Plasterers apply coats of plaster or stucco to walls, ceilings, or partitions for functional and decorative purposes. Some workers apply ornamental plaster.
The vast majority of plasterers are employed in the specialty trade contractors industry. About 53% are employed in the drywall and insulation contractors industry, while 15% are employed in the masonry contractors industry. An additional 11% are self-employed.
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Plasterers typically do the following:
Plasterers apply coats of plaster to interior walls and ceilings to form fire-resistant and relatively soundproof surfaces. Using trowels, workers spread plaster on solid surfaces, such as concrete block, or supportive wire mesh called lath. They also may apply plaster over drywall to create smooth or textured scratch-resistant finishes. Using molds and a variety of troweling techniques, some plasterers make decorative and ornamental designs, which require special skills and creativity. They may also install prefabricated exterior insulation systems over existing walls—for good insulation and interesting architectural effects—and cast ornamental designs in plaster.
Most plasterers learn through long-term on-the-job training after being hired. Workers typically gain experience by doing jobs under the guidance of experienced workers. For example, they learn how to mix and apply coats of plaster or stucco. A few plasterers learn through three- or four-year apprenticeships. Apprentices learn construction basics such as blueprint reading, mathematics, building code requirements, safety, and first-aid practices.
After completing an apprenticeship program, plasterers are considered journey workers who may perform tasks on their own. Although there are no formal educational requirements, taking high school courses in math, shop, mechanical drawing, and blueprint reading is considered to be helpful. Some organizations related to masonry trades offer training and certification intended to enhance the skills of their members.
Like many other construction trades, the work of plasterers is physically demanding. They spend most of the day on their feet, either standing, bending, or stretching. Plasterers must hold plaster in one hand using a hawk—a square board with a handle on the bottom—while toweling with the other hand, and the plaster can be heavy. Plasterers may also work on ladders or scaffolding, occasionally up high.
The work can often be dusty and dirty, which can irritate the skin, eyes, and lungs. Workers usually wear protective masks, goggles, and gloves to reduce the effects of these problems. Although the work is not inherently dangerous, plasterers experience a rate of injury and illness that is higher than the national average. Muscle strain from lifting heavy plaster and stucco is the most common injury, and workers sometimes fall from ladders or scaffolds.
The median annual wage of plasterers was $37,210 in May 2010. (The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.) The lowest 10% earned less than $24,880, and the top 10% earned more than $66,500.
The starting pay for apprentices is usually between 30% and 50% of what fully trained workers make. They get pay increases as they gain more skills. Most plasterers work full time; the rest work part time or have variable schedules.