Fitting out…and a million other jobs
So, where to start with the internal finishes ? Well, a wise man once said the beginning is usually best, so that’s what I did.
I had a wind and watertight shell. I had plasterboarded walls and ceilings. I had working electrics, heating and first fix plumbing. Plastering was next on the list. The mysterious dark art….
Now, you’re probably thinking I just got some quotes from plasterers, gave one the job and let him get on with it ?
Well, the total area to be plastered came to 200m2 and comprised walls, ceilings, a 3.80metre high vaulted ceiling and plastering around kitchen units. The cheapest quote I got for the job was £1500, so that would be a “no” on that.
I decided that as I’d done everything else, I would teach myself how to plaster and do it all on my own.
Total cost of materials, £475. No comparison really. For any plasterers reading, I’m sorry. I would have preferred not to do this job but needs must.
So how did I do it ? I read books, looked up the internet and finally actually watched a plasterer doing it. Then I just picked up the trowel and got on with it. Did it go smoothly ? (excuse the pun). Of course not. Plasterers serve apprenticeships, do it everyday and collect years of experience. I had none of that.
I decided to start with my daughter’s bedroom. (The walls would probably be covered by posters most of the time anyway). As I expected, my first wall was shocking. Not un-saveable but not what I wanted. So I fixed it and carried on. The next wall was better. I learned fast. Each area got progressively better, until within a very short period of time, I was happy with the results I was getting and felt confident enough to take on the whole lot.
For anyone thinking of attempting their own, I learned the following valuable lessons ;
1. Speed – Don’t mess about with the plaster trying to get it smooth first time. Just get it on the wall. Don’t analyse it. Just do it. This is doubly important when doing ceilings.
2. Mix – Get the mix right. Not too runny. Not too stiff. Be prepared to experiment. I was using Thistle multi-finish and found that one part water to two parts plaster worked best. I used an old plastic measuring jug to get consistent quantities and it worked well enough.
3. Tools – Use the right tools for the job. If you don’t have one, invest in a trowel that’s already worn in. It’s hard to explain but it makes a big difference to the finish. Use a hawk that’s comfortable in your hand. You’re going to be holding it for a while.
4. Temperament – Don’t panic. Keep a cool head and work methodically, quickly and consistently in one direction. Bottom to top, left to right, right to left, top to bottom. It’s up to you. Gravity means that bottom to top is usually best. Plaster does not fall up. However, left or right is your own preference. Backhand or forehand. I preferred backhand.
5. Temperature – Pay attention to the room temperature. Too cold and your fingers will fall off. Too warm and your plaster will dry out too quickly.
6. Floating – Don’t be afraid to be firm with the plaster now on the wall. You will not pull it off.
The aim is to remove any high spots and/or fill any holes or uneven parts before it starts to go off.
7. Polishing – This was my favourite part. You should have done this before starting but double check the electrics are off and/or sealed as you will be splashing water everywhere. Again, work quickly and methodically. I used a large-ish paintbrush to flick water onto the wall, starting at ceiling height, (gravity again). Basically, you use the water mixed with the fine layers of plaster that you scrape off, to form a slip which then helps to fill any remaining high or low spots. If you’ve done it properly, you will be able to see your reflection in the plaster at the end.
8. Quantities – Don’t take on too large an area at once. One wall at a time. Mix only what you need and don’t be tempted to make a start on the next area until you’ve finished the one you’re on. However, try to do ceilings in one go.
9. Cleaning – No matter how tired you are, clean your hawk, trowel, bucket and everything else when you finish. Don’t be tempted to just leave them in a bucket of water.
10. Wrist – It is indeed, all in the wrist.
If you manage to follow the steps, you will minimise any time you have to spend sanding at the end. Believe me, it is far better to try to get a decent finish at the plastering stage. However, even if you don’t, don’t panic. It can be sanded. Just be prepared for more dust than you’ll ever see this side of the Sahara, that gets everywhere and is incredibly difficult to clean up. (If you have an industrial style vacuum, that should be fine – just don’t use your Dyson).
How many times did I get plaster in an eye ? Once.
How many times did I get plaster in the mouth ? Once.
These things you do not repeat. You do it once and learn not to do it again.
Although the plastering looked fine to me, I must have actually done a reasonable job. When the sparky, Paul, returned to do second fix, his first comment was:
“Ah…plastering’s been done. Very nice. Who did you get in to do it ?”
When I said I’d done it he paused, then said:
“Well you’ve done a bloody good job. Better than most of the sites I’ve been on. You might have yourself another trade there.”-
Having said that, the plastering went on for months….and months…and months. Christmas came and went. Winter moved into Spring….Spring moved into Summer…..Summer skipped Autumn and went straight to Winter again……
However, it wasn’t all done in one go. I decided that as we had to live in the house, it was not practical to empty every room and do all the plastering start to finish. So, I worked out a schedule and decided to do one room at a time, from start to finish.
As I said previously, I started with my daughter’s bedroom. It looks straightforward when you write it down ; Plastering, coving, painting, flooring, second-fix electrics, finishing woodwork, move furniture in….job done.
Sadly, that doesn’t take into account ; building timber framing for plasterboard around the RSJ, (fixing wood to metal – always fun), fitting metal edging beads to all external corners before plastering, moving the radiator and subsequent plumbing, (time-consuming and extended by the plumbers merchant not being open on a Sunday – not great when you need just one more steel insert because the last one you had has just fallen down the wall cavity never to be seen again), re-laying floorboards, installing TV point, installing phone line for PC, moving the existing light fitting and switch, (which was a lot more complicated and awkward than it sounds), reclaiming enough flooring from the pre-extended house to lay in the bedroom, painting the whole room white to seal the new plaster, visiting the builders merchants to pick final paint colours, (“I want blue…No, not that blue…Blue !”), the 80mile round trip to IKEA for the furniture, the subsequent building of said furniture, the cursing and swearing when said furniture turned out to be 585mm wide and not 600mm as advertised…….etc, etc.
Finally, it was finished. The look on her face when I opened the door and gave her the room back, was a picture I’ll never forget.
Then I moved on to the kitchen.