I Hear The Bell Ring

I remember thinking long ago, “I’m at the point now where I don’t need an institution to guide me through learning.  If there is anything I really want to learn, I now know how to do that on my own."

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I understood that to learn I must actively seek.  More opaque to me then, was how knowledge or insight may seek us, and present itself for the taking.

Those two routes to knowledge are often present as I attempt to learn new (for me) construction skills.  They were present recently as I began to learn a new plaster method, veneer gypsum plaster for the "Lab.”

We have previously finished a few walls with clay plaster.  Its attributes are ease of application, integral color, handsome appearance, humidity moderation, mold resistance, and relatively easy repair.  It’s disadvantages are high cost, limited color options, and reduced abrasion resistance or toughness.  To be fair there are some clay plaster techniques which give a tougher finish, but I don’t think it comes close to the toughness of gypsum plaster and I think of it as a material best suited to people who live gently and calmly --- not the best choice for families with young children.

It was time to try a different approach:  gypsum veneer plaster and, optionally, paint.  In order to find out how to do it, I dove into the manufacturer’s product literature and trolled the internet chat rooms and, of course, YouTube.  Veneer plaster can be installed over a variety of substrates but the most common one is gypsum base, commonly called blue board.  It is similar to gypsum wallboard except that the paper face (blue-gray in color) is formulated for plaster adhesion.  Our substrate was less common, paperless (fiberglass matt faced) gypsum board.  It is water resistant and eliminating the paper removes a key food source for mold, all be it at a higher material cost.  It has a bit of tooth, and it worked fine with clay plaster.

There are also many different plaster products with differences in durability, workability, ease of installation and finish texture.  And, there are two basic veneer systems:  one coat and two coat.  It’s not rocket science but there are many variables in material and methods, and that gives rise to many ways to do it right, not so right, or wrong.

The informal motto at my architectural school was, “learn by doing.”  I learned a lot by doing it wrong also.  Lacking perfect knowledge and preparation, at some point one just has to dive in which is how I found myself at the local supply house that sells plaster products.

With my list of treasures to acquire (a bag of base coat and a bag of finish plaster and some miscellaneous tools) I noticed out of the corner of my eye another customer, roughly my age which meant he may have been doing whatever he does for 30 years or more.  Before long he was sharing things he knew, such as the 'old guys' mix base coat and finish coat 50-50 for the finish; glue is highly recommended (to help the base coat stick) and not the blue can the guy behind the counter recommended, the pink one; glue after taping and some guys even glue again after base coat; and on and on. 

The sheer kindness of the man would have made my day.  But he wasn’t just friendly or kind.  He was knowledgeable, he was proud of that, and he was open to sharing what he knew when he thought he saw someone with open ears, an open and inquisitive mind, and an interest in his area of expertise.  I will be sure to do things as he said.  And for good measure I will do things in a contrary manner—just to see where the truth lays.

This is the real adult school.  I’d set an alarm for it any day of the week. 


© More Than Construction, Inc., 2014