Wednesday, June 02, 2004

A Plastering Affirmation

Gee whizz. I finally have a plastering success story. The smoothest flattest skimming application of finishing plaster I have ever done.

How many years have I waited for this feeling? And typically, it finally happened without any panic, without any sweat. I'm not so stupid to think the lack of panic was the cause of this success. That cool calmness was a manifestation of my having finally learnt enough about plastering so that my old dog's brain could transfer it into my subconscious.

Oh the stages of learning, which seem so natural and effortless in youth, do eventually become to ageing people a set of stairs without a Stannah Stairlift. So the realization of transcending from the "You don't know that You know" stage, to the "You know that You Know" stage is encouragement that isn't silly at all. It would be nice to have the confidence to know that going through the motions of Learning is always taking you to that final stage. I suppose that's what is worth encouraging, but I still want to savour this moment.

Plastering isn't just an art. It is full of little details of knowledge which its final appearance entirely masks. You have to:
1. Know the different types of plaster.
2. Understand their suction and adhesion characteristics.
3. Understand the suction and adhesion characteristics of the substrate surfaces, and the variations between the different substrates on the one wall.
4. Apply the right amount of water to the background and to the mix.
5. Know the setting characteristics of the plaster depending on the environmental temperature and humidity.
6. Judge how quickly it must be applied, when to use the straight edge, and when to do your smoothing.
7. Learn the manual skill of handling a trowel (itself as much of an athletic achievement as of a typist who can do ninety words a minute with perfect accuracy from an audio tape recorded by someone with bad grammar, poor diction, and a scatterbrain).
8. Develop an eye for a straight line, for flatness, and for smoothness.

And then some day, you have to do all this at professional speed, look for your own work, earn the derision of office-working snobs, without any hope of holiday pay, sickness pay, or a pension. And dread that one day as you get older, you'll be unable to practice your trade for physical reasons.

Last year I met a 35 year old plasterer who was already getting arthritis in his hands. He had been working in this wet trade since he was 17.

Poor bastard, what's he to do next? Depend on a Labour government? Hire other plasterers to do his work while he becomes their manager? (Not all men are cut out to be managers, and anyway managers in Britain have a mostly undeserved status compared with the Scandinavian countries).

I also tried using Thistle Undercoat plaster this week, and was amazed to find that they seem to put Vermiculite in their aggregate. The result is a light weight plaster that gives a strangely hollow sound! The workability of this plaster is excellent though, and I don't think I will ever go back to One-Coat plasters except for patching repairs.

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