The great trowel debate, plastic vs steel

Date: 25 July 2018

Plastic trowels have caused a stir in the plastering world in recent years, but what’s all the hype about?

We’ve seen a complete split of opinion in the trade when it comes to the great trowel debate. To put the debate to rest we asked the plastering community across Facebook and Twitter for their thoughts on the matter.

The industry has seen rapid changes in the last few years, especially in the tools arena. The new technology and new tools available can rapidly speed up a job and make life a lot easier. However, a lot of plasterers believe in the traditional tools they used when learning the trade and don’t see the benefits of bringing in something new. We wanted to find out where you stood in the great plastic vs steel debate so reached out and asked on Facebook and Twitter.

Trowel plaster blog plasterer steel trowel

We were specifically interested in hearing your thoughts on the advantages and disadvantages of plastic trowels and how often they’re used. There was a definite split with plasterers who prefer steel, like Ben Wybrow, “I always use my Marshalltown Permashape from start to finish. No bumps, no ripples and still get the shine that I want.” While on the other side of the fence were plasterers such as Grant Yule, who have tried plastic and become advocates; “I find plastic trowels a lot easier. It takes a few months to perfect but it’s worth it in the end. Now, I’d hate to do a set all the way through with a steel trowel.”

While we did see strong arguments supporting both sides of the debate, it was clear that some of the comments highlighting a bad experience using a plastic trowel stemmed from misinformation about the product.

Plastic trowels are designed exclusively for finishing and aren’t an out-and-out replacement for steel, rather an addition to the toolbox. Despite all the advances and new designs, stainless steel trowels remain the best tool for installing the first few coats of plaster. And before you think that’s a win for steel, we saw disagreement over how effective stainless steel trowels are for finishing. Pete Townsend commented, “I get better finishing results with plastic. There’s also a lot less wear on my bones once you’ve mastered your style.” Plastic trowels are more flexible than stainless steel models, helping to create neat finishes with a touch of shine.

Trowel plaster blog plastic and steel trowels

Another advantage of plastic trowels, in most cases, is that they’re much lighter than stainless steel alternatives, which means walls can be finished with less effort. Jake Hardy agrees, “I use a Marshalltown Permashape to lay on both coats and then to flatten it off. After that, I move onto plastic for the final three to four trowels. I like plastic trowels because they are lot cleaner, give a more even finish and are far easier on my joints.”

It was clear from the responses that there are many preferred methods for finishing a wall and drawbacks to using plastic, such as their material weakness when compared with steel. Ben Birkett has experienced this when using a plastic trowel and said, “Plastic trowels get too many nicks and bumps, so I use a stainless steel flexible blade to finish.”

Trowel plaster blog installer plastic trowel

Overall it was a mixed bag, and while stainless steel will always be the preferred choice for some, we had a large amount of responses from plasterers who will also use plastic. Take Seth Adams, for example, who says, “You cannot plaster properly from start to finish with a plastic trowel. Should only really be used for a final ‘shine’”. Similarly, Carl Sowerby says, “Both! Put on with stainless steel then polish off with plastic.”

There are pros and cons to both steel and plastic, and through your comments, it’s clear to see that plasterer’s techniques differ and each has their preferred tools of choice. What side of the fence do you fall on?

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