Job opportunities are expected to be good, particularly in
the South and Southwest.
Plastering—one of the oldest crafts in the building trades—remains
popular due to the relatively low cost of the material and
overall durability of work. Plasterers apply plaster to interior
walls and ceilings to form fire-resistant and relatively soundproof
surfaces. They also apply plaster veneer over drywall to create
smooth or textured abrasion-resistant finishes. In addition,
plasterers install prefabricated exterior insulation systems
over existing walls—for good insulation and interesting architectural
effects—and cast ornamental designs in plaster. Stucco masons
apply durable plasters, such as polymer-based acrylic finishes
and stucco, to exterior surfaces. Plasterers and stucco masons
should not be confused with drywall installers, ceiling tile
installers, and tapers—discussed elsewhere in the Handbook—who
use drywall instead of plaster when erecting interior walls
Plasterers can plaster either solid surfaces, such as concrete
block, or supportive wire mesh called lath. When plasterers
work with interior surfaces, such as concrete block and concrete,
they first apply a brown coat of gypsum plaster that provides
a base, which is followed by a second, or finish, coat—also
called “white coat”—made of a lime-based plaster. When plastering
metal lath foundations, they apply a preparatory, or “scratch,”
coat with a trowel. They spread this rich plaster mixture
into and over the metal lath. Before the plaster sets, plasterers
scratch its surface with a rake-like tool to produce ridges,
so that the subsequent brown coat will bond tightly.
Helpers prepare a thick, smooth plaster for the brown coat.
Plasterers spray or trowel this mixture onto the surface,
then finish by smoothing it to an even, level surface.
For the finish coat, plasterers prepare a mixture of lime,
plaster of paris, and water. They quickly apply this to the
brown coat using a “hawk”—a light, metal plate with a handle—trowel,
brush, and water. This mixture, which sets very quickly, produces
a very smooth, durable finish.
Plasterers also work with a plaster material that can be
finished in a single coat. This “thin-coat” or gypsum veneer
plaster is made of lime and plaster of paris and is mixed
with water at the jobsite This plaster provides a smooth,
durable, abrasion-resistant finish on interior masonry surfaces,
special gypsum baseboard, or drywall prepared with a bonding
Plasterers create decorative interior surfaces as well. One
way that they do this is by pressing a brush or trowel firmly
against a wet plaster surface and using a circular hand motion
to create decorative swirls.
For exterior work, stucco masons usually apply stucco—a mixture
of Portland cement, lime, and sand—over cement, concrete,
masonry, or lath. Stucco may also be applied directly to a
wire lath with a scratch coat, followed by a brown coat and
then a finish coat. Stucco masons may also embed marble or
gravel chips into the finish coat to achieve a pebblelike,
When required, plasterers apply insulation to the exteriors
of new and old buildings. They cover the outer wall with rigid
foam insulation board and reinforcing mesh, and then trowel
on a polymer-based or polymer-modified base coat. They may
apply an additional coat of this material with a decorative
Plasterers sometimes do complex decorative and ornamental
work that requires special skill and creativity. For example,
they may mold intricate wall and ceiling designs. Following
an architect’s blueprint, plasterers pour or spray a special
plaster into a mold and allow it to set. Workers then remove
the molded plaster and put it in place, according to the plan.
Most plastering jobs are indoors; however, plasterers and
stucco masons work outside when applying stucco or exterior
wall insulation and exterior decorative finish systems. Exterior
work can be greatly impacted by inclement weather as stucco
must be applied when the weather permits. Plasterers work
on scaffolds high above the ground.
Plastering is physically demanding, requiring considerable
standing, bending, lifting, and reaching overhead. The work
can be dusty and dirty, soiling shoes and clothing, and can
irritate the skin and eyes, unless the proper personal protective
equipment is used.
|Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Plasterers and stucco masons learn their trade through formal
and informal training programs. Most people learn this trade
informally by starting out as helpers for experienced plasterers
and stucco masons. Between 2 and 3 years of on-the-job training
supplemented by formal classroom training may be required
to become a skilled plasterer and stucco mason.
Preparation for a career as a plasterer or stucco mason can
begin in high school, where classes in mathematics, mechanical
drawing, and general shop are recommended. After high school,
there are a number of different avenues that one can take
to obtain the necessary training. The most common way is to
obtain a job with a contractor who will provide on-the- job
training. Entry-level workers generally start as helpers,
assisting more experienced workers. They may start by carrying
materials, setting up scaffolds, and mixing plaster. Later,
they learn to apply the scratch, brown, and finish coats and
may also learn to replicate plaster decorations for restoration
work. Employers may enroll helpers in an employer-provided
training program or send the employee to a trade or vocational
school, or community college to receive further classroom
Although most employers recommend apprenticeship as the best
way to learn plastering, apprenticeships for this occupation
are few. Apprenticeship programs, sponsored by local joint
committees of contractors and unions, generally consist of
2 or 3 years of on-the-job training, in addition to at least
144 hours annually of classroom instruction in drafting, blueprint
reading, and mathematics for layout work.
In the classroom, apprentices start with a history of the
trade and the industry. They also learn about the uses of
plaster, estimating materials and costs, and casting ornamental
plaster designs. On the job, they learn about lath bases,
plaster mixes, methods of plastering, blueprint reading, and
safety. They also learn how to use various tools, such as
hand and powered trowels, floats, brushes, straightedges,
power tools, plaster-mixing machines, and piston-type pumps.
Some apprenticeship programs allow individuals to obtain training
in related occupations, such as cement masonry and bricklaying.
Applicants for apprentice or helper jobs normally must be
at least 18 years old, in good physical condition, and have
good manual dexterity. Applicants who have a high school education
are preferred. Courses in general mathematics, mechanical
drawing, and shop provide a useful background.
With additional training and experience, plasterers and stucco
masons may advance to positions as supervisors, superintendents,
or estimators for plastering contractors. Many become self-employed
contractors. Others become building inspectors.
Plasterers and stucco masons held about 59,000 jobs in 2004.
Most plasterers and stucco masons work on new construction
sites. Some repair and renovate older buildings. Many plasterers
and stucco masons are employed in Florida, California, and
the Southwest, where exterior stucco with decorative finishes
is very popular.
Most plasterers and stucco masons work for independent contractors.
About 1 out of every 20 plasterers and stucco masons is self-employed.
Job opportunities for plasterers and stucco masons are expected
to be good through 2014. Many potential workers choose not
to enter this occupation because they prefer work that is
less strenuous and has more comfortable working conditions.
Most job openings will be the result of plasterers and stucco
masons transferring to other occupations or leaving the labor
force. The best employment opportunities should continue
to be in Florida, California, and the Southwest, where exterior
plaster and decorative finishes are expected to remain popular.
Plastering in the Northeast continues to remain in demand,
especially in restoration.
Employment of plasterers and stucco masons is expected to
grow more slowly than average for all occupations through
the year 2014. In past years, employment of plasterers declined
as more builders switched to drywall construction. This decline
has halted, however, and employment of plasterers is expected
to grow as a result of the appreciation for the durability
and attractiveness that troweled finishes provide. Thin-coat
plastering—or veneering—in particular is gaining wide acceptance
as more builders recognize its ease of application, durability,
quality of finish, and sound-proofing and fire-retarding qualities,
although the increased use of fire sprinklers will reduce
the demand for fire-resistant plaster work. Prefabricated
wall systems and new polymer-based or polymer-modified acrylic
exterior insulating finishes also are gaining popularity,
particularly in the South and Southwest regions of the country.
This is not only because of their durability, attractiveness,
and insulating properties, but also because of their relatively
low cost. In addition, plasterers will be needed to renovate
plasterwork in old structures and to create special architectural
effects, such as curved surfaces, which are not practical
with drywall materials.
Most plasterers and stucco masons work in construction, where
prospects fluctuate from year to year due to changing economic
conditions. Bad weather affects plastering less than other
construction trades because most work is indoors. On exterior
surfacing jobs, however, plasterers and stucco masons may
lose time because plastering materials cannot be applied under
wet or freezing conditions.
In May 2004, median hourly earnings of plasterers and stucco
masons were $15.60. The middle 50 percent earned between $12.27
and $20.32. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.80,
and the top 10 percent earned more than $26.84.
The median hourly earnings in the largest industries employing
plasterers and stucco masons in May 2004 were $15.75 in building
finishing contractors, and $14.62 in foundation, structure,
and building exterior contractors.
Apprentice wage rates start at about half the rate paid to
experienced plasterers and stucco masons. Annual earnings
for plasterers and stucco masons and apprentices can be less
than the hourly rate would indicate, because poor weather
and periodic declines in construction activity can limit work
Other construction workers who use a trowel as their primary
tool include brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons; cement
masons, concrete finishers, segmental pavers, and terrazzo
workers; and drywall installers, ceiling tile installers,
|Sources of Additional Information
For information about apprenticeships or other work opportunities,
contact local plastering contractors, locals of the unions
mentioned below, local joint union-management apprenticeship
committees, or the nearest office of your State apprenticeship
agency or employment service.
For general information about the work of plasterers and
stucco masons, contact:
- Association of Wall and Ceiling Industries International,
803 West Broad St., Falls Church, VA 22046. Internet: http://www.awci.org/
For information about plasterers, contact:
- Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ International
Association of the United States and Canada, 14405 Laurel
Place, Suite 300, Laurel, MD 20707. Internet: http://www.opcmia.org/
For information on the training of plasterers and stucco
- International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers,
International Masonry Institute, The James Brice House,
42 East St., Annapolis, MD 21401. Internet: http://www.imiweb.org/
Source: Bureau of
Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition