The Father-in-law Also Rises
Name: Marvin Newman
Years in the trade: 48
This column is quite special to me in two ways: First, I am dedicating it to my wife, Wendy. June 2004 marks our being married for 20 years. She has been a friend and never failing support to me, and an excellent mother to our three daughters, as well.
Second, I am glad to be able to interview her father, my father-in-law, who has been a long-time plasterer, and great adviser and help to me throughout my writing of this column (Check out the four pictures included in this column-one taken recently of us together, and the others of Marvin in action).
Plaster Man: Marvin, maybe you can start with a little background on yourself and how you got into plastering.
Marvin Newman: Initially, I was learning the carpentry trade and a friend of mine asked me to come and help their plastering crew for two weeks. At that time, the plastering being done was rock lath and full coat plaster.
PM: Tell us a little about the crew.
M.N.: I was working with the Ita Plastering Co., of Burlington, Iowa. By the way, this company is still in existence and going strong, with the fifth generation now doing plaster! When I was working with them in the 1950s, Don and Bob Ita were the main plasterers, with Albert, their grandfather, helping out once in awhile. Albert had started the company and was in his 80s, and still able to pull his weight!
PM: Expand a little bit on the type of plastering you did when you worked with them.
M.N.: As I mentioned, the type of work we were doing was full coat plaster over rock lath. I was mixing and two of them were plastering, straight-edging it to perfection, as was the practice with their company. Usually, the basecoat was all run at once throughout the house and then we would drop back and do the finishes.
PM: What types of finishes were popular at that time?
M.N.: It seems like things haven't changed too much in that area. Smooth coat was usually done in the bathroom and kitchen areas. Some texture and sand finish were also done in the other areas.
PM: What type of products were you using?
M.N.: Pretty much the same type of products used today. We used a lot of Gypsolite and Structolite, USG and National Gypsum brand products. We'd use a drum mixer and mix one bag of material up at a time. With rock lath, we would use metal lath reinforcing strips in the corners, and over archways and doorways. The plaster was put on about 3/8-inch thick or more. The smooth coat was a mixture of double hydrated lime and gauging. The sand finish and texture mixes were a combination of lime, silica sand and Keenes cement.
PM: So, you ended liking plastering more than carpentry?
M.N.: Yes. I liked it because it seemed to me to be a more specialized trade. Carpentry was more a general trade and this needed more skill. It was what I considered to be a more exclusive trade all the way around.
PM: How long did it take you to get good at the trade?
M.N.: I guess I'd say I'm still learning! There's always something new to learn, a new technique or new material coming out. I started out doing closets and as I got better and better at handling the tools and materials, I graduated to doing the larger areas.
PM: What was the attitude of those who saw you learning plastering?
M.N.: Some people who were well meaning tried to discourage me from getting into the trade. They said that drywall taping and finishing was taking over the industry, and that plastering was going out and would soon become a dead art. But plastering has remained strong and alive and well. I've had a steady income for 48 years and I've raised my five kids by doing it.
PM: In your opinion, why do you think plastering is still around? Why didn't it die?
M.N.: Even people who are knowledgeable about drywall and finishing systems still insist on plastering. It's kind of amazing in a way how many still want plaster, even when drywall is readily available. I think it's mostly a matter of quality. Of course, full coat plastering is the "Cadillac" of finishes. It's gone out simply because it became too costly to do. Veneer coat plastering, which I am involved with even today, is what has replaced it. This is a nice quality finishing system that is of a much higher grade than drywall finishing. It's also in a competitive price range.
PM: What types of veneer coat plastering have you been involved with?
M.N.: There's a two-coat veneer system and then a one-coat color integrated system that is becoming more and more popular now. Two coat is applied about 1/8-inch thick, with a basecoat run over the entire sheet and then finished with a smooth or textured finish. The color integrated is a system introduced by USG that combines the plaster that is put on basically in one coat and troweled to bring out a marbled-type look in the finish.
PM: I know from personal experience that you have been very generous with the knowledge that you have gained. In my estimation, you've trained well over 100 people. Do you think this has hurt or helped your business?
M.N.: Some authorities are in fear of training too many people, causing competition for the projects that they bid on, which would lead to a loss of business, a financial loss for them. I've always viewed it from the angle that the future of plastering depends on the availability of plasterers. The more that are available, the more projects will go plaster.
PM: Where do you think plastering is headed in the future?
M.N.: There are all sorts of new products coming in on the market. Products and techniques that have been used for hundreds of years in other countries are now making their way into this country. Many of these products have the advantage of being "breathable," letting the wall absorb and give out moisture. This has huge advantages over wallpaper which I feel is eventually going to be all but eliminated from the marketplace. These newer type plasters are for both the walls and ceilings and have some spectacular effects. I think with all these new exciting products it brings renewed interest in what plastering has to offer. There are also so many new products, not just for the interior, but also for the exterior, which adds new dimensions and possibilities, not only for the homeowner, but also job opportunities for the plasterers.
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I appreciate Dad taking the time to share some of his thoughts on the plastering industry. Next time around, we'll talk a little about marketing and answer some more questions. The winner of the Plaster Man/Walls & Ceilings T-shirt goes out to Chris Ryen, of Chicago. Congrats, Chris! Want to be a winner? Just e-mail me with your name or your company name and you're entered in the t-shirt contest!
Until next time, Plaster On!