"My Life in Plaster Purgatory"
A free warning from the Plaster Master. This information may save your very soul.
There should be a sign over the door that reads, "Abandon hope all ye who enter." At the very least you should make passionate pleas to the patron saint of lost causes for the preservation of your soul. Should you decide to disregard this warning you will discover as have I that you are hopelessly hooked on this most innocent appearing white powder called plaster.
I'm not complaining mind you. I have been hooked on the white powder for over 35 years now. I just feel obliged to warn others about to embark on the same pristine white path, that plaster casting can and will consume you like a white tornado filling every corner of your life with the captivating dust of gypsum. The rest of the world will fade into a dim gray memory as you are swept up in the magic and mystique of this most fascinating occupation.
I don't think a day has gone by that I haven't had my hands in this miraculous white flour like substance.
My daughter was so used to seeing me covered in white plaster that her first words were "pla pla" (her sound for plaster).
When my wife placed a bowl of oatmeal down in front of her for the first time, my one year old looked up at her with big blue eyes opened wide and asked quizzically "pla pla?" That's how much a part of our lives it is.
You would think after all this time that it would have become humdrum, that it would be just another day at the job but no, the magic still fascinates me. Yes ,after all this time that transfomative miracle still seems awsome. You can pour this white slurry into a mold and 20 minutes later a beautiful solid casting emerges. That's the part that traps you, the feeling of power, the feeling that you're doing magic. For those few moments you're a god. It's 40 years later and I still get that uplifted feeling. That's why so many plaster casters stay with it, as they would say in the modern vernacular, "like forever " ( As you can see, I am trying to keep up with the modern vernacular. After all I am a hepcat hipster. Dig?)
Look, Ma! It's Not Just for Statues Any more
Plaster is a relatively harmless mineral that is mined from the earth. It is less trouble to dispose of than radioactive nuclear waste. (Just kidding, it is a lot easier to dispose of than radioactive nuclear waste.) Gypsum (plaster) is less hazardous than other casting materials such as resin.
It is used in food products and such diverse products as toothpaste and animal feed. It also has wide use in the pharmaceutical industry. Gypsum is a naturally occuring rock. It is an excellent soil conditioner. I have grown fine tomato crops in soil amended with Gypsum. You may already have had your daily minimum requirement of plaster.
So my daughter's apprehension in consuming bowls of white food-like substances is unfounded. Gypsum is a benign, natural product. It has a pH reading of 7.0 which is why it is used in gardens to neutralize adverse soil conditions.
OMG! Whatever you do, DON'T DO THIS!
Though it is not hazardous, it should be disposed of properly. As I was to learn the hard way.
A long ,long time ago when I was just a young buck starting out on this twisted plaster odyssey, I did my sculpting and mold work in a small one bedroom apartment. A walk-in closet was my studio. After pouring a mold or figurine, I would wash the mixing bucket out and flush the plaster water down the toilet. There were only small amounts of plaster in the water each time. The toilet was white and the plaster was white so I never noticed that it was building up in the bowl.
After a while the toilet didn't work so well; In fact, it didn't work at all. A call to the landlord would mean an inspection of the apartment. Even if the inspection were only cursory it could lead to trouble. I had no choice so I made the call. While I was waiting, sitting on the edge of the bathtub, contemplating where I would live next and looking into my sorry clogged toilet, I noticed that there was a fine gray line around the middle of the bowl. I poked at it and a chunk of plaster, the exact contour of the toilet bowl, was liberated from its porcelain mold. Yea!!! A reprieve. Hallelujahs! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
Mama always says there's something to be learned from every bad experience.
Great! Now I know how to make a mold of the inside of a toilet.
My call to the landlord to inform him that I was mistaken about the toilet being clogged was met with some disconcerted questioning.
LESSON #1: DUMPING PLASTER DOWN THE TOILETIS BAD! This goes for sinks, floor drains or bathtubs. (No, I never tried dumping plaster in my bathtub. I'm strange but not that strange.)
I love plaster casting. I love carving it, making molds with it, and painting the finished castings.But the thing you have to decide is it right for you. If you get into it in a big way it will take a strong constitution to face the plaster mess day after day. Scraping it off your clothes, shoes, and the floor is a constant chore. Aprons and coveralls can help. Spray your tools and shoes with PAM vegetable spray to make cleaning them easier. Change your shoes before getting into your car or coming into the house or you'll catch hell ( excuse me I meant heck) for tracking plaster all over the place. Trust me I know.
Emptying out sloppy plaster buckets isn't all as glamorous as it sounds either. I've been in a whole passel of mold making and casting shops and one thing they all have in common is the headache of cleaning up and disposing of the plaster waste.
WOW! Sign me up.
You're probably thinking, "boy, this all sounds too good to be true." (I know I tend to romanticize things that I am involved in.) I've got the feeling you're still going to go ahead with it anyway, aren't you?
You think you can make it.
You must be one of those stubborn die hards that forges ahead when they think they have a good idea.
You are probably one of those people who doesn't get discouraged the first time someone tells you that you can't do it. In fact that makes you more determined to do it!
You would be one of those people that makes lemonade when life hands you those puckery, sour, yellow things.
Hmmm. Now that you mention it, you probably will make it. I'm going to get some lemonade.
Selecting a suitable workspace:
Look for a place where a mess won't get you in a whole heap of trouble. Basements, barns and sheds have worked well for me. An area with a concrete floor would be ideal. (Wood floors are a bugger to keep clean.) One way to ease the chore of cleaning up would be to roll out tar paper on the floor in between the tables. Cardboard works equally well in catching spills.
I've been in shops where they have thousands of square feet of floor covered with tar paper. When it becomes too encrusted to live with any longer, they roll the whole kit and caboodle up and throw it in the dumpster. An ice scrapper that is used for sidewalks is what most places use to scrape up stubborn spots. If you set up in a basement you may have the advantage of heat from the furnace. That will be good when it comes time to dry your castings.
Some people just won't listen.
A few years ago, a large costume company called me in to help set up a plaster mold room. When I arrived, workmen were installing an extensive floor drainage system, with fancy pumping devices to empty the drains. They were going to have the mold makers dump the plaster waste water down the floor drains. It would then be pumped to God knows where, all in an effort to construct the ultimate high tech mold shop.
I called the owner and told him the bad news. His dream to produce a mold maker's paradise wasn't going to work. The drains and fancy pumps would be a huge waste of money. He would not see it my way. After about an hour of heated discussion, I got him to hold off on the drainage pumps. He would not relinquish on the underground piping system. It would go ahead as planned. Well I don't have to tell you what happened, pardner. Yup, the drains stopped working quicker than a jackrabbit in love.
A much meeker company owner apologized and admitted that the drains were a bad idea. I set up a couple of large garbage cans for them to dump the waste water in. It's a simple system that works.
Boy! some people ... they'd probably dump plaster waste water down the toilet if you didn't tell them not to.
A Whoopie pouring system!
Companies with high production requirements reduce their plaster waste by using automatic pumping machinery. These machines eliminate the need to mix in small batches. They save time and eliminate the waste of hand mixing. With the machines, the plaster slurry is automatically mixed and pumped through a hose. The mold maker directs a nozzle into a mold and fills it with mixed plaster. He then moves onto the next mold and fills it. The plaster sets up much more rapidly than by hand mixing. That is due to the turbulent mixing conditions within the machine.
If you have enough molds you can pour all day and have almost no waste. It is a very efficient way to mass produce plaster items. These automatic pouring machines start at about $35,000 and go up from there. For companies with the need and wherewithal, this is the way to go. Alas, I'll have to be content with the old bucket and mixer method. At least I can dream.
See you on the next page. We'll talk about the Islands way and other good stuff. We've only just begun.
Have fun. Get Plastered.
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