People have been plastering for centuries or at the very least something very similar. It might surprise you to know that there is evidence that plastering has been done in the prehistoric era. Around 7,500 BC, people in Jordan are known to have used lime based plaster for hearths, floors and interior walls. This presents the earliest evidence of plastering. Obviously, these cavemen were not using Nela Trowels or Speedskims like we use today, but the fact is, they could plaster. They used mud to make this first plasters and at that time, they used sticks and reeds to make their homes and then used mud to cover these items and to protect them and their families from the elements.
During the Egyptian era, there was more advancement in plastering and although the Egyptians still used basic plastering tools, they were using gypsum and lime to make a plaster for covering the walls of their palaces, pyramids, and tombs. As a result, they could add decorations to the walls of these buildings in the form of hieroglyphics. You can still see the plaster that the Egyptians used many centuries ago in the pyramids. Even more remarkable is that the plaster is still solid today like it was when they first used it.
During the Greek era, the ancient Greeks improve plastering a little more. It is during this era that the job got its name. Plastering is a Greek word that means, “To daub on”. They used to cover their temples using plaster even beyond 500BC.
Then the Romans followed. As you can imagine, their plastering tools and plastering was advanced a little further. The Romans would start by using stucco and then mix this with lime and sand in order to decorate their buildings. Furthermore, they would use a finer plaster on top to enhance the visual effect. They got this finer plaster by mixing marble dust, sand, lime, and gypsum. Like in the case of Egyptians, some of the Romans plastering is still noticeable today.
Then came the middle ages and people continued to use gypsum as their major choice of material. Gypsum was the basis of plastering for the construction techniques known as wattle and daub, simply because it was easy to work with and to create. They also added other materials such as dung, hair, beer, and eggs that changed the elasticity and setting time of the plaster to make it more usable for building.
In the 14th century, people in England used the pargeting technique to decorate the external of timber-framed houses. This technique was similar to that of the Roman stucco. In addition to gypsum and lime, they used lime putty to create patterned pieces and moldings that made a decorative façade. It is during this time that Europe began to adopt the use of plaster to protect their houses against fires.
Attention to new outside plasters declined in the centuries that followed, and the interest shifted to the flexibility of these renders in making ornate walls decoration internally. People in Bavaria used Scagliola plastering style that tried to mimic coloured marble by adding glue and pigments to gypsum plaster. In the 16th century, sgraffito style was introduced in Germany. In this technique, plasters applied lime plaster in layers of contrasting colours after which they scratched off to expose the underlying colours in patterns. These techniques were refined during the 17th century.
In the 18th century, people renewed their interest in external plasters. Their knowledge about oil based mastics like the stone paste was increasing during this time due to the apparent benefit and novelty of these innovation materials. They could mold them easily and produce them in large scale. They created these mastics by mixing turpentine and lime based cement, tar and linseed oil. Many industries utilized some time to research for the perfect mix until Joseph Aspdin patented a Portland cement industry in 1824. This recipe remained the same in the subsequent years with only improvement in the production process.
Industries in 19th century continued to come up with advance plastering tools, making the plastering job a little bit easier. The amount of time that the plaster used to dry was reduced significantly. The use of gypsum plaster that needs less drying time than plaster made from sand and lime were more commonly used, despite being far more expensive.
Nowadays, you care less about the drying time as the gypsum has replaced lime. Other advancements like in the processing methods have also helped to reduce the drying time. This is a great news for you; you do not have to wait for two weeks for the plaster to dry, it a matter of hours!
Although the material you are using in plastering has been tweaked and developed throughout history, the tool you use to paste and finish plastering have stayed technically the same.