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What Are the Different Uses of Plaster?

A cast made with gypsum plaster.
A man applies plaster to a wall.
Plaster can be used on the inside walls of homes and other buildings.
Powdered gypsum is typically used to make plaster.
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  • Written By: C.B. Fox
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 04 August 2014
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There are a variety of different uses for plaster. This material is created by grinding a one of a few different types of stones, such as gypsum, into a powder. Once ground, the stone can be mixed with water to form a paste that will harden if left exposed to the air. Applications for this use of this material can be found in a number of different industries, including construction, medicine, and art.

In construction, one of the most common uses for plaster is as drywall which is composed primarily of gypsum plaster. Plaster can be used on the inside of houses and other buildings to create an interior wall surface. Though it forms a hard surface that is appropriate for interior walls, this type of plaster can be easily damaged and does not hold up well when exposed to the elements outside.

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Another common use for plaster in construction is for decorative trim. When it is dry, this material is relatively hard, allowing it to hold up over time, while it is soft enough that it can be shaped or carved with the use of tools. As a trim, a variety of different shapes or designs can be carved into plaster that can add to the aesthetic quality of a building. Stucco which is sprayed onto the outside of a building to give it texture can also be made from plaster, certain types of which may also release small amounts of water when heated, allowing it to slow the spread of fire.

Artists also commonly make use of plaster. A statue or relief can be carved out of a block of this semi-hard material, or it can be poured into molds and allowed to harden into a shape of the artist's choosing. In some cases, artists use this material, which is relatively inexpensive, as a part of the process of creating a mold that will later be used to cast metals, such as bronze.

Plaster is also frequently used in the medical industry. Casts that protect broken bones while they are healing have been made from plaster for hundreds of years. Though fiberglass casts are more commonly seen today, plaster is still used. It is also possible to use a special form of plaster that is made with barium to help protect people from the radiation given off by x-ray machines.

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