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Plasterer and Stucco Mason Career and Employment Information

Plasterer and Stucco Mason Career and Job Highlights

  • This work is physically strenuous.
  • Workers gain their skills through experience, either by starting out as an assistant or by completing an apprenticeship program.
  • Job prospects are projected to the good, with the areas of highest demand in the Southern and Southwestern United States.

Plasterer and Stucco Mason Career Overview

Plaster has been used as a construction material since ancient times. Its durability and cost-effectiveness make it a popular material, especially recently as new materials and procedures are being developed that make it cheaper than ever. Plaster is applied to walls and ceilings inside buildings to make it resistant to heat, fire, and to muffle sound. Plasterers also cover drywall with a plaster finish that creates an even or textured surface. Plasterers also use pre-made insulation that is applied on the outside of walls that are both energy efficient and attractive. Plasterers also made plaster casts to create decorative and interesting designs for building interiors.

Stucco masons work with exteriors. They use long-lasting and tough plasters, like stucco or polymer-based acrylics. The work of stucco masons and plasterers is distinct from drywall workers, ceiling tile installer, or tapers. Plasterers and stucco masons use plaster, not drywall, in constructing ceilings or walls.

Plasterers use different application methods on different surfaces. When plasterers work on sound surfaces, like concrete, they begin by spreading a base layer, often called the brown coat, of plaster made with gypsum. They next apply another layer, often called the white coat, of plaster made with lime. Sometimes plasters don’t have a solid surface and so they apply the plaster to a wire net they call lath. To plaster lath, they first use a trowel to spread a rich plaster blend, usually called the scratch coat, over the mesh. While the scratch coat is still wet, plasterers score the surface with a scraper to create a rough surface for the next coat to adhere to.

Plasterers next mix a thick, even plaster for the next layer, called the brown coat. Workers use either spray hoses or trowels to apply the brown coat, and then make sure it is perfectly smooth.

Finally, plasterers mix water, lime, and plaster of Paris together to make the final coat. They spread this over the brown coat with trowels, water, paintbrushes, and a flat, lightweight metal tool called a hawk. The final layer dries rapidly and leaves a clean, even, and tough surface.

Plasterers sometimes create surfaces that only require one layer. This layer, often called thin-coat or gypsum finish, is a mixture of lime and plaster of Paris. At the worksite plasterers mix the plaster with water and apply to specially prepared surfaces, like treated drywall or gypsum baseboards.

Stucco masons generally work on exteriors. They use a blend of Portland cement, sand, and lime, to create durable and attractive surfaces. They usually apply stucco to walls of cement, concrete, stone, or brick. Sometimes they spread stucco over wire lath instead, which requires three layers: the scratch coat, the brown coat, and then the white coat. Stucco workers often cover wet plaster with stone chips like marble to create a textured, ornamental surface.

More and more plasterers are involved in installing insulation to the outsides of both new and older structures. To do this they first apply a layer of stiff foam insulation to the wall. They next install a supporting mesh framework. They can then apply a polymer-based layer of plaster. They finish by applying a second coat of plaster and smoothing or texturing the surface for an attractive finish.

Often plasterers use plaster for purely ornamental purposes on walls, ceilings, mantles, stairways, and many other places. They use wet plaster, special tools, and their own manual dexterity to create circles, swirls, or other decorative designs. Alternately, they may use a plaster mold. They either use a prefabricated mold or create their own according to the owner’s specifications. They either pour or spray a specially mixed plaster into the mold and wait for it to dry. Once it’s set they position it according to the specifications and secure it in place. This work requires special creativity and dexterity.
The majority of stucco masons and plasterers are involved in new construction. They work closely with architects and interior designers to help create durable, attractive surfaces, accents, and lighting effects. Some workers are involved in remodeling or maintaining plaster in older structures. Stucco finishes are especially popular in warm areas like California, Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada.

The vast majority of stucco masons and plasterers are employed by independent contractors. Roughly 10% of all workers in this are self-employed.

Career Training and Job Qualifications

While most employers prefer workers who have completed apprenticeships, many workers enter the trade as assistant to professional stucco masons and plasters. These people usually start out performing simple tasks like transporting or unloading materials, building scaffolding, and blending plaster. As they work they learn skills and techniques that make them qualified to perform more complicated tasks like spreading plaster and smoothing surfaces.

Though so many people learn on the job, formal apprenticeships provide the best training. They usually last two to three years and involve 144 hours of coursework plus practical training. Programs are usually sponsored by boards made up of both local contractors and union representatives.

The 144 hours of coursework starts with instruction on the history of the occupation. Apprentices learn about different types of plaster, what they are used for, how they were used in ancient times, and how they can be applied. They also get specialized training in cost estimation or creating decorative designs done either freehand or using molds. In addition they gain general education of reading blueprints, safety guidelines, mechanical drawing and math. Their practical training teaches them how to use both hand and power tools like trowels, pumps, electric mixing equipment, floats, rulers, and brushes. A lot of this training is applicable for other occupations like being a mason or laying brick. Some programs even allow apprentices to get dual credit for classes so they can be certified in multiple areas.

Prospective apprentices should be eighteen or older, physically fit, have good hand-eye coordination, and be good at working with their hands. Applicants with a high school diploma or its equivalent have better chances. Experience or classes in drafting, wood shop, chemistry, or metal shop are also helpful.

Opportunities for advancement for plasters and stucco masons consist of supervisory positions, cost estimators, or superintendents. Some start their own businesses as plastering or construction contractors. Many become building inspectors and work for governmental agencies, contractors, or owners.

Job and Employment Opportunity

Prospects for those entering the industry are projected to be excellent in coming years. There is often little competition in this industry as many individuals look for employment that is less physically demanding. The highest number of job openings will occur in southern and southwestern states like Florida, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, because plaster finishes are extremely fashionable there.

Job growth for stucco masons and plasterers is projected to proceed at the average rate for all jobs. Most job openings will occur as professionals retire or transfer to other occupations.

Previously, there were fewer job openings for stucco masons and plasterers as drywall was becoming more and more popular as a building material. However, new technology in materials and techniques has made plaster and stucco cheaper. Also, it is increasingly popular in homes and other buildings due to its decorative properties. So demand for plasterers and stucco masons is back on the rise. Demand for thin-coat plaster is rising at an especially rapid pace as builders appreciate how inexpensive it is and owners appreciate its decorative, sound-muffling, and fire-resistant properties. Pre-made wall panels and innovative polymer-based or -modified acrylics are being used more and more often to insulate the outsides of buildings, especially in the southern and southwestern area of the United States. This increasing popularity is because using plaster is cheap, long-lasting, appealing, and it retains heat or coolness. Also, plasterers will be called upon to remodel or replace older plaster in renovation projects. In addition, plasterers are often needed create special curved walls or other architectural embellishments that drywall can’t do.

The majority of stucco masons and plasterers are employed in the construction industry, which is notorious for its unstable nature. Workers could face periods of unemployment between projects or during economic downturns. However, plasters are less reliant on weather conditions than other construction occupations since they work mostly indoors. However, outside work like exterior insulation might be interrupted by rain or extreme temperatures.

Historical Earnings Information

Most stucco masons and plasterers are paid hourly. The majority of laborers made between $12.30/hour and $26.70/hour in 2002 with a median of $15.90/hour. The lowest tenth on the pay scale made under $9.90/hour and the highest tenth made over $26.80/hour.

Wages can vary based on where workers are employed. The two employers who employed the largest numbers of plasterers and stucco workers are building finishing contractors and building exterior contractors. Those who worked for building exterior contractors earned slightly less (about $14.90/h) than those who worked for building finishing contractors (who earned about $16.00/hour).