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What Is Polished Plaster?

Powdered gypsum is typically used to make plaster.
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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 28 August 2014
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Polished plaster creates a decorative wall, ceiling, or floor surface that gives the appearance of depth and texture to simulate a stone product. It is designed through three or more layers of lime-based cement material polished by hand to produce the desired amount of sheen. Plaster techniques vary widely and include tinted, metallic, and pearlescent finishes.

Venetian plaster is the oldest known building material used to create decorative wall surfaces. Polished plaster is also known as Italian plaster and Venetian plaster, and represents a classic interior and exterior finish used on buildings in these regions for hundreds of years. Modern polished plaster is a generic term for various styles of these finishes, encompassing additives and resins that make the material easier to work with and more durable.

Tadelakt is a type of Moroccan plaster typical in steam bath houses that gained popularity in other countries. It produces a durable finish with a slight shine resistant to water and cracks. Additives in Tadelakt plaster improve its adhesive ability and make it easier to apply with a trowel.

Stucco represents another form of plaster used inside and outside buildings. It is a common building material in its rough state used to coat the exterior in some regions. Stucco becomes very hard when dry and is useful to cover uneven surfaces such as bricks, cement blocks, or concrete. A wire lathe affixed to the surface helps stucco adhere when it is sprayed on or applied with hand tools.

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Faux marble polished plaster commonly appears in bathrooms, on columns, and in decorative projects. Another technique gives the appearance of travertine because it increases the look of texture in the cement. When employing polished plaster techniques, a craftsman can vary the amount of gloss to create light and shadows that provide depth.

Pearlescent plaster comes from seashell grit added to the cement product. It creates a silver hue, with bits of black and brown naturally found in many shells. Metallic polished plaster is especially shiny because minerals are added to the base cement product. Polished plaster can also be tinted with a wide range of pigments to match or contrast with décor. A sealer or wax protects the final finish and creates gloss.

Decorative plaster was first found in the Mesopotamia region in 9000 B.C. It was later discovered in Egyptian tombs as part of ancient burial artwork. Polished plaster became quite common in Europe during the Middle Ages, when animal hair, beer, eggs, and malt were added to the mortar to improve its strength.

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