Plasterer and Stucco Mason
Plasterer and Stucco Mason
Education and Training: On-the-job training or apprenticeship
Salary: Median—$15.88 per hour
Employment Outlook: Fair
Definition and Nature of the Work
Plasterers are skilled craft workers who finish the interior surfaces of homes and buildings with plaster coating to strengthen, soundproof, insulate, and fireproof them. On the outside of buildings, they use cement plasters or stucco because these materials are strong and weatherproof. Plasterers who cast decorative molding, cornices, and paneling are called ornamental plasterers.
Plasterers work with carpenters, bricklayers, lathers, painters, and other craft workers. The carpenters build the frame of the building. Then lathers install the lath, a backing of wire mesh or gypsum board to which plaster sticks.
Plasterers then apply three different coats of plaster. The first coat is applied to the lath. It is called the scratch coat because it is scratched or raked so that the second coat will stick. The second coat, or brown coat, is smoothed and finished in preparation for the final coat. For an inside wall the final coat is a white lime mixture. This thin final coat is applied rapidly and then smoothed with a trowel, brush, and water. For an outside wall, the final coat is a much heavier mixture of white cement and sand.
Plasterers may add marble chips or stone to the final coat to give the walls a decorative textured surface. They often use sand to create an unusual finish on outside or inside walls. By moving the trowel across the plaster, plasterers can create intricate patterns.
Plasterers use many kinds of tools. The plate that holds the plaster is called a hawk. Plasterers also work with trowels, straightedges, brushes, floats (flat tools), bevel edges, rods, and power applicators. Power machines apply both the finish and base coats.
Education and Training Requirements
A high school diploma is preferred but not required. Courses in mathematics and drafting are helpful. Most plasterers and stucco masons are trained while working on construction sites. They work as laborers or helpers for experienced plasterers and learn the trade by observing and assisting craft workers.
Another route to a job as a plasterer or stucco mason is a formal apprenticeship program. This is a two- or three-year program combining on-the-job training with at least 144 hours per year of related classroom instruction. At work, apprentices are taught by experienced plasterers and stucco masons. They learn how to use different methods and materials. For example, they learn how to prepare different mixtures of plaster. Classroom instruction includes drafting, blueprint reading, and mathematics for layout work. Generally, an applicant for an apprenticeship program must be at least seventeen years old.
Getting the Job
Applicants can enter the trade through an apprenticeship program. Local contractors will have information about openings in the program. Working for an experienced plasterer as a helper or laborer is another way of entering the trade. A local contractor may know of openings for helpers. The Yellow Pages or newspaper classifieds may also lead to job openings.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Fully qualified plasterers and stucco masons are already at the top of their field. However, an experienced plasterer may become a supervisor or an estimator. Many plasterers and stucco masons are self-employed and have their own contracting businesses.
There are about 59,000 plasterers and stucco masons in the United States. While employment is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all jobs through 2014, numerous opportunities for individuals entering the field will result from turnover. And while employment declined in past years with the increased use of drywall construction, that trend has reversed as builders have come to appreciate the durability and appeal of plaster finishes.
Plasterers and stucco masons may work alone or with others in crews, depending on the size of the project. They work indoors and outdoors. The work is often tiring, involving much stooping and standing, and plasterers' arms must be extended for much of their working day. Sometimes they do heavy lifting, although that work is often done by helpers. Most plasterers and stucco masons work forty hours per week and get paid higher wages for overtime. Work is often seasonal, as it is for many construction workers. Many plasterers and stucco masons belong to labor unions.
Earnings and Benefits
Wages vary greatly, depending on the location of the work. In some parts of the country—especially in metropolitan areas—plasterers and stucco masons are paid much higher wages than in other areas. The median wage for plasterers and stucco masons in 2004 was $15.88 per hour. Those who belonged to unions and worked full time often earned twice that much or more, including benefits.
Where to Go for More Information
International Institute for Lath and Plaster
P.O. Box 1663
Lafayette, CA 94549
Operative Plasterers' and Cement Masons' International Association of the United States and Canada
14405 Laurel Pl., Ste. 300
Laurel, MD 20707
National Association of the Remodeling Industry
780 Lee St., Ste. 200
Des Plaines, IL 60016
Union workers generally receive paid holidays, life insurance, and hospitalization and pension plans. The number of vacation days they receive depends on the number of days they work each year.