What’s Going On With Our Gypsum?

You don’t have to spend much time in the company of plasterers to know there’s always loads of debate on the quality of the material produced by the largest plaster product producer in the UK, British Gypsum. How many times have we seen on Plasterers’ Talk Group posts complaining about the difference in setting times, the quality and workability of the products? Maybe in some instances there is a case that BG struggle to maintain the high standard expected across all their products. But why the difficulty and is it all British Gypsum’s fault?

Well let’s start from the beginning. Gypsum is a mineral, formed in layers of sedimentary rock, which is mined for use in the construction industry as well as being used for soil fertilization. Surely the fact that gypsum is a naturally occurring product means that it can’t be consistently the same level of quality – inconsistencies must be present? Some could argue there are set parameters to work within but in honesty this could be a difficult one for British Gypsum.

So what’s the process? British Gypsum have several plants producing gypsum based products throughout the UK, some older than others. Some of the machinery may be better at some plants. Could this be the cause of inconsistencies found in the same products? Maybe, but then again, maybe not.

Another factor is storage. The warehousing facilities operated by British Gypsum are massive! They must have a good stock control system in place to make sure the conditions within their storage facilities are exactly right for keeping the bagged product absolutely at it’s best? The weather we experience here in the UK has serious extremes, often in just one day! Changes in temperature and humidity in short periods of time could surely lead to the product not being at it’s best for the user? Then, we have the storage at the merchants to think about. We’ve all seen pallets of plaster, left outside in the rain, bags stacked straight off the floor, or stacked too high causing too much weight on the product, whenever we go to our local merchants to pick up whatever we need. Don’t tell me this won’t have an effect on the gear?

Then there’s the plasterer…. yes us, skim monkeys, mud slingers, whatever we call ourselves, going about our business, putting a mix on! On the wall it goes and some of us would stand back and just wonder what is going on?

As a plasterer we should all know best work practices but let’s face it, not all do! As a time served apprentice it was drilled into us to keep everything spotlessly clean all the time. There were regular inspections to check the cleanliness of my buckets and there was a serious telling of if they weren’t up to scratch! Clean buckets, clean water, clean tools was the apprentices mantra – surely that is still the case? If not that can only be detrimental to the quality of the mix.

So, my personal conclusion to it all is, yes, there are issues with this material right from the source – some have got to land on the door step of British Gypsum. I have no doubt that they would love to keep their consistency levels at the exact same levels, all the time. But they need to know about our struggles using their product too, they need to be made aware of what goes on when we finally get that bag of gear. In my opinion, the storage of the product can cause huge problems, just because it’s on a pallet, under a tarpaulin, doesn’t mean it is going to maintain it’s shelf life – this needs to be addressed.

Finally, we, as plasterers, need to up our game. The rise of quick courses for plasterers has caused the trade to have a lot more people in it who haven’t learnt the science of the products. They often don’t have the all round knowledge of the trade that they really should have. But even us guys who have gone through a full apprenticeship are always learning, every day’s a school day! So let’s do just that, up our game, not just British Gypsum but the plasterers too, because that can only have a good effect on our trade as a whole.


George Gribbin

George Gribbin

Plasterer for nearly 30 years!

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