Last Sunday we headed over to John’s house with our “lunch to share” to get plastered. We couldn’t resist this deal: learn how to lime plaster and lime wash for free and make all your mistakes on someone else’s house! (my interpretation of the advert)John is renovating an old welsh house, the oldest bits are possible early nineteenth century, the newest parts from the 1960’s or so. Like lots of houses that have been “modernised” the old stone walls had been covered in concrete – inside and out – and there were a few problems with damp. As John investigated one problem, it seemed to lead to another and before he knew it he’d taken off all the internal rendering on a large part of one of the oldest downstairs rooms.
Under the expert tutelage of Gill (an expert in traditional building techniques) I think we all did a pretty good job. As Gill emphasised over and over, plastering with lime is dangerous. We were advised to wear eye protection and water was immediately available should we get any in our eyes (none of us did). We quickly mixed up some coarse plaster and added in fine goats hair for extra bonding.
Conventionally plaster is put on to a wall with a trowel or other such tool, but in the case of uneven stone work, where you want to achieve a beautiful undulating effect, Gill uses her hands (covered in plastic gloves of course).We dampened down the walls (important to get a good bond between the surface and the plaster) and each (there was five of us plastering) found a piece of wall to work on (no mean feat as the room was quite small). To get a really smooth finish, the idea is to work the coarser grit into the cracks with the finer powder on top – something Gill made look very easy (even with her recently broken finger) – it’s definitely one of those techniques that gets better with practice. Then when the plaster was less wet (not very scientific, but you know if it’s too wet or dry when you do it), you work the plaster in further with a brush – pressing quite hard still.
By lunchtime we had made pretty good progress. Ian unfortunately had had to drop out of plastering as he has an injury to his arm that was making it difficult to get the pressure and angles needed to work the plaster in. His arm was all right mixing up the plaster though, so he kept our buckets filled.
I can’t remember who asked the time after lunch, I think we were all surprised to find out that it was 2:20pm! Granted we’d started lunch quite late, but where did the time go? The day was supposed to finish at 3pm. We still had a fair amount of wall to plaster and what about the lime wash?
It was touch and go for a few seconds about whether it was worth starting again, by the time we’d cleaned all the buckets and brushes it would be close to three. Everyone was keen to finish the job and to have a little understanding of lime wash – we headed back.
Space was getting a bit cramped now. We had all started at a reasonable working distance from each other, but with less and less wall space, it was obvious that some of us would just have to step back and admire our handiwork.
With more of us standing around that working, Gill suggested we make some lime wash and that the people standing could paint the drier bits from the morning.
Lime wash is even more dangerous than lime plaster so we were all very happy to let Gill make a small batch for us. Wearing a visor to protect her eyes, over the many layers of head gear to protect her from the cold (this is a lady who knows how to wrap up warm on all-weather building sites) she added the almost pure lime to cold water. Boy does that stuff react! First fizzing, then boiling in the metal bucket. Once it had all calmed down a bit, Gill stirred it, then sieved it and it was ready to use.We painted a thin layer on to the drier parts of the wall while it was still warm. Once it is dry another layer can be painted, building the layers (and colour) up as desired. John wanted white walls so we didn’t add any pigments.
It was beginning to get dark (and very cold) when we called it a day. I am very grateful to Ian, Mark, Craig and Gill who did all the tool cleaning in the cold water, and to John for letting us learn on his walls. I’m looking forward to the next opportunity to get plastered with you all!