Plaster on an Exterior Lath Wall

The Oxford Dictionary defines garage as a building for housing a motor vehicle or vehicles. That is, indeed, the purpose to which most folks put theirs. So do we. Our garage houses our car and truck, our camping gear, our tools, our ski equipment, our bicycles. In fact, anything we don’t need on a daily basis or doesn’t have a place in the house lives in the garage.

Seven years ago, as we sat out on our strawbale home building sage, we began with the garage, which was not straw. We started with the garage because, before it was a home for car, truck and other miscellany, it was to be a construction shop. But even back then, we knew we wanted its exterior to eventually match the future earthen plaster exterior of our house. Therefore, we employed a technique that was common prior to the introduction of drywall and siding- lath and plaster.

This process begins with lath: narrow strips of wood nailed horizontally across wall studs.  The lath is about two inches wide by four feet long by 1/4 inch thick. Each horizontal course of lath is spaced about a quarter of an inch away from its neighboring courses. Once the walls are covered with lath, plaster is applied. The plaster is pushed through the quarter-inch gaps between each lath. This “keys” the plaster to the lath.

We thought it would be a simple undertaking to locate lath, but it turned into something of a quest. After calling many possible sources, we finally found enough lath for the project, seventy miles away, at the Home Depot in Richfield. As the clerks loaded the bundles of lath onto our flatbed trailer, they asked what we planned to do with it all. After they heard the explanation, one fellow laughed and said, “They invented drywall to get away from this.” I don’t think he shared our vision.

One of the last projects of that first building season was covering the exterior of our garage with lath. And that’s how it sat, for seven years – under a temporary wrap of Grip Rite House Wrap, waiting its future handsome coat of plaster.

That future finally arrived in July of this year. After discussing the scope of the project, we agreed to plaster one wall – the one we see from the kitchen window. It was a lively conversation since, as usual, I wanted to bite off more than we could likely chew at one sitting – plastering the entire structure. Scott, being the member of our team who more accurately understands the time it takes to complete projects, successfully argued for a one-wall goal. With the parameters of the project agreed upon, and our nephew from Seattle on site to provide experienced assistance, we set to work.

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The first step involved removing the old and beginning-to-fray Grip Rite from the east wall. It was actually pretty amazing to see how well that membrane had held up in the seven-year blast of wind and weather of Wayne County. But off it came.

Then came the first coat of plaster, over wooden lath and expanded metal lath, which covered solid wood surfaces like the header of the garage door.

A few places offered unique challenges where there were gaps in the wood lath caused by wiring and conduit. Scott said these spots must be what it might be like to plaster the surface of a waterbed.

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Next came the second and final coat of plaster made with a lower straw to clay ration and the addition of sand. Two or three people working these expanses made for rapid progress.

Soon enough it was time to apply decoration that continued themes inside our house – trees, dragonflies, and a spiral sun. Several complete coats of linseed oil (rain and snow repellent) followed this.

A turquoise door and trim tied the garage to the same colors used on the greenhouse on the east side of our house.

Scott installed the lights, which had been living above the garage rafters for seven years. Our blank canvas was complete. Only three more walls to go.

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