Repairing Historic Flat Plaster Walls and Ceilings (Part E)

By The Old House Web

Scratch coat. The first base coat put on wood or metal lath. The wet plaster is "scratched" with a scarifier or comb to provide a rough surface so the next layer of base coat will stick to it.

Brown coat. The brown coat is the second application of wet, base-coat plaster with wood lath or metal systems. With gypsum board lath (rock lath, plasterboard), it is the only base coat needed.

Finish coat. Pure lime, mixed with about 35 percent gauging plaster to help it harden, is used for the very thin surface finish of the plaster wall. Fine sand can be added for a sanded finish coat.

Casing Bead. Early casing bead was made of wood. In the 19th century, metal casing beads were sometimes used around fireplace projections, and door and window openings. Like a wood ground, they indicate the proper thickness for the plaster.

Corner Bead. Wire mesh with a rigid metal spline used on

Outside corners. Installing the corner bead plumb is important.

Cornerite. Wire mesh used on inside corners of adjoining walls and ceilings. It keeps corners from cracking.

Ground. Plasterers use metal or wood strips around the edges of doors and windows and at the bottom of walls. These grounds help keep the plaster the same thickness and provide a stopping edge for the plaster. Early plaster work, however, did not use grounds. On early buildings, the woodwork was installed and primed before plastering began. Some time in the early 19th century, a transition occurred, and plasterers applied their wall finish before woodwork was installed.

Gypsum. Once mined from large gypsum quarries near Paris (thus the name plaster of Paris), gypsum in its natural form is calcium sulfate. When calcined (or heated), one-and-a-half water molecules are driven off, leaving a hemi-hydrate of calcium sulfate. When mixed with water, it becomes calcium sulfate again. While gypsum was used in base-coat plaster from the 1890s on, it has always been used in finish coat and decorative plaster. For finish coats, gauging plaster was added to lime putty; it causes the lime to harden. Gypsum is also the ingredient in moulding plaster, a finer plaster used to create decorative moldings in ornamental plaster work.

Lime. Found in limestone formations or shell mounds, naturally occurring lime is calcium carbonate. When heated, it becomes calcium oxide. After water has been added, it becomes calcium hydroxide. This calcium hydroxide reacts with carbon dioxide in the air to recreate the original calcium carbonate.

Screed. Screeds are strips of plaster run vertically or horizontally on walls or ceilings. They are used to plumb and straighten uneven walls and level ceilings. Metal screeds are used to separate different types of plaster finishes or to separate lime and cement plasters.

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