Plastering is one of the great key skills in the building trade. There’s no better way to get a smooth surface, even in the age of drywall. Plaster is also an incredibly versatile material that’s ideal for all sorts of jobs. From simply filling cracks to creating elaborate decorative ceilings, plastering can do it all. You just need the right tools and a little bit of imagination.
Take a look inside any public building from the 19thcentury and you’ll see decorative plaster modelling everywhere. The style is often too elaborate to work well with a modern interior but the principle is just fine. Plasterwork can create attractive cornices, backdrops, and centrepieces that add touches of class to a room and draw the eye to points of interest. Want to make a light fitting stand out? Install a medallion. Have a low ceiling? A cornice gives the impression of extra height.
The keys to getting plasterwork right are planning and preparation. Figure out exactly what you need and make sure the proportions are right. That can be tricky for tradesmen as clients often want modelling that’s too large for the room, and it can take some persuading. Once that’s out of the way, you need to get the work area ready for the plasterwork. Medallions and cornices need to be screwed in place, so locate good anchors and get the holes drilled before you start carrying anything up a scaffold. When drilling the mouldings themselves, choose locations that can be easily concealed–inside details are always good, and pick flat surfaces over curved ones where you can. A decent knife is essential to the ceiling too. You’ll be using gypsum cement to secure everything and some grooves help it hold. A mitre block is also indispensable if you’re fitting cornices.
Once you’ve cut all your mouldings to size, drilled the holes, applied the cement, and screwed it all in place, the really fiddly bit starts. You’ll have screw holes to fill in and joins between cornice sections to conceal. This is where the right plastering tools come in handy. A nail spotter probably won’t work on the screws–they’re best for flat surfaces. This needs to be done by hand, so you’ll want small tools to let you work in confined spaces. Attention to detail is vital here; botched joins or badly filled holes will stand out, so take the time to get it right. Once everything’s dry, you can sand it lightly but you want to be removing only the minimum of material. It’s easy to damage the fine details on intricate mouldings.
Ornamental plasterwork is more common in old buildings, but any decent plasterer has the skills to manage it. With some good plastering tools and your usual care and attention, you can restore old modelling to its former glory or create an original design to the same high standard. It’s one of the most satisfying things you can do–the pleasure of looking at the finished job makes all the work worthwhile.