Archive for June, 2009

Off to the Dining Room!

We are now installing the same heavy cornice we installed last week in the much larger Dining Room. It’s approximately 25′ x 23′ large with 14′ ceilings. Needless to say, it’s a large room!

The main difference between the two rooms that we’ve worked on is presence of plaster walls. Unlike the silicone adhesive material, PL 400, we used to attach the Hallway’s cornice to the wooden walls, we used good old fashioned plaster. However, included with the plaster is the secret ingredient known to many plaster professionals—wallpaper glue. Instead of using straight water as the plaster’s carrier, a cellulose-based, powdered glue was added to the water. This adds strength, workability and adhesion to the plaster. We also used this mix for pointing. (I was recently corrected about the glue’s chemical nature and its benefits by our shop managed, Nathan. Although I still think the glue adds initial flexibility compared to the straight plaster/water method we learned in school, he is correct in that it seems more rigid and stiff when dry. In my opinion, its application and workability is more flexible and a pleasure to work with.)

We had a rocky start to this room when we realized that there was some confusion as to the vertical dimensions of the cornice placement, but once we resolved this the project really took off. We managed to install 18 pieces of cornice within four days. This may not sound like much, but again, each of these pieces was over 60 lbs. and we were working on scaffolding. We were told even Foster was impressed by our speed.

Now it’s off to the kitchen.


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Instead of reporting on my day by day activities during my internship, I have decided to narrow it down to weeks. Since I’ve been working on-site in Long Island, I’ve been concentrating on the installation of just one project. I’ll write more if I think it’s worth sharing. This single, ornate cornice project has certainly been a learning experience, but it’s also been a pain.

Not only are the pieces slightly warped having been dried in a less stable environment, but because of the nature of this old mansion, the walls and ceilings are less than perfect as well. This was to be expected, but several other supervisors of the overall project seemed less than pleased that it has taken so long. The sheer weight of each piece (60 to 80 lbs.) made the job more of a challenge and tested our patience. But regardless of the time taken, we were able to finish the project and move on.

Another new employee of Foster Reeve, Victoria, began the pointing (or finishing) of the work we completed. This included filling the voids, replacing chipped pieces, fine-tuning space and sharpening the edges. She’s done a great job so far and has made the work we’ve done look even better. I’ve expressed that I would like to be a part of the pointing, but they really need me to continue working on the installation of the other rooms. Now it’s off to the dining room.

Two of the installed pieces next to each other. You can see a missing egg in the egg-and-dart ornamentation that Victoria will be responsible in replacing. To do so, several of the other eggs will be carved out and replaced with new eggs and darts.

Two of the installed pieces next to each other. You can see a missing egg in the egg-and-dart ornamentation that Victoria will be responsible in replacing. To do so, several of the other eggs will be carved out and replaced with new eggs and darts.

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Today was spent on site at a residential project in Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York. This is a massive house and the largest one that I’ve ever been involved with. There must have been two dozen trades people representing the U.S., Mexico, Jamaica and Poland working on this project. All of them must be well respected and it shows through the work in the house.

I’ve never seen so much custom mill work. Every room seemed to be covered with complex and beautiful oak or maple. Overall, it’s very impressive, but I cannot imagine living in such a large house.

The project at hand is installing the complicated and heavy cornice piece that I casted several times the week before. I assisted the installer, Ramon, and have learned quite a bit in the first day alone. Though, proficient and highly qualified as he is, I can already tell that these pieces are going to take longer than expected. It’s not because Ramon is slow or that I’m slowing him down, but the sheer magnitude of the overweight pieces takes some extra handling and care.

The cornice is first going to be installed in the hallway that connects the parlor with the library. It’s approximately 30′ long and 7′ wide. Unfortunately, one of the obstacles in installing this piece is that no blueprints or dimensions were available when we started the job. I was told that we are normally given such numbers, but we started installing nonetheless because we knew it was going to take a while.

Screws and a substance similar to Liquid Nails were used to install the pieces. That’s it! I thought a series of hanging bolts or burlap and plaster would be used, but it was much simpler than that. I’m anxious to see the complete cornice in place.

The first cornice panel was put into place and screwed into the wooden 2x4s that lined the perimeter of the ceiling. Plastic was covered over all of the custom millwork that lined the walls of the hallway.

The first cornice panel was put into place and screwed into the wooden 2x4s that lined the perimeter of the ceiling. Plastic was covered over all of the custom millwork that lined the walls of the hallway.

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Working on a Saturday is a bit of a bummer, but like most of the days I’ve experienced in New York thus far, it’s raining out, so spending the day in the shop isn’t too bad. I’m unable to enjoy any outdoor activities in the City and brushing up on my skills is a good way of spending my time.

The day was spent casting the same ornate piece that I began on Friday. In a little over four hours time, I was able to successfully cast three additional cornices! Unfortunately, most of the time was spent either cleaning or prepping, but that’s all a part of it.

It’s exciting knowing that I will be installing these pieces on site next week.

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“The cornice.”

The wooden framework I created yesterday was put into place today. I layer of plaster was poured on the back of the rubber mould, sheets of burlap were applied and the wooden from was secured into place with strips of plaster-soaked burlap. Voilá, a hard shell for the cornice was born!  This shell prevents the rubber mould from moving and gives the mould a platform on which to rest.

Nathan assisted in pouring the first cast of the mould and I was then free to cast them myself. Casting eight feet of such an ornate cornice is time sensitive and challenging. All air bubbles must be eliminated and massive amounts of detail must be present. Two sheets of burlap are added for strength and durability and they must not be seen anywhere on the face of the cornice. I was proud to produce three that day and none were sacrificed.

It was a good day. Unfortunately, I was asked to come in to work on Saturday in order to produce three more for a total of six before Monday. I was then asked to help install these next week. How cool! It’s going to be great seeing the work in place. I’m looking forward to it.

Oh yeah, and I managed to catch a fly in a sandwich bag during lunch. Luckily, I was already finished with the sandwich. Nathan couldn’t resist letting it out of the bag so that it could go on reproducing maggots. Thanks, man.

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Using the router with a straight cutting bit, I cut the wooden skeleton ribs needed for the template I described yesterday. Unfortunately, I just realized that I have no pictures to support this.

Once the pieces were trimmed to size, they were assembled with a nail gun and wood glue. Two sheets of wiggle board were tacked to the skeleton for one of the templates. Additional sheets were needed before I could continue with the other template. So in the meantime, I helped Ruben run a curved baseboard.

This baseboard was run using a horse on a long pivot. If run in its entirety, it would have formed a ten foot diameter circle, but the client only needed a two foot section. The weight of the material built on the core caused it to fail initially, but with a little bit of patience and elbow grease, it eventually built up nicely.

The end of the day was spent creating the wooden framework and prepping the burlap for the plaster shell of an extremely ornate cornice that several of the other plasterers were developing. The shell supports the rubber mould that was created after the plaster model was pointed and polished. The framework looks similar to a small ladder with alternating horizontal and vertical ribs. Again, a picture would help, so I’ll work on that.

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Clean house!

It’s amazing and quite a shame, actually, how much stuff we throw out. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot we can do about this. We just don’t have room for old rubber moulds and the dumpsters become full quickly due to excess and waster plaster. If only my school was closer, we could use unused moulds for teaching purposes or old plaster for disposable training sessions. Oh well, part of my job is to empty the three smaller internal dumpsters into a larger one that comes every two or three weeks.

The rest of the day was spent developing the wooden framework for a template. The wooden pieces were set against a paper template, traced and will eventually be routed to form the skeleton of a template. “Wiggle board,” a thin, lightweight sheet of wood will then be tacked to the skeleton. This template will be for a large curved ceiling piece. It reminds me of the waved ceiling templates we created for a school project during our Freshman year. Should be interesting. So far, just a lot of sawing, cutting and sawdust.

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