Plastering is hard. Or at least, it's hard to do without the end result looking bad. There was something called "rustic plastering" that was popular in the 1970s, which had a finish akin to the waved and peaked royal icing on my mother's Christmas cakes, but I have always considered this to be a bit of a con - plastering for those who can't plaster. In the 1980s Harry Enfield popularised a character called "Loadsamoney" - a young working class man who was able to charge huge amounts of cash as a plasterer - and this was based on real-life observation. Plasterers were during the 1980s in short supply and great demand, and profited accordingly.

Archie the Pub Bore, a character created by Paul Whitehouse some years later, had done every job under the sun. Thirty years, man and boy...

Our dodgy builder had paid for some professional plastering, for example the new loft bedroom was beautifully and perfectly plastered by the guys from a local company called Thomas Plastering. He also paid a couple of rather less skilled guys by the name of Jim and Rhino (he never told me why) who did SOME of the rear extension, including the ceiling. However, when my builder finally ran off, there was still an awful lot of it left to do. It is perhaps not quite so expensive to get done as it used to be - after all nature abhors a vacuum - but it is still not cheap. Therefore, after years of saying "I can do most trades, but I can't do plastering", I decided that it was about time I learned. I did ask one of my cousins, who is a builder, whether he could recommend a training course to do this. His reaction was "oh, that's not something you'll be able to pick up easily". However, me being me, I took this as a challenge, and it did nothing but make me even more determined that I was going to master it !

In the end, I learned plastering from YouTube. I watched several how-to videos, then bought all the gear (apparently the plaster-spattered FM radio tuned just off Radio 1 is optional) and had a couple of practice runs on spare bits of offcut plasterboard. Then, once I had gained a little confidence, I just went for it and plastered my first actual wall.

My First Work

This is my very first bit of plastering "in anger", the back wall of the washing machine/tumble drier alcove just inside the entrance to the kitchen/family room on the ground floor. I probably chose this bit first because it was relatively small, and most of it would eventually be hidden behind the washing machine and tumble drier. However, I am proud to say, the result was not half bad.

This photo was taken shortly after I had finished - newly applied plaster is the kind of terracotta colour that you see here. The patching that is starting to appear around the lower socket is the first sign of the drying process beginning. As it dries (actually, technically, plaster does not dry, it cures) the whole piece will go through several colour changes at slightly different rates before ending up as a uniform light pink colour.

My Next Step

Next up was the adjacent wall. This was a small set step up in complexity. The area was larger, not a simple rectangle, and the existing surface onto which I would be plastering was a mix of different finishes. Some of it was previously plastered and painted, some of it (the alcove was for many years a shower cubicle) had previously been tiled. There used to be a light switch to the left of the door which I had removed and filled the hole with Bonding Plaster. This is a not the same thing as Finishing Plaster, it's a kind of rough plaster which can be applied more thickly, for filling gaps and holes to provide a suitable substrate onto which the Finishing coat can be applied.

The surface onto which you apply Finishing plaster matters, particularly if it is very porous. If it is, it will suck the water out of the applied plaster quickly, which will mean the plaster goes off more quickly and gives you less time to work with it.

You also need to ensure that the surface will allow the new plaster to bond well, otherwise it will soon start peel off again in big sheets. When skimming on top of painted plaster walls, it's best to first score the surface in a criss-cross pattern, then paint it with two coats of watered-down PVA (wood glue, basically). The first should be allowed to dry completely, before the second is applied. The skimming should then be done while the second coat is still a little tacky.

Here is the finished result. I was even more pleased with the finish on this one. Plastering needs to be done at a reasonable speed, and the larger the area the faster you have to be. That is because from the point that you mix the plaster, the clock is ticking for it to start to solidify and become unworkable. Depending on temperature, humidity and the substrate you're plastering onto, you have maximum of about 45 minutes, possibly less.

Usually you will apply two coats, one after the other, and there are multiple stages to each coat (more for the second). First you get the area covered, which needs to be reasonably smooth but not absolutely perfect, especially for the first coat. You then have to get the timing just right, and allow it to start to go off just the right amount before going over it again and making it perfectly smooth. You would then wait a little longer and do one or more stages of "polishing", where you will spray it with a mist of water and smooth it again. Polishing can be repeated multiple times, depending on how glassy you want the final finish to be. Personally I find if it's too glassy then it's harder to get paint to stick to it, so I tend to say anyone who polishes their plaster more than once is just showing off...

With just one polish, I achieved a very smoooth finish on this second attempt. I was exceptionally proud when another pro builder I know ran his fingers over it and asked me if I had sanded it, and I was able to answer honestly that I had not. If you have done a slightly dodgy bit of work then you can sand it, but this is not ideal because one, it's tedious, and two, it generates a huge quantity of exceptionally fine dust which will disperse and get literally EVERYWHERE inside the house.

Gaining in Confidence

In Bedroom 2 I had built a new stud wall to divide the room into a bedroom, ensuite and cloakroom. The wall was installed as a continuation of an existing wall, therefore the whole thing needed to be plastered to hide the join. This was a larger piece of work, this time with two doors and three switch plates to deal with, so it is fortunate that by now my confidence was growing and I was getting faster.

The two different substrates also needed different preparation. The new section was bare plasterboard, which can be plastered without any other preparation. The section of existing wall had to be scored and painted with PVA. I also actually glued the edge of the plasterboard to the wall when I fitted it, to prevent any movement, and finally, as one should do with any joins or screw holes underneath plaster, I applied Scrim Tape. This is a flexible self-adhesive mesh tape which provides a framework for the plaster over the join and prevents hairline cracking.

This photo, a wider shot of the location above, was taken quite a bit later, after I had also fitted the coving, skirting board and architraves, and decorated. The join cannot be seen and I am pleased to say it looks like one single wall that has always been there.

Preparation is Everything

Again in the new Bedroom 2, the window wall needed quite a bit of preparation before plastering. This had been part of the old kitchen, with cupboards and a worksurface running the full width and beyond into what is now the ensuite. Even longer ago, before that kitchen was fitted, there had been a radiator underneath the window, the evidence of which can be seen. Directly under the window, along the worksurface, the wall was tiled and there were multiple sockets. When these were removed, all the plaster came off too, and some of the bricks under the window sill were so loose and damaged that I had to remove the window sill entirely and re-lay replacement bricks (this has already been done in this photo), which I rescued and reused out of those removed when the new doorway from the landing to the first floor cloakroom was knocked through. There was also a now obsolete vent hole which I bricked up and various other holes and channels that had to be made good before the whole wall could be skimmed.

Here the main part of the plastering had been done, with just the window reveal remaining to do. When you are plastering an external angle, you first affix a metal "angle bead" which ensures a neat, straight edge. The beading is completely covered by the plaster, save at the very point of the angle, and is hard to see here. It's recommended that the the two sides are plastered as separate jobs, with the first curing fully before the second is done, although if you are in a hurry then with care this rule can be bent. For internal angles, like between the sides and the top of the reveal here, there is no option, they always have to be done separately.

Note a couple of "tools of the trade" can be seen in this shot - my plastering "float" (the thing you actually apply and smooth the plaster with) on the window sill, and my "hawk" (the thing you hold in your other hand to transfer the plaster from) on the chair. One tip I would definitely give is to buy a decent quality float. Mine cost about £50, but was well worth it for easier plastering and a professional finish.

Quite Experienced By Now

This wall in Bedroom 5 had to be plastered because originally there was a window in the top left corner of it, letting light through into the landing area which, this being a terraced house, did not have its own external window. Post-extension, walking up the new stairs into the loft would mean you could look through it (not great for privacy), plus it was not needed any more as the landing now benefits from much more light coming through the skylight above it. I removed the glazing and architrave, fitted plasterboard over each side flush to the wall, and plastered both sides (not in one go). By now my confidence had greatly increased and these two bits of work felt quite easy.

A Tricky Join

Another bit of plastering required on the ground floor was of the new half-wall I had built behind the new kitchen sink, and also the small gap between this and the already previously plastered (by Jim and Rhino) wall of the family room. In order to make the best join, I carefully prepared the existing edge, chipping back a narrow strip to the plasterboard to separate the joins in the finished surface and the underlying structure, and allowing scrim tape to be applied over the latter.

Note the angle bead applied to the external angles of the new wall can also be seen here. The horizontal surface on which my tools are sitting would eventually be covered with a stained and varnished wooden sill, so angle bead was not used there.

Here is the finished result, taken some time later after decoration (note at this point the new flooring was still to be fitted). Again, I am pleased to say that the join, this time at surface level between new plaster and existing plaster, cannot be seen at all. I must admit though, that in this case there may have been just the tiniest amount of sanding involved ! Needs must...

My Biggest Job

This is the long wall in the Living Room, where the TV would be mounted, prepared and ready for skimming. The channels for the newly installed wiring have all been backfilled with sand/cement mortar, and then as I didn't happen to have any bonding plaster I covered this with powdered filler to make an even surface on which to plaster. To save messing about trying to plaster round the backboxes, I placed specially handmade carboard inserts into them, which meant I could just skim straight over the top. While the plaster was curing, these would show up underneath with a different colouration due to the different rate of moisture absorption, meaning I could cut the holes out again with a sharp knife before the plaster went completely hard.

You can see that the existing wall surface has been scored to aid bonding of the new plaster coat, and it has at this point already been painted with one coat of watered-down PVA which has completely dried.

This wall was my most ambitious bit of plastering yet, due to the sheer size of the area, approximately 11 square metres, the challenge being to get the whole thing done in time before the plaster went off too much. Thankfully I just about managed it.

I did also plaster two other quite large walls in this room, with the one opposite this one also having quite a bit of buried wiring done to support the new Network Switch and AV Distribution hubs which would be located in the corner.

The Next Level - Ceilings

Having by now done many small pieces of work and whole walls, the time came to plaster my first ceiling. Ceilings are much more difficult because you are working with your arms raised above your head the whole time. All the same time pressures apply, you cannot stop and take a break once you have started, and it is extremely physically demanding.

This, the ceiling of the first floor ensuite, was a small-ish area, and I was pleased with the result, but it absolutely exhausted me. I decided then that for the larger ceilings of all the second floor bedroooms, which had been completely trashed by the builders while doing the loft conversion and needed replastering, I would pay someone else to do it.

In the end for that I got back Thomas Plastering, who had done such a good job on the loft. They again did a lovely job, and while it did cost me a few quid, it saved me an awful lot of time, stress and aching muscles !