I have been around a lot of good construction workers. I have also been around some pretty bad ones. I’ve only been around a very few that I could call great. To be great requires that rare blend of speed and quality. A lot of workers tend to boast how great they are or were and how they could put others to shame on a regular basis. I have heard this from workers I knew too well and wondered how they could even be so delusional.

After a while, I noted that almost every worker seemed to claim they are one of the greats at production and quality. That is simply just not possible. Over the years, I worked with some very poor production workers; while they were slow, they did have excellent quality. I also know guys that can fly but the quality left for something to be desired. My problem was the lower level production guy who claimed to only do “quality” work as a cover up to the sagging numbers in production rates.

The truth is, being productive and producing good quality can and should go hand-in-hand. It does not come easy. The only way to get there is to strive for it on a daily basis and hone your skills to increase production and your quality. This requires being taught by pros that know the tips of the trade where journeyman can save steps, and increase production with no loss in quality. (I refrain from using the term “short cuts,” as this would indicate cheating or leaving a step out.)

Every trade has time saving steps: these should not be confused with short cuts to doing the job right. I am not a plumber, carpenter or drywall finisher but I do know plastering and I was taught some great time-saving steps to increase production and maintain high quality.

When I started plastering, I met a high-production quality plasterer I admired greatly. He told me, “Always work toward the mud board to increase productivity.”


The industry has said always work left to right. His logic was that when you came to the end of the wall and you need only a small amount of plaster to finish that wall, you did not waste time walking. My reaction was predictable and I felt I found the flaw in his advice. How much time could this really save? He pointed out that a true productive journeyman must work both ways efficiently and then consider how many hawks of mud are used in a day. While the time for walking is less than 30 seconds, these seconds become minutes by the end of the day. He had the proof as he went home earlier than us with more quality work done than anyone else. With regard to hand tool plastering, he became a mentor. Over time, my production and quality increased without killing myself. Some call it working smarter.

I worked applying stucco on tract homes in southern California throughout the 1970s. This was an era when production was king and plaster pumps rarely shut off except for break and lunch. I hear young plasterers sometimes remark how they could produce that volume if they would let quality slip. I disagree, you have to learn and practice at being very productive. Just wishing it won’t make it happen. Also, today’s construction is far more complex. More radius walls, added shapes, exotic trims and smoother finishes would slow even us down if we could be transported to the future. The goal should always be to improve production rates with no loss in quality. Companies and workers that make this a priority are the ones who continue to fight another day.

I witnessed a few production masters at a drywall competition a few years back. These guys flew as they could hang more than 16 sheets complete in less than one hour. While others might say they just turned in on for that one day, it takes effort and lots of practice to be that good. 

For the young guys and gals, if you are learning the trade, seek out those who know production and respect quality work. Ask them for tips, you will find out that some may be reluctant to share or teach them but when the young person who is persistent to be the best will discover these people will ultimately relinquish those tips. Even if the tips make no sense, ask why and you might come to realize why they are so good and well respected at their craft.