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Venetian Plaster as seen on Trading Spaces
Venetian plaster is a relatively modern term used to describe an ancient stuccoed
surface coating. Like many traditional plastering techniques, this one achieves
its effect with a combination of unique materials and skilled application. The
recipe for Venetian plaster is based on a mix of aged slaked lime, ground marble
dust, and pigment. At one time, Roman craftsmen went through a laborious and
painstaking number of steps to achieve the intended effect. Fortunately, newer
products have made it possible for do-it-yourselfers to create similar visual
results with no special training and only a few steps. And the addition of acrylic
polymers to the recipe results in a much more durable and long-lasting surface.
Look for Venetian plaster at home centers and paint stores. It is sold in
one-gallon cans, just like paint. Some products are sold already tinted; others
require that you or your dealer add universal colorants to achieve the color you
want. The latter approach obviously offers far more color choices than buying
tinted plaster own.
Venetian plaster (tinted or neutral base)
Universal colorants (if using untinted plaster)
Butchers Brand Paste Wax (Clear or Amber)
Prep the Room, and Yourself
Venetian plaster may look like another type of paint finish, but it's not. And
having good painting skills will not guarantee satisfactory results if you jump
right into the job. I strongly suggest that you buy a couple of sheets of drywall
and practice with different approaches until you achieve the look you want.
Experiment with the angles at which you hold the trowel, the length and shape
of your strokes, and the amount of texture you create on the surface. Try
different finishing treatments to achieve the depth and sheen you like. If you
are tinting the plaster yourself, you will also want to play around with the
quantity of colorants needed for the color you want.
Clear the room as much as possible, and spread a drop cloth on the floor. You
can apply Venetian plaster to most walls and ceilings, but the surface should be
flat and smooth. If there are any cracks or holes, fill and sand them first. The
surfaces should be primed or covered with flat paint. Glossy paint surfaces can
be plastered over as long as you first sand the surface lightly to remove the
sheen. Read the instruction on the can of Venetian plaster carefully for
additional preparation requirements
Steel trowels often have very sharp corners, which can leave lines and scratch
marks in the plaster. To avoid this problem, sand the corners with 100-grit
sandpaper to round them over.
You may want to wear gloves when mixing and applying the plaster, as it can
irritate the skin. Eye protection should also be worn if you are spreading it
overhead. Mix the Venetian plaster thoroughly before each use.
Apply the First Coat
There are two approaches you can use for the first coat. The manufacturer of the product you use
may recommend one or the other, but I suggest that you experiment with both on a sample board to
decide which you prefer. Venetian plaster is traditionally applied with special steel trowels that
resemble wood-handled dough dividers. You should be able to find a trowel near the plaster at the
store. But you can have just as much success spreading Venetian plaster with a 4- or 6-inch steel
trowel that is used for applying joint compound to drywall. With the first technique, this is the only
application tool you will need.
Open the can of plaster, and add the tint, if necessary. Mix the ingredients thoroughly with a stir
stick. Start at a corner of the room. Scoop some plaster on the trowel and then, holding the trowel at a 20-
to 30-degree angle, apply a thin coat to the surface. Continue spreading plaster while varying the length
and angles of your strokes. Don't worry about covering every square millimeter evenly, as you would if
you were painting. Let some of the original wall surface show through in spots. Keep the coat thin and
reasonably smooth. Clean off the trowel from time to time so that you don't find yourself spreading bits of
dried plaster into your finish. Let the plaster dry thoroughly before applying the next coat.
The other technique requires that you apply the first coat with a roller and a thick nap roller cover.This will
produce an initial finish with more pronounced texture than the first technique. The trick
is that you will need to go over the finish while still wet with a steel trowel to smooth over the peaks
somewhat. This approach should prove to be quicker on large surfaces, but you need to vigilant about
troweling the surface before it starts drying.
Apply the Second Coat
Use the same color of plaster for the second coat. Holding the trowel at a 60- to 80-degree angle,
apply another thin layer of plaster. Use overlapping (X-shaped) long and short strokes. Cover the
surface thoroughly, filling voids and removing high spots. Let the plaster dry for at least a full day
before moving on to the finish treatment.
Most of the do-it-yourself products that I have seen do not discuss applying any more than two
coats, perhaps because they don't want to make the process sound any more involved than it is. But
additional coats can be useful. Each new layer makes the surface stronger, and by varying your
technique with the trowel from one coat to another, you can create even more interesting effects. Just be
sure to keep each coat thin.
The final steps involve burnishing or polishing the surface, and perhaps applying a topcoat. The
topcoat will add durability to the surface, and is particularly recommended in rooms with high
moisture (such as bathrooms) and high traffic. If you decide to use a topcoat, however, be sure to
choose a product that is specifically recommended for the brand of plaster that you used. Also be
sure to use it as directed on the label. Some manufacturers suggest that you burnish before applying their
topcoat, others say to follow the reverse order.
Burnishing can be accomplished by rubbing the surface with very fine sandpaper (400 or 600 grit). Use a
circular motion while sanding, and then clean the surface with a damp cloth. You can create a more
polished look by rubbing the surface with the flat side of a clean trowel or putty knife.
The topcoat is usually applied with a trowel soon after the plaster has dried. You should expect that the
topcoat will darken the color a bit. Once dry, you can burnish the surface with the flat side of a clean trowel
or putty knife.
You can also create a good sheen and add protection to the surface by using Liberon Black Bison paste
wax for the topcoat. That's what Doug did in the kitchen of the San Diego home shown in the photograph.
He applied a thin coat of Black Bison wax with his trowel, and then burnished the surface by rubbing it
with the side of the trowel. Again, it's best to experiment with your materials and techniques on sample
boards before going to work on your walls and ceilings. By using Black Bison Clear Doug added a slight
Amber tone leaving the wall with a slight antique look. If you do not want to affect your final color, use
Black Bison Neutral wax. This will protect the wall with a clear finish that will not yellow. You can also
produce numerous special effects by using other Liberon Black Bison Colors.