Category Archives: Plastering General

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.

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.

Plastering lighting – don’t keep yourself in the dark!

halogen work lights on yellow tripod,dark backgroundWe’re over the darkest evenings and although it’s starting to stay lighter later, it’s still too dark to work in the early mornings and late afternoons indoors, especially on new builds where there is no lighting installed.  Even on domestic jobs, room lighting can be unsuitable for plasterers to see the wall surfaces properly, especially when the main source is wall mounted up-lighters that you have had to remove, or the ceiling light is in the wrong place.

Portable floodlights are your best friend in these situations, some are even battery operated so can be used where there is no access to mains power.  They are not just useful in the winter though, when you have late running jobs in the summer they come in handy for providing a little extra illumination when you need it most, and are suitable for both indoor and outdoor use.  Even when the sun is out there can be some parts of buildings, both inside and out, that are permanently in shadow or just with very low lighting, such as utility rooms, downstairs toilets and spaces in between external walls and outbuildings that never get much natural light.

Plastering inside built-in cupboards can be tricky without the right lighting, but similarly some lighting solutions are just too bulky to use inside them, meaning you are constantly throwing a shadow by having to stand in front of the lights.  Floor standing floodlights can be placed inside built in cupboards and not get in your way (although you may end up cleaning the odd spot of plaster off them) and most models provide 110° light spread, so you don’t have to move them very often in small spaces.

When you need a lighting higher up, for example when plastering walls and ceilings, most portable floodlights can be mounted on stands to raise them by up to 1.6 metres, and then be angled in the right direction to provide light exactly where you need it.  The stands are telescopic, so you can adjust the height to suit whatever job you are working on.

Sometimes you may find a head lamp is useful for working on tight corners, behind pipes and in other tricky areas where a portable floodlight won’t fit, or where you personally are in the way of the light, however you set it up.  Head lamps leave both hands free for working, and also come in useful if you are walking home from the pub in the dark or searching in a dark attic or shed for something.

There is a wide range of portable lighting available to plasterers, from mains powered to battery operated and a choice of LED, tungsten or fluorescent tube illumination.  The equipment is relatively inexpensive, with lights and stands costing from around £30.  When you consider the extra hours you can put in with proper lighting the equipment will pay for itself within a week, so if you don’t already have a set, now is the time to buy.

Screeding – a career change for a plasterer?

62100979 - mason leveling and screeding concrete floor base with square trowel in front of the house. To Screed a floor is a very similar trade to plastering, just done on a different surface.  There is some cross over between the two trades, with some people being able to do both and some changing career from plastering to screeding and vice versa.  Because the products and finishes can be quite similar, often using some of the same ingredients, there are good opportunities for an established plasterer to branch out and offer both services.  This can be especially useful for solo plasterers, who are often employed by different building companies, as they can gain work on both areas.

There are several types of screed, all serving different purposes.  Traditional screed is a sand and cement mix, that is used for all sorts of floors and the final floor finish can be installed straight on top once it is dry.  Free flowing screeds can be easier to apply, as they are self-levelling and self-compacting, meaning there is no need for any intervention to finish the surface off.  The downside is that they are not suitable for areas that may get wet (such as bathrooms, garages and areas prone to damp) and they are not compatible with products that contain cement.  They are good for retail and commercial buildings as they are quicker to install than other screeds.

Structural screeds are laid on top of pre-cast floors, but should be installed with input from a structural engineer who can advise on the load requirements, strength and flexibility of the product.  Fast drying screeds are used when the floor needs to be installed quickly, as it only takes up to three days for it to dry out completely, compared to the standard screed drying times of 1mm per day/0.5mm per day (which means a drying time of 110 days for a 75mm thick screed).  Floor levelling compounds are used on top of screeds to provide a very even level to the surface, which is important in warehouses and workshops where forklift trucks and other heavy machinery may be in used.  They are expensive and only used when absolutely necessary.

As with plastering, screeds are available ready mixed or can be mixed on site, by hand or machine.  Mixing by hand is only suitable for small areas as the effort involved quickly takes its toll, but when only a small amount is needed it makes more sense to use the old fashioned methods than get the machinery out.  Ready mixed screeds are good for large areas that need to be done in one go when the available machinery does not have the capacity to mix large volumes.  There is the drawback of the delivery running late, which could throw timings out and lead to increased costs and wastage, if the screed cannot be laid before it starts to go off.

Although many of the principles of screeding are similar to plastering, in that many of the materials involved are the same, the application and installation process is quite different, and if cracks appear in the finished product it requires a lot more work to remedy the problem than if a layer of plaster cracks, as well as setting back the project timeline considerably.  Plasterers looking for a slight career change would do well to get into screeding as it is a familiar trade that marries well with the skill set of a plasterer.  Similarly, a person who screeds who may fancy a change, would do well to consider plastering as an option for the same reasons, though they may find the smoothing out challenging, due to working on a different plane.

70891768 - alandroal, portugal - november 18: vhils instalation from portugal , alentejo region, wall of traditional house

Getting arty with render and plaster

Plastering is definitely an art form; it takes time to learn the techniques and when to use them. In the specialist styles of Venetian and fibrous plastering, there is certainly a lot of artistic technique to acquire in order to do the job well.

Portugese street artist Vhils (real name Alexandere Farto) may not be applying any plaster in his pieces, but the way he removes external render is inspired.  Vhils works on a large scale, using the side of buildings as his canvas.  His most well-known and popular works are relief portraits, created by chipping and drilling away at the posters, paint, render and plaster to create a multi-layered and multi-coloured picture that makes use of the properties of each layer to form the image.  Vhils uses drills, chisels, bleach and etching acid to work into the wall surfaces when he is creating his artwork, a process which starts in his studio using photographs of potentially suitable walls.

Vhils selects the walls on the basis of their surface covering, as he has no way of knowing what is underneath that last layer; the discovery of the colours and patterns underneath is part of the excitement of creating the piece.  Using a pen and paper he sketches out the portrait, before using a computer to split the portrait into three layers, almost like a stencil.  These layers represent the layers of the render he works on, so the portrait makes the best use of the natural differences in renders and posters to add depth and form.  The final choice of which layer will be used for which part of the design, does not happen until the artwork is already well underway.

Vhils came to prominence in 2008, when his work was exhibited alongside Banksy at the Cans Festival in London.  Banksy’s agent took an interest in the unusual medium for street art and secured spaces for Vhils to work in London, with several of his pieces being published soon after the exhibition.  Vhils method of “destruction as a form of construction” was influenced by his upbringing on the outskirts of Lisbon, in the late 1980s and 1990s, which still showed the effects of the unrest and revolutions that had been occurring in Portugal for some years in the damage to buildings and walls around the city.

Next time you have to remove plaster or render, why not have a go at creating an image, or carving your name into the wall as you chip it off?  Of course, it takes years of practice to be as skilled as Vhils, but we all have to start somewhere.