plastering can be a very zen thing, if you care to apply yourself to it. well that’s how i always saw it, a thing (that required finesse, discipline, judgement, physical dexterity, and eye to hand co-ordination) something you could always
aspire to improve upon, to take as few trowel strokes as possible, to cover as much area as you can, to constantly improve your technique and the finish, in the least amount of time, and with the minimum amount of effort. it can take a long time, for most people it takes a life time to get that good, but some people just have a feeling for it .
plastering is a feeling thing, it has to be gauged, in every aspect, from mixing it, applying it, and gauging how long it takes to go off between trowelling up or polishing and drying. each type of plaster has a different open time, different response to different backgrounds, and cure times, and all of those things have to be gauged.
its probably the most obviously gauged aspect of building, as it involves no tape measures, no level or plumb line, not even a screeding board (unless you are rendering over a wall so out of true, no square, nothing else, just assessing everything by eye and experience. to be zen with it just means you have to be good at gauging, knowing not guessing, and you can only get to that place by experience, a lot of experience.
plastering is there, in essence, to unify, it can transform a building within a very short space of time, for instance it took me about a week of plastering to cover about 250 square meters bringing together the house. there had been a mountain of work to get to that point, including wiring, plumbing, battening to take the plaster board where it ran to braces and posts, and a shed load of insulation, in fact probably several shed loads to fill every possible space, then all the plaster-boarding, before i even got to plaster.
given the kind of building i had, a timber frame, it was important to me to conceal aspects of the frame where it was relevant, and to expose and highlight others. too much wood, in my opinion is overkill, it needs balance, balancing with other material types, and plaster is great at that, balancing and off-setting. the design style of the building is all about keeping things in relation to one another, in the right proportion, without anything dominating, but being held in relation to other things.
what i wanted to achieve with the plastering in the house was a feeling and style more associated to lime plaster than the gypsum plaster i was using. a softer overall feel, and i don’t mean brushed in or sponged, its hard to explain, its not even textural exactly, it qualitative, chalky and slightly gritty, less alabastery. its like the difference between choices of wood. each species of wood has certain qualities that make it different from other species, and even at times from place to place where and how it grew, if you want to be that pencils top pockety about it. and so it is with plaster, different makes, different types, different finishes.
so why not just use lime? because it’s not a board finish plaster.
i had considered hand splitting (riving) chestnut laths from waste wood from the shingle splitting process, but the quantity you need for 250 square meters was beyond a joke (something like 6 or 7 linear kilometres worth). buckets of nails, and in addition it would have required a similar ridiculous quantity of slaked lime, and way more coats of it than was necessary to in essence achieve the same thing. which, for me boiled down to reasoning, if it took substantially more time to manufacture the laths and plaster, and the associated time involved with nailing up the laths and plastering, then it probably wasn’t really worth it, when i knew i could plasterboard out in a relatively short time and plaster the entire building in a few days. and i know from experience that by the time you’ve painted over the plaster most people would have a hard time recognising what you’d used. plasterboard allows you a greater, and more even coverage than lath, and to iron out discrepancies with relative ease, discrepancies that give plastered lath its ‘character’, its lively appearance. but the thing about plastering is, you are trying to remove the discrepancies, and trowel out the liveliness as much as possible; that would be the dichotomy or paradox of it. follow the lines of the building, its form, and not create flaws in the surface of the plaster, ridges or depressions. the better the finish the glassier it appears whatever the type of plaster used, its just down to polishing, as some plasters will come up better than others, you can even polish sand and cement render, if you want.
so all i’m saying is it doesn’t really matter what approach you use if the object of the finish is achieving unification of the building. if its about something else, historical accuracy, or financial management, then maybe it might matter. i wanted each phase of the building process to build upon the quality of the building, to enhance it, to be well made and to relate to all the other aspects within the building, that was my reason for plastering the way i did. as it turned out, with the plaster i used, because of the context, it ended up looking much more like lime finish than i could reasonably have expected.