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The History of Drywall

The history of drywall started with an ancient trade. Plastering with lime based materials has been around, not for centuries, but for thousands of years.

There are historical examples of lime based plaster that are thousands of years old that are still intact. Plaste has proved to be a durable and adaptable product throughout history.

The lime that is used in building poducts comes from 'limestone' or 'chalk' and goes through a process to 'calcinate' it. This process involves heat and depending on the process, will yield different properties.

The short version of a long story is that plaster provided both smooth and tooled surfaces that were very durable. Artisans over the centuries have created many remarkable achitectural relics with this material. The smooth surfaces are of particular interest to the development of drywall.

How Drywall Came To Be

Plastering is a labor intensive trade and efforts were made to try and reduce installation time. The cure time and production costs for lime based plaster made the search for an alternative practical. In the late nineteenth century, gypsum emerged as a realistic alternative.

Around 1890, an additive for gypsum, made it a serious competitor with lime based plaster. Of course, gypsum is another form of rock. The difference was that gypsum was cheaper to produce.

The first innovation was rock lath. Sixteen by forty-eight inch sheets that were nailed to the stud framing. This reduced the number of coats of plaster as well as the thickness. Drying time was reduced and costs were lowered.

Drywall was first developed by United States Gypsum in the early 1900's. However, it did not get popular until after the Second World War. Now plaster is a specialty and is done only for special circumstances.

With the development of drywall a new occupation was born, drywall taping or finishing. Paper tape and gypsum compound was used to feather out the seams and produce a smooth surface that could be painted or otherwise decorated. Over time this industry has evolved and now practically all homes that are constructed have drywall in them. It is not surprising that you need to learn how to repair drywall.

A Drywall Story

In the early 1980's I bought a house that was built just after the civil war. I did learn some of the advantages of plaster during that project. Back then you did not get true dimensional lumber the way you do now. A 2 x 4 could vary in thickness from 3 3/4" to 4 1/2". Wood lath was nailed over the framing. Then they would set grounds that were trued up around the perimeter of the wall. A skilled plasterer would make the walls flat.

I went in, removed the plaster and all the wood lath. It was not until I got ready to hang the drywall that I realized the I had a lot of shimming to do before I could install a product that was not as forgiving as plaster. Of course now they have framing methods that give you a flat wall for drywall. They did not have those methods after the civil war. So I got to learn how to repair drywall by shimming it.

Last Updated on April 23, 2013

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