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.

plaster 3

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.

plaster primary

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16 Responses to plastering

  1. Julia and Mick says:

    Congratulations on getting well and truly plastered!!!! Hope it was followed with a couple of drinks to celebrate?! It’s looking absolutely fabulous!!! Well done xx

  2. Nancy says:

    OMG! It’s looking so good! I hope that you are going to meet the November deadline. nh

  3. molly whitehead says:

    First time I’ve seen the beams in the kitchen, they look great.Well done.

  4. Thanks Molly, more stuff coming over the weekend x

  5. Julia and Mick says:

    I can’t believe you’re nearly ready to move in!!! So you’ll be ‘settled’ for Christmas by the log fire?! Well, we will see it, as we’re intending to make an extremely long overdue visit next year…! Will let you know!! Look forward to more chronological posts & pic’s!! XXX

  6. Heather Roberts says:

    I’m beyond impressed. I looked up terminology for plastering, 149 different specific terms used to describe it over all aspects ..including fascinating terms such as, acoustical plastering, a browning rod, cats eyes and efflorescence……a whole world I was unaware of…so, yeah, wow Rick xx

  7. You did use lime plaster over lath didn’t you?

  8. Paul says:

    I am in the process of building a house in NY state and have started to experiment with plasters and figuring out how I want to finish it. I noticed you said you used gypsum, but that it actually ended up looking more like lime plaster than you anticipated. It seems like I am after that same goal (using gypsum, but wanting the lime look on plaster board). I don’t want to take up a boat load of your time, but was curious if you could give me a bit of detail on the process/material you ended up using, because it came out quite nice.
    By the way, I love all the content on the blog. It seems like you guys lead a pretty idyllic life and work hard to get it.


    • have forwarded your email to husband, he will write a reply in the next couple of days, thanks for stopping by and good luck with your build, let us know how you get on and hubby (rick) will send you a response soon

  9. hi Paul
    and thanks for the very positive feedback. it has been a heck of an
    experience, and as my wife pointed out a while back, not so much
    living the dream as somewhere between a dream and a nightmare, thou
    less marish since we moved in.

    back in the uk, where i used to build, i only ever came across one
    plaster manufacturer, thistle, which is a product of british gypsum
    co. and for most every application i only ever used multi finish which
    was a fine finish plaster. occasionally i might use thistle carlite
    which was a backing plaster with a rapid set time.

    i had used lime plaster and loved it, as an external render, and
    would’ve used it more as an internal plaster except for its
    prohibitive cost in the uk, or the lengthy home manufacturing process,
    and the need to have a space to do it.

    here we had the space, the time, and the cost of quick lime and its
    availability made it a possible choice, except for the quantity of
    lath needed and the amount of time/nails it would’ve required, like
    forever. esp if i was going to have to make the lath in the first
    place, riven or sawn.

    so gypsum plasterboard was a better (in that situation) idea.
    especially as the studs weren’t exactly dead even as they were sawn
    and not pse, or csl as you got in the uk, so there was a degree of
    variation which helped the overall look, making it less super flat,
    but the same kind of undulations you get with lath and plaster.

    plastering gypsum on board, you try in ernest to work out the lines
    and get as mirrory a finish as possible, which isn’t really what you
    are after with lime or trying to create a lime like appearance.

    as luck would have it, the builders merchants round here are few and
    far between, and their range of products are pretty limited. the local
    merchant has plaster, and not always from the same source, which in
    the end didn’t matter, if you know how to plaster you can get round

    the set times were completely different to what i was used to and took
    a bit of experimenting with, as did the time of day because of the
    light and the heat, the hotter your air temp the quicker it goes off,
    the darker your room the harder it is to see, its all a trade off

    i found they had huge open times, then just went, and unlike thistle
    multi finish, which went off in stages, so you could apply it, go off,
    mix up, another batch, quick trowel the first one, get the second one
    on, 2nd trowel up on the first batch, quick trowel the 2nd batch, then
    final trowel the first batch, 2nd trowel the 2nd batch, polish the
    first batch etc. couldn’t do any of that here, the maliabilty of the
    plaster wouldn’t allow it.

    how i found it was like a limey finish was the texture as you applied
    it, and as it set, and could be finished. you couldn’t polish it up
    much, even after the event with a wet brush and dry trowel.

    its texture was much courser than thistle multi finish, it looked like
    it had an amount of ground up vermiculite in it, and at times, if you
    spread it thin, you were dragging bits through the surface, which was
    a real pain, as i am always reluctant to keep adding more coats, or
    mix the plaster thick as its always a fight to get it on and trowelled
    up, especially with ceilings.

    this was the make of plaster i used, its from spain
    rubi algiss ultralita

    i’ve subsequently used other plasters here, some finer, some not.

    they all seem to have a similar consistency as you apply them more
    like a cross between tile adhesive and plaster of paris, tacky and a
    bit buttery.

    and i would say that lime is more buttery and creamy (for internal
    use) or coarse buttery for external use (because of the gauge of

    brush and sponge finishing where necessary also help to create the
    look of lime, as does any plaster which comes up chalky. (as most
    older lime plastered houses have distemper chalk/lead based paints on
    the walls where i’m from). so chalk looking paint is also a help

    i knew other builders who had mixed thistle multi finish with carlite
    backing plaster (which is loaded full of vermicullite) to use as a
    ‘country’ style plaster. you’d have to experiment with what you liked

    because lime plasters have a quantity of sand what you’re looking to
    replicate is a coarsish texture that has a chalky film overlaying it.
    and you’ll have to buy a few different plasters or addatives and try
    them out. having slight variations in your stud work will take away
    the flatness of the plaster board and work in your favor as well
    hope that helps.
    feel free to ask any more questions.

  10. Paul says:


    You are far too kind. That was a very thoughtful and helpful reply and I thank you for giving me so much detail into your process. I think I will need to experiment and figure out what works for our situation, like you say. The more people I talk to about plaster the more I realize it is just experience and experimenting that makes it work. It is very subjective and people have very different ideas of how they want the finish to look.

    Thanks again,

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