Plaster is a building material used for the protective and/or decorative coating of walls and ceilings and for moulding and casting decorative elements. In English "plaster" usually means a material used for the interiors of buildings, while "render" commonly refers to external applications. Another imprecise term used for the material is stucco, which is also often used for plasterwork that is worked in some way to produce relief decoration, rather than flat surfaces.
- Gypsum plaster
- Lime plaster
- Cement plaster
- Heat resistant plaster
- Funeral processes
- Fire protection
- 3D Printing
- Safety issues
The most common types of plaster mainly contain either gypsum, lime, or cement, but all work in a similar way. The plaster is manufactured as a dry powder and is mixed with water to form a stiff but workable paste immediately before it is applied to the surface. The reaction with water liberates heat through crystallization and the hydrated plaster then hardens.
Plaster can be relatively easily worked with metal tools or even sandpaper, and can be moulded, either on site or to make pre-formed sections in advance, which are put in place with adhesive. Plaster is not a strong material; it is suitable for finishing, rather than load-bearing, and when thickly applied for decoration may require a hidden supporting framework, usually in metal.
Forms of plaster have several other uses. In medicine plaster orthopedic casts are still often used for supporting set broken bones. In dentistry plaster is used to make dental models. Various types of models and moulds are made with plaster. In art, lime plaster is the traditional matrix for fresco painting; the pigments are applied to a thin wet top layer of plaster and fuse with it, so that the painting is actually in coloured plaster. In the ancient world, as well as the sort of ornamental designs in plaster relief that are still used, plaster was also widely used to create large figurative reliefs for walls, though few of these have survived.
Gypsum plaster, or plaster of Paris, is produced by heating gypsum to about 300 °F (150 °C):CaSO4·2H2O + heat → CaSO4·0.5H2O + 1.5H2O (released as steam).
When the dry plaster powder is mixed with water, it re-forms into gypsum. The setting of unmodified plaster starts about 10 minutes after mixing and is complete in about 45 minutes; but not fully set for 72 hours. If plaster or gypsum is heated above 266 °F (130 °C), hemihydrate is formed, which will also re-form as gypsum if mixed with water.
On heating to 180 °C, the nearly water-free form, called γ-anhydrite (CaSO4·nH2O where n = 0 to 0.05) is produced. γ-Anhydrite reacts slowly with water to return to the dihydrate state, a property exploited in some commercial desiccants. On heating above 250 °C, the completely anhydrous form called β-anhydrite or dead burned plaster is formed.
Plasterers often use gypsum to simulate the appearance of surfaces of wood, stone, or metal, on movie and theatrical sets for example. Nowadays, theatrical plasterers often use expanded polystyrene, although the job title remains unchanged.
Plaster of Paris can be used to impregnate gauze bandages to make a sculpting material called modroc. It is used similarly to clay, as it is easily shaped when wet, yet sets into a resilient and lightweight structure. This is the material that was (and sometimes still is) used to make classic plaster orthopedic casts to protect limbs with broken bones, the artistic use having been partly inspired by the medical use (see orthopedic cast). Set modroc is an early example of a composite material. The hydration of plaster of Paris relies on the reaction of water with the dehydrated or partially hydrated calcium sulfate present in the plaster.
Lime plaster is a mixture of calcium hydroxide and sand (or other inert fillers). Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causes the plaster to set by transforming the calcium hydroxide into calcium carbonate (limestone). Whitewash is based on the same chemistry.
To make lime plaster, limestone (calcium carbonate) is heated above approximately 850 °C to produce quicklime (calcium oxide). Water is then added to produce slaked lime (calcium hydroxide), which is sold as a wet putty or a white powder. Additional water is added to form a paste prior to use. The paste may be stored in airtight containers. When exposed to the atmosphere, the calcium hydroxide very slowly turns back into calcium carbonate through reaction with atmospheric carbon dioxide, causing the plaster to increase in strength.
Lime plaster was a common building material for wall surfaces in a process known as lath and plaster, whereby a series of wooden strips on a studwork frame was covered with a semi-dry plaster that hardened into a surface. The plaster used in most lath and plaster construction was mainly lime plaster, with a cure time of about a month. To stabilize the lime plaster during curing, small amounts of plaster of Paris were incorporated into the mix. Because plaster of Paris sets quickly, "retardants" were used to slow setting time enough to allow workers to mix large working quantities of lime putty plaster. A modern form of this method uses expanded metal mesh over wood or metal structures, which allows a great freedom of design as it is adaptable to both simple and compound curves. Today this building method has been partly replaced with drywall, also composed mostly of gypsum plaster. In both these methods a primary advantage of the material is that it is resistant to a fire within a room and so can assist in reducing or eliminating structural damage or destruction provided the fire is promptly extinguished.
Lime plaster is used for frescoes, where pigments, diluted in water, are applied to the still wet plaster.
USA and Iran are the main plaster producers in the world.
Cement plaster is a mixture of suitable plaster, sand, portland cement and water which is normally applied to masonry interiors and exteriors to achieve a smooth surface. Interior surfaces sometimes receive a final layer of gypsum plaster. Walls constructed with stock bricks are normally plastered while face brick walls are not plastered. Various cement-based plasters are also used as proprietary spray fireproofing products. These usually use vermiculite as lightweight aggregate. Heavy versions of such plasters are also in use for exterior fireproofing, to protect LPG vessels, pipe bridges and vessel skirts.
Cement plaster was first introduced in America around 1909 and was often called by the generic name adamant plaster after a prominent manufacturer of the time. The advantages of cement plaster noted at that time were its strength, hardness, quick setting time and durability.
Heat resistant plaster
Heat resistant plaster is a building material used for coating walls and chimney breasts. Its purpose is to replace conventional gypsum plasters in cases where the temperature can get too high for gypsum plaster to stay on the wall. Heat resistant plaster should be used in cases where the wall is likely to exceed temperatures of 50 °C.
Plaster may also be used to create complex detailing for use in room interiors. These may be geometric (simulating wood or stone) or naturalistic (simulating leaves, vines, and flowers). These are also often used to simulate wood or stone detailing found in more substantial buildings.
In modern days this material is also used for False Ceiling. In this the powder form is converted in a sheet form and the sheet is then attached to the basic ceiling with the help of fasteners. It is done in various designs containing various combinations of lights and colors.
Many of the greatest mural paintings in Europe, like Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling are executed in fresco, meaning they are painted on a thin layer of wet plaster, called intonaco; the pigments sink into this layer so that the plaster itself becomes the medium holding them, which accounts for the excellent durability of fresco. Additional work may be added a secco on top of the dry plaster, though this is generally less durable.
Plaster (often called stucco in this context) is a far easier material for making reliefs than stone or wood, and was widely used for large interior wall-reliefs in Egypt and the Near East from antiquity into Islamic times (latterly for architectural decoration, as at the Alhambra), Rome, and Europe from at least the Renaissance, as well as probably elsewhere. However, it needs very good conditions to survive long in unmaintained buildings – Roman decorative plasterwork is mainly known from Pompeii and other sites buried by ash from Mount Vesuvius.
Plaster may be cast directly into a damp clay mold. In creating this piece molds (molds designed for making multiple copies) or waste molds (for single use) would be made of plaster. This "negative" image, if properly designed, may be used to produce clay productions, which when fired in a kiln become terra cotta building decorations, or these may be used to create cast concrete sculptures. If a plaster positive was desired this would be constructed or cast to form a durable image artwork. As a model for stonecutters this would be sufficient. If intended for producing a bronze casting the plaster positive could be further worked to produce smooth surfaces. An advantage of this plaster image is that it is relatively cheap; should a patron approve of the durable image and be willing to bear further expense, subsequent molds could be made for the creation of a wax image to be used in lost wax casting, a far more expensive process. In lieu of producing a bronze image suitable for outdoor use the plaster image may be painted to resemble a metal image; such sculptures are suitable only for presentation in a weather-protected environment.
Plaster expands while hardening, then contracts slightly just before hardening completely. This makes plaster excellent for use in molds, and it is often used as an artistic material for casting. Plaster is also commonly spread over an armature (form), made of wire mesh, cloth, or other materials; a process for adding raised details. For these processes, limestone or acrylic based plaster may be employed, known as stucco.
Products composed mainly of plaster of Paris and a small amount of Portland cement are used for casting sculptures and other art objects as well as molds. Considerably harder and stronger than straight plaster of Paris, these products are for indoor use only as they rapidly degrade in the rain.
Plaster is used by many morticians and funeral home directors to recreate destroyed tissue, reconnect severed limbs to corpses, and to fill wounds sustained during the accident or murder that caused the death.
Plaster is widely used as a support for broken bones; a bandage impregnated with plaster is moistened and then wrapped around the damaged limb, setting into a close-fitting yet easily removed tube, known as an orthopedic cast.
Plaster is also used in preparation for radiotherapy when fabricating individualized immobilization shells for patients. Plaster bandages are used to construct an impression of a patient's head and neck, and liquid plaster is used to fill the impression and produce a plaster bust. The transparent material polymethyl methacrylate (Plexiglas, Perspex) is then vacuum formed over this bust to create a clear face mask which will hold the patient's head steady while radiation is being delivered.
In dentistry, plaster is used for mounting casts or models of oral tissues. These diagnostic and working models are usually made from dental stone, a stronger, harder and denser derivative of plaster which is manufactured from gypsum under pressure. Plaster is also used to invest and flask wax dentures, the wax being subsequently removed by "burning out," and replaced with flowable denture base material. The typically acrylic denture base then cures in the plaster investment mold. Plaster investments can withstand the high heat and pressure needed to ensure a rigid denture base. Moreover, in dentistry there are 5 types of gypsum products depending on their consistency and uses: 1) impression plaster (type 1), 2) model plaster (type 2), dental stones (types 3, 4 and 5)
In orthotics and prosthetics, plaster bandages traditionally were used to create impressions of the patient's limb (or residuum). This negative impression was then, itself, filled with plaster of Paris, to create a positive model of the limb and used in fabricating the final medial device.
In addition, dentures (false teeth) are made by first taking a dental impression using a soft, pliable material that can be removed from around the teeth and gums without loss of fidelity and using the impression to creating a wax model of the teeth and gums. The model is used to create a plaster mold (which is heated so the wax melts and flows out) and the denture materials are injected into the mold. After a curing period, the mold is opened and the dentures are cleaned up and polished.
Plasters have been in use in passive fire protection, as fireproofing products, for many decades.
The finished plaster releases water vapor when exposed to flame, acting to slow the spread of the fire, for as much as an hour or two depending on thickness. It also provides some insulation to retard heat flow into structural steel elements, that would otherwise lose their strength and collapse in a fire. Early versions of these plasters have used asbestos fibres, which have by now been outlawed in industrialized nations and have caused significant removal and re-coating work. More modern plasters fall into the following categories:
One differentiates between interior and exterior fireproofing. Interior products are typically less substantial, with lower densities and lower cost. Exterior products have to withstand more extreme fire and other environmental conditions. Exterior products are also more likely to be attractively tooled, whereas their interior cousins are usually merely sprayed in place. A rough surface is typically forgiven inside of buildings as dropped ceilings often hide them. Exterior fireproofing plasters are losing ground to more costly intumescent and endothermic products, simply on technical merit. Trade jurisdiction on unionized construction sites in North America remains with the plasterers, regardless of whether the plaster is decorative in nature or is used in passive fire protection. Cementitious and gypsum based plasters tend to be endothermic. Fireproofing plasters are closely related to firestop mortars. Most firestop mortars can be sprayed and tooled very well, due to the fine detail work that is required of firestopping, which leads their mix designers to utilise concrete admixtures, that enable easier tooling than common mortars.
Powder bed and inkjet head 3D printing is commonly based on the reaction of gypsum plaster with water, where the water is selectively applied by the inkjet head.
The chemical reaction that occurs when plaster is mixed with water is exothermic. When plaster sets, it can reach temperatures of more than 60 °C and, in large volumes, can burn the skin. In January 2007, a secondary school student in Lincolnshire, England sustained third-degree burns after encasing her hands in a bucket of plaster as part of a school art project. The burns were so severe she required amputation of both her thumbs and six of her fingers.
Some variations of plaster that contain powdered silica or asbestos may present health hazards if inhaled. Asbestos is a known irritant when inhaled and can cause cancer, especially in people who smoke, and inhalation can also cause asbestosis. Inhaled silica can cause silicosis and (in very rare cases) can encourage the development of cancer. Persons working regularly with plaster containing these additives should take precautions to avoid inhaling powdered plaster, cured or uncured. (Note that asbestos is rarely used in modern plaster formulations because of its carcinogenic effects.)
People can be exposed to plaster of Paris in the workplace by breathing it in, swallowing it, skin contact, and eye contact. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set the legal limit (permissible exposure limit) for plaster of Paris exposure in the workplace as 15 mg/m3 total exposure and 5 mg/m3 respiratory exposure over an 8-hour workday. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has set a Recommended exposure limit (REL) of 10 mg/m3 total exposure and 5 mg/m3 respiratory exposure over an 8-hour workday.