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Plastering Belfast v Berlin

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Plastering Belfast v Posdammer Platz Berlin was Machine.  Potsdamer Platz Berlin  (in the 1990’s)

Plastering –  O L D   


N E W                      

Plastering Introduction   


I’ve been plastering in Northern Ireland and various places places 

for over 30 years now. In that time there has clearly been a lot of progress

in Plastering and Construction generally. It is my intention to attempt to

review and perhaps try to quantify that progress home and away.

Hawk and trowel Plastering

Hawk and trowel Plastering for example is still a major part of local

building and gypsum finish plaster is still widely used locally, unlike 

Western Europe generally.  

This post will try to examine local building techniques before reviewing them

in context with some major Germany projects from the 1990’s in the hope of

perhaps comparing that progress in two main construction sectors.

  • Larger Civil and Commercial Projects
  • Domestic Housing developments.

Authors experience

It will draw directly on the Authors experience’s both in Northern

Ireland and sub contracting on Potsdamer Platz “The new Centre of Berlin

were the main section of the Berlin Wall once stood and also the largest

Building Site in Europe during the nineties”. It will also use any

other sourced material deemed relevant.

 Plastering finished Potsdamerplatz_(Berlin)

Potsdamer Platz 

Larger Projects – Machine plastering and the Hawk & Trowel 

On Large Civil and Commercial Projects the advantages of modern

building techniques seem self evident. Machine plastering is ideal for

large expanses of solid exterior and interior walls and uses

relatively small teams of Men, normally 2 or 3 men per Machine 

with only one skilled plasterer required per team.

 The video below shows 4 men Plastering 5’000 Sq Ft in 6 hours. 

In Traditional Plastering those figures can be almost reversed with 

normally 2 or 3 Plasterers required per Labourer, giving Machine

Plastering an obvious advantage regarding Man Power .

The superior quality and speed of machine plastering and higher output

per man on larger projects soon becomes apparent with some very large

walls becoming problematic to do with Hawk and Trowel and are

usually broken up beaded out in sections using extra men.

I should also add that in all the projects I sub contracted in Germany

“Finish” Plaster as it is called in the UK was never used.

Plastering 135,000 metres Sand Cement Berlin 1280px-Luftaufnahme_Detlev-Rohwedder_Haus

The largest Project I sub contracted on
in Germany was Detlev-Rohwedder-Haus now the new Federal Tax  

office just off Potsdamer Platz (Formerly the old Luftwaffe HQ) were its entire

135,000 Square Meters  of  solid walls were renovated and machine

plastered in Sand Cement which was “Napped up”smooth using a

sponge float. This was our only detail on the entire project albeit a

massive one. 


All Ceilings were all either MF or Dry lined (Drywall) and all the walls were

napped up and finished painters using what is called filler. It is

normally bright white, applied with wide blades, is air drying and takes

most of the day to go off.


As this was essentially a renovation, job Sand Cement was deemed less

expensive and more suitable for its structural elements but Larger New

Projects also use one coat machine plaster which is sprayed edged up,

closed in and finished relatively quickly.

Machine Manufacturers boast that in Plastering approx 80% of the work is

transporting, mixing and getting the material on the Wall. 

As Sean Haseley demonstrates below it certainly looks rather stress free.

Material Management

In all our time on the New German Tax Office I never seen a bag of Cement

once.  All Cement on site was stored in 16 or 20 Ton Silo’s.                        

Each Silo had a compressor unit at its base called the Hopper, each Hopper

pumped the powder down a two inch pipe perhaps a hundred meters or more

to its designated Plastering Machine which could then mix the required

amount before spraying it on the required wall. Once the spray was finished

the Plastering Machine would be cleaned thoroughly including passing a

sponge ball through its hoses and rinsing.

The Silo’s were filled by Lorries identical to those carrying Oil with the powder

also pumped in by compressed air. No Fork lifts or extra men required 

only a single driver pulling a single lever to pump the entire 20 Ton



This Plastering Contract was 135,000 square meters in Total to the main

contractor so the logistical implications of using Traditional Plastering

Methods on this scale are immense which  seemingly confirms

that certainly on Larger Projects ;

Machine Plastering is more effective than Traditional Hawk & Trowel


 Part Two. Joint Filler versus Finish

The advantages of Dry lining (Drywall) on large construction projects

also seems self evident with ceilings and Partition Walls often measured in

hundreds of square meters and in some cases Ceilings measured in thousands

of square meters with walls often 6 meters or more high in extended open

planned areas. Like Machine Plastering “Jointing with Joint filler”

(Drywall) large areas of Ceiling or Walls is logistically more manageable

with smaller teams or often even loneJointer’s” working long hours

seamlessly finishing very large areas of Drywall to optimum quality without

the stress of large Teams of Plasterers Frantically mixing and “Skimming” and

in a lot of cases “Polishing” the Finish which is bad for decoration.“Finished”

ceilings are also more susceptible to cracking and depend too much on the Skill

of the available work force for Quality.

Traditional methods of “Skimmed” Ceilings and Wooden Studded Partition

Walls also Perform well below modern techniques on Fireproofing,

Acoustics, Quality of Materials and Finish

I think it is safe to say that on larger projects The Modern Techniques of

Machine Plastering and dry wall put the Hawk and Trowel in the shade.

 Residential Housing Developments

In Residential housing developments area’s are generally smaller

 than Larger Civil and Commercial Projects with most walls

 below 10m2. The stairwell is generally the largest wall in any Semi

 with even luxury bungalows still well within the capabilities of any

 Hand Plasterer.

 The smaller number of meters and rooms in each house would

 seem at first glance to give the hand plasterer a mobility and

 perhaps a feasibility advantage with the heavy machine to

 manoeuvre with hoses etc. attached although generally machines

 are positioned in the ground floor hallway were they can normally

 reach most of the house. This however can create its own

 feasibility problems, especially for other trades.

 With each house only worth 300 + square meters of

 sand cement/one coat Machine Plaster, one might ask is it

 really worth the bother of using a machine and moving it and

 setting it up every time. Firstly in terms of Sand and cement most

 Machine Teams would float a house in a day if not slightly over, and

 take less than two days to plaster your average semi in one coat

 machine plaster which can create other feasibility problems.

 Towards the end of the nineties in Germany when the German

 Economy began to slow down I began to take on smaller Machine

 Plastering contracts outside Berlin.

Plastering Belfast Berlin Twenty Ton Mortar Silo's for Machine plastering


Around this time I regularly had fax’s from a Company

near Stuttgart saying they had many houses and 4 years

work me, which at first seemed impressive and they

eventually received two plasterers to this particular job,

Geordie Mick and Cockney John.

The project was a domestic housing development with

mostly semi detached houses and in these house’s there were special details

which slowed the work rate down. one detail I remember particularly was a

special metal frame formed around pipework etc, which was filled with a new

mixture of sand & Cement and polystyrene balls which cut back created an

instant pipe casing ready for tiling. In spite of these details and some

problems with the machines supplied by the Company. In Spite of this Mick

and John were able to do a minimum of two houses per week. When the

company rang me panicking they had 6 houses sitting waiting to be plastered

sadly however after approximately a month Mick and John had run out of

work and were victims of their own success.                  

In the UK and Republic of Ireland, it would be difficult to find a

residential development were house’s were completed at the rate of

two house’s a week which could keep two good Plasterers in steady work.   

Based upon this one it might be argued that Machine Plastering is not ideally

suited to domestic house building in the United Kingdom thereby giving the

traditional hawk and trowel plasterer (at least on interior residential

plastering) a logistical advantage over the machine, however I would imagine

there are better ways round the issue with direct labour with say one plasterer

beading and preping and plastering and another labourer operating the

machine part time as needed with other regular duties on the site.  

In Domestic Housing developments. Dry lined Metal Stud

Partitions and Dry lined Suspended ceilings are much easier to

manage and monitor during the build than traditional wooden studs with the

setting of the stud tracks often (including the foreman) – which effectively

meaning the project is set out.

Dry lining can also be stopped or started seamlessly – holes and traps 

can be left open and blended perfectly after wards unlike finish. If the metal

partitions are done correctly using 45KG Rock wool, Acoustic band

and Acoustic Hangers for the ceilings their vastly superior performance

complete will leave the traditional techniques a long way behind.

Internal angles are finished with Acrylic mastic(painters mate) which allows for

movement. Finish on the other hand is trowelled right into internal corners

making it more prone to cracking. Finish is also weaker, less resilient but yet

harder and more prone to cracking than jointing compound. Finish can also crack

if dried out quickly and can’t blend” like Dry Wall and most plasterers will admit

that a Patch is always a patch unless you skim the whole wall. 

In Summary

When it comes to interior construction dry wall just

becomes too appealing for reasons not obviously to do with frailties of

traditional techniques.

  • Drywall partitions are lighter and faster than brick or block etc.

  • Drywall ceilings require less structural support 
  • Drywall is a smother yet more open decoration friendly finish.

  • Drywall has superior acoustics in terms of Sound insulation.

  • Dry wall provides typically F30 to F90 but can provide up to F240. 

  • Drywall can be modified & refurbished easier.

Furthermore in Time Context. It appears that apart from Central London and

selected sites around the Country the UK is lagging significantly behind what

Germany was using almost twenty years ago in terms of Construction

techniques Generally and Plastering in Particular.

James G Mulvenna 2013      The Plasterers Forum