Plaster and stucco masonry is a career that involves both mechanical accuracy and certain degree of artistic skill. Plaster and stucco are very old building materials, having been used since ancient times, and the practice of applying them is a time honored craft. Most of the skill involved requires knowing how these building materials will behave in various situations and acquiring capability in manipulating it effectively to produce consistent and esthetically pleasing results.
Thus it requires coordination and concentration along with an eye for detail and artistic flair. It is often taken up by individuals who enjoy the construction trades and general work environment, and who have an artistic bent, but who may not care to move to a high level of technical proficiency in more involved aspects of building and/or architecture. This is a hands on field that requires skill of a more historically based sort – a steady hand and eye, artistic ability, and a sense of pride in one’s work.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics gives the median hourly rate for plasterers and stucco masons as $18.16. It gives the median 50% range as between $14.54 and $23.60, and the bottom and top 10% figures as $12.13 and $31.45 respectively. Expressed in terms of yearly salary the median is $37,770, the middle 50% rang is from $30,240 to $49,090, and the bottom and top 10% salary averages are $25,230 and $65,420.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
So this is indisputably a reasonably well paid profession. It competes with wages for a variety of other professions that are far more technical and require more education and background to begin in the field.
Job Description and Outlook
Plaster and stucco represent two uses of the same basic substance. Plaster is applied to interior surfaces and stucco to exterior ones. Often plaster is applied to interior walls composed of concrete, concrete block, and drywall. On masonry and concrete, plaster can often be applied directly, while over less solid surfaces such as drywall a mesh lath is used. The plasterer applies either two or three coats of plaster to these surfaces with hand held tools such as trowels, hawks, and brushes. In the case of direct application two coats – a brown coat and a white coat or finish coat – are applied. The brown coat provides a base and the white coat provides a smooth and attractive finish.
When applying plaster to lath mesh, three coats are generally required – a scratch coat, a brown coat, and a white coat. The scratch coat is applied to the lath and scratched to make it textured. This texturing allows it to bond easily with the brown coat, which in turn serves as a base for the finish white coat.
Stucco is a similar material but may contain Portland cement or different ratios of the sand/lime compound that composes both plaster and stucco. It is designed for exterior use. The general application process is quite similar, though stucco finishes are designed to be weather resistance and are often more coarsely textured. For instance, items like gravel or glass may be embedded in the stucco finish to create a rough decorative texture.
In both cases the plaster or stucco professional may use tools to ornamentally texture the finish coat such as using trowels to create decorative circle shapes or textured wavy surfaces. They may also pour plaster into molds for more in depth ornamentations such as wall and ceiling cornices.
The job outlook for this career is good – the US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 12% demand growth by 2018. New construction, especially new residential construction will continue in coming years, opening up an increase in job opportunities for skilled plasterers and stucco masons. Though this will be dependent on economic conditions and vicissitudes, on the whole the job demand prospects look quite promising.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Training and Education Requirements
Generally speaking, most training in this field comes through simple on-the-job training. This may take the form of formal apprenticeship or informal learning through experience. Either way, the bulk of the educational process comes through hands on application. Some employers may offer more structured and formal training/apprenticeship programs that involve some class work at community colleges or vocational schools. The usual time period required for getting to a high skill level is about 3 to 4 years.
Though certification does not play as prominent a role in the profession as in many others, there are some certifications offered that can be an asset and look good on a resume or job application. One such certification is offered by the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craft Workers International Masonry Institute. This organization recognizes plastering and stucco as branch of masonry and gives a certification in that area of specialization that is contingent upon students succeeding in a 12 week course and passing an exam.
Most professional associations that relate to the field are ones that deal more generally with building and construction, such as the one mentioned above. Plastering and stucco masonry tend to fall into the category of masonry or more general areas such as wall construction, siding, and insulation. There may be local associations that deal with plaster and stucco work specifically but on the whole the trade is subsumed by larger trade organizations.