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Drywall is a thin section of gypsum, sandwiched between two pieces of heavy paper used to build inside walls. Drywall applicators measure, cut and install the drywall whereas drywall finishers, also called drywall tapers, position and secure sheets to metal or wooden studs or joists. They cut and install metal corner beads to protect exterior corners, and fill nail indentations, joints, holes and cracks with joint compound. This is accomplished using a taping machine and a broad knife.

Drywallers work from a set of blueprints to measure and cut wallboard panels to fit around doors and windows. They put metal frames together that actually hold the drywall panels. The panels must have cut openings for electrical outlets, plumbing, ducts, windows and other outlets.

Once the drywall is the proper size, installers glue, nail, or screw it to the framework. They use lifts to get the heavy panels up to the ceiling and hold them in place. Drywall applicators usually hang drywall panels on metal framework in offices, schools, and other large buildings.

Drywall finishers' work begins after the drywall has been properly installed by the applicator. They use a special trowel and brushlike strokes to fill the joints between the panels. Finishers apply the joint compound along each side of the joint, and apply paper tape over the length of the joint. They immediately use the towel to press the paper tape into the wet compound and remove any excess. When the joint compound is dry, they may apply more coats to fill in any holes and make the surface smooth.

On bigger projects, drywall finishers might use automatic taping tools that apply the joint compound and tape in one step. They apply two more layers of tape and compound, sanding between each layer. Some finishers may even apply textured surfaces to walls and ceilings with trowels, brushes, or spray guns.

Drywall applicators work in teams, often with other trades people such as carpenters and plumbers. Those who are working on a contract basis for an employer may work alone.

Plasterers generally work on either interiors or exteriors and apply various types of plasters accordingly. Exterior plasterers apply stucco (a mixture of portland lime, cement and sand) and texture it, or embed it with marble or gravel chips to produce a decorative finish. On interior surfaces, plasterers may use different procedures to apply plaster. They usually put the plaster on walls and ceilings to make surfaces fire resistant or increase soundproofing, however they also apply plaster for aesthetic purposes.

With different types of plaster come different kinds of techniques. For example, when plastering over wires or lath foundations, a trowel must be used to apply a base coat. Once that dries, they use a tool to scratch the surface so the final coat will bond properly. Alternative surfaces call for different techniques, for if a plasterer is covering concrete, they usually apply a gypsum coat and then a finish coat on top. Some plasterers are artists and they specialize in creating ornamental designs and patterns in the plaster. To achieve a decorative effect, plasterers might embed marble chips into the finish coat.

Plasterers must know how to mix plasters properly to attain the desired effect. They usually prepare a thick, smooth plaster for an undercoat followed by a finish coat to give the surface a smooth look. The finish coat usually consists of a mixture of lime, plaster of Paris and water.
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  Average Earnings  
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  Interests and Skills  
Drywall finishers must have excellent manual dexterity and a steady hand. They are perfectionists, rarely satisfied with their work. They can read blueprints and follow guidelines very easily, yet maintain enough creativity to put their own personal touch into their work. They also enjoy working with people and have great communication skills.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Install metal moulding at the corners of walls
  • Tape joints either manually or using an automatic taping tool
  • Mix sealing compound by hand or with a portable mixer
  • Spread and smooth cementing material over taped joints
  • Use trowel, broadknife or spatula to spread sealing compound between boards and to fill cracks or holes in the wall and ceiling
  • Apply a textured surface and primer to walls and ceilings to prepare them for painting, using brushes, roller, or a spray gun
  • Sand rough spots on dried cement
  • Drywall finishers work standard 40-hour weeks, with occasional longer hours to meet construction deadlines. Since they work in buildings that are under construction, they are subject to dust, dirt, loud noises, and bad weather. They may work on ladders and scaffolds and may be required to lift big, heavy sections of drywall. Therefore they must take proper safety precautions. Most drywall finishers are required to have their own tools, such as a measuring tape and a drywall hammer.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Most drywall finishers are employed by independent contractors working on construction or alteration jobs. Some drywall finishers are self-employed and contract their services for smaller jobs or to architects. In smaller towns and city centers, they may also work as plasterers and wall board applicators.

  Long Term Career Potential  
What does the future hold for drywall finishers? Skilled drywall finishers may become supervisors, or they may start their own business. They could also do similar jobs that deal with the application of materials or finishes, such as exterior finishing with stucco, as the drywall trade overlaps with other trades. A large number of drywall finishers are self-employed, especially in small towns and rural areas.

  Educational Paths  
Drywall finishers receive their training either through informal, on-the-job training or through an apprenticeship program. Trade certification can be obtained either through an apprenticeship program or after several years of work experience. While trade certification is not mandatory in all areas to become a drywall finisher, it can be a requirement for many employers and can also help secure employment.

Apprenticeship programs involve a combination of on-the-job training and classroom instruction. A pre-apprenticeship course may also be available which takes about five to six months to complete at a community college and is designed to help you get connected with a good company to apprentice with. It is important to apprentice with a reputable company as that is your education. While some apprenticeship programs may not require a high school diploma, it is important to note that employers generally prefer to hire high school graduates.

Apprenticeships can vary, however a typical apprenticeship lasts four to five years. The apprenticeship is a paid position, however wages are about 50 percent of what an employer pays the Journeyperson, with yearly increases. After successfully completing the apprenticeship requirements, their industry training and apprenticeship office awards the drywall finisher a certificate of completion.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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