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Painting New Plaster
The key to a successful paint job is proper drying of the plaster. Historically, lime plasters were allowed to cure for at least a year before the walls were painted or papered. With modern ventilation, plaster cures in a shorter time; however, fresh gypsum plaster with a lime finish coat should still be perfectly dry before paint is applied--or the paint may peel. (Plasterers traditionally used the "match test" on new plaster. If a match would light by striking it on the new plaster surface, the plaster was considered dry.) Today it is best to allow new plaster to cure two to three weeks. A good alkaline-resistant primer, specifically formulated for new plaster, should then be used. A compatible latex or oil-based paint can be used for the final coat.
A Modern Replacement System
Veneer Plaster. Using one of the traditional lath and plaster systems provides the highest quality plaster job. However, in some cases, budget and time considerations may lead the owner to consider a less expensive replacement alternative. Designed to reduce the cost of materials, a more recent lath and plaster system is less expensive than a two-or-three coat plaster job, but only slightly more expensive than drywall. This plaster system is called veneer plaster.
The system uses gypsum-core panels that are the same size as drywall (4x8 feet), and specially made for veneer plaster. They can be installed over furring channels to masonry walls or over old wood lath walls and ceilings. Known most commonly as "blue board," the panels are covered with a special paper compatible with veneer plaster. Joints between the 4-foot wide sheets are taped with fiberglass mesh, which is bedded in the veneer plaster. After the tape is bedded, a thin, 1/16-inch coat of high-strength veneer plaster is applied to the entire wall surface. A second veneer layer can be used as the "finish" coat, or the veneer plaster can be covered with a gauged lime finish-coat--the same coat that covers ordinary plaster.
Although extremely thin, a two-coat veneer plaster system has a 1,500 psi rating and is thus able to withstand structural movements in a building or surface abrasion. With either a veneer finish or a gauged lime putty finish coat, the room will be ready for painting almost immediately. When complete, the troweled or textured wall surface looks more like traditional plaster than drywall.
The thin profile of the veneer system has an added benefit, especially for owners of uninsulated masonry buildings. Insulation can be installed between the pieces of furring channel used to attach blue board to masonry walls. This can be done without having to fur out the window and door jambs. The insulation plus the veneer system will result in the same thickness as the original plaster. Occupants in the rooms will be more comfortable because they will not be losing heat to cold wall surfaces.
Plasterers generally use ready-mix base-coat plaster for patching, especially where large holes need to be filled. The ready-mix plaster contains gypsum and aggregate in proper proportions. The plasterer only needs to add water.
Another mix plasterers use to patch cracks or small holes, or for finish-coat repair, is a "high gauge" lime putty (50 percent lime; 50 percent gauging plaster). This material will produce a white, smooth patch. It is especially suitable for surface repairs.