More letters from Robin's fans across the country.

I thought we'd finish the year out with letters.

"I have spent literally thousands of hours repairing walls at antique plaster buildings that house the major newspapers in Detroit. Perhaps you can help me by answering a few questions that will get me to think along the lines of a more plaster repair-specific business as you make reference:

"We just recently had one of the premiere ornamental plasterers in this country and because I was headed in a different direction (business wise) I did not pay attention. To beat it all, he was more than happy to demonstrate and show anything I wanted. Too bad for me! Is ornamental work necessary for a good plaster repair business?

"In the apex of your experiences, did you find it necessary to finish according to historic restoration models? I am hard pressed to find anyone in this area who can plaster patch as quickly and efficiently as I can. But you have to understand they are the methods I have developed and those I inherited from the methods that were in the tradition of skilled tradesmen that have worked in these facilities for more than 150 years."

Dennis Gale

Fiber and hair

In answer to the first question: Is ornamental work necessary for a good plaster repair business?

I have personally had a great business going for years without doing much in the way of ornamental work. However, I will say it's held me back from some very profitable projects because I lacked knowledge and skill in this area. If you have the opportunity to learn it, I would jump at the chance personally.

I have been called into homes where they wanted things put back together as originally done, including the use of hair in the plaster. It's interesting that many people on historic restoration have requested horsehair to be used, when this was really a rarity in times past. The hair most used was cattle hair. I have an old envelope with a picture in the top left corner from a meat processing company in the mid-1800s that shows a bale of cattle hair that's labeled "Genuine Plastering Hair." Hemp fiber was also used extensively.

Recently, I was working in a home and the ornamental plaster crumbled in a small section. Behind it, the backer for the rope ornamental molding was a bundle of hemp fibers that the plaster was pressed on to. I have had to hunt around to get a specialist to do this repair work. The amount that is charged to do this work is very high. Much of the work is insurance work that is covering the repair to such ornamental moldings. Going back with the original, historically accurate methods and materials is very serious business in itself. As I said, I've done a few projects where this was requested but not very often.

In my area of the country, there is one plasterer, about 74, who is in a city about an hour and a half from me, who can do this type of repair work. Another plasterer is about 45 and I call on him frequently to come in to do such work. He is in the St. Louis area, about three hours from me. Another specialist I know of well is in Oklahoma, and has offered to fly in to do such work if I needed it done. He does this quite frequently to many parts of the country. I think in years gone by that ornamental plastering was just one of the many skills learned when a person got into the trade. It's too bad the skills have dwindled to the point they have.

Sound and secure

"There is an area in my textured ceiling where there is about a 1/4-inch-wide, 2-inch-deep, meter-long gap from my wall. How would you approach this kind of repair? I'm planning to paint this part of my ceiling and would like to get rid of that gap. Your expertise is highly appreciated."

Albert Martinez

There are a couple options I use in this situation. If I were to resurface this area-the whole ceiling and wall-I would bond the area in question, making sure first it was sound and secure. Then I would simply fill this in with basecoat as I went over the whole ceiling, turning the corner and embedding heavy mesh over this gap. If it's a matter of repair, I would use a lime and molding mixture and fill it, using 2-inch wide mesh that I would embed right over the filled gap. This could be filled all at once, 2 inches deep with no problem, if enough molding plaster in the mixture is used.

Finish it down smooth with a wet sponge. For matching the texture, one can't beat using Spraytex texture in a can. The company has a whole line of textures and I'm sure you could find one that matches the ceiling texture exactly.

Looking ahead, I plan on spending some time helping entire crews learn the skill of plastering this year. This has been a request that has come in throughout the year and so I will see what can be done in this regard. Please keep in mind I'm looking to interview some very experienced plasterers about their career in plastering. Preserving the past is one way of ensuring a strong future for the trade.

And send me a picture of your crew or yourself on a project. I'd be happy to include it in an upcoming column! The winner of the last T-shirt of the year is Barry Williams Egan, of Western Australia.

Until next time, Ride the White Wave!