idea, but sometimes a little investigative work is needed to determine exactly what lies beneath.  Rendering over patchy or blown render never works as the new coat ends up pulling the old render off the wall, so if there are several dodgy patches it would be best to strip it back entirely and starting again.

Painted renders are notoriously hard to render over as the paint layer prevents the new render from bonding with the old, and the same issues arise if waterproofing products have been used on top of renders.  Explaining the basic science to the homeowner usually works; once they understand that renders can only be properly applied over the right surface conditions, and by ignoring that rule the threat of having to spend more money later to rectify a bad job normally influences the customer to take your advice, knowing they can rest easy for many years without having to have any remedial work done to the render on the outside of their house.

Occasionally after a client finds out that there is more work involved in removing render, to get a decent long lasting finish, they can baulk at the idea of spending the extra money, and may decide to find someone who is willing to simply re-render cheaply; whilst other clients understand why the render needs to be stripped back completely and are happy to pay the extra money to get a result they are happy with, and these customers are worth their weight in gold.  Offering one of the new insulation and render systems as an option can help soften the blow a little, as the energy bill savings gained from better insulation can contribute towards the cost of a decent external surface system.

Tool theft – what measures can plasterers take to protect themselves?

plastering_tools-1A tradesman in Birmingham recently started an online petition to ask the government to do more to help the victims of tool theft, specifically to provide emergency loans to those who have had vital equipment taken and to increase the sentences for those found guilty of tool theft.  It can take years to build up a full tool and equipment set, with frequent replacement of items that get worn out regularly and investment in better and newer versions of items.  Power tools can be very expensive and are a highly attractive target for thieves as they are easy to sell on and can get a fair bit of money in one hit.  Plasterers can lose work if their tools are stolen and they can’t afford to replace them immediately, and this can also cause further financial troubles as other bills may fall behind on payment as the money is spent on staying in work.

Tougher sentences may be a just punishment for those caught stealing tools, but could be enough of a deterrent for an opportunistic thief?  It may be some comfort to know that if someone who steals your plastering tools gets caught they will receive a longer sentence than in the past, however, the law has not been changed yet and plasterers still need to take measures to reduce the risk of their equipment being stolen.

Displaying a notice or sticker on your van declaring that no tools are left in the van overnight is one common way of deterring would-be thieves; however, this will only work if, indeed, people who display this sign do remove all of their tools, as the thieves will soon learn to ignore the sign if it is a bluff. Many vans are easy to break in to for the experienced thief, so taking extra measures to secure the doors, such as deadlocks and alarms, can make it harder to get in.  Often, the extra time and noise it takes will put the opportunistic thief off, as they are more likely to draw attention to themselves and increase the risk of getting caught.

Tool theft doesn’t always happen overnight, however, sometimes you can be unloading your equipment and return to your van to find things have gone missing.  Simply securing your van each time you leave it, even if that’s only for a minute, stops this type of chance theft.  It may seem onerous having to lock and unlock the van each time but it is much better than having to replace your tools.

Sometimes tool theft even occurs on site, from people you are working with.  When working with new colleagues try not to leave your tools unattended, especially the expensive or desirable ones.  Most people can be trusted, especially when you are all working in similar trades but unfortunately there are some unscrupulous people out there, who wouldn’t think twice about slipping a pipe trowel in their pocket when no one is looking.  If possible, secure your tools at home or elsewhere so that they will be safe and only take the equipment you need to each job.  Doing this reduces the amount of stuff available that could be stolen, and it also means that you are carrying less around with you from job to job.  Security and deterrents are key here, so lock it or risk losing it.