Stucco News

Question and answers on Stucco and Plastering--

December, 2015

   Keene's cement-

durable and scrubbable


Keene's cement was invented about 1828 By R.W. Keene to make theatrical masks.

Dear Mr Bullard
,I picked up a letter to you on the internet from Gene Zacharias when I did a search for R.W.Keene.  I wonder if you can help me or put me in touch with Mr Zacharius.I am researching Richard Wynn Keene, also known as Dykwynkyn,  mask & property maker and costume designer at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London, who was born 1809 and died 1887.  He was buried in the Actorsí Acre at Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey, England on 2nd Dec 1887, aged 78.  I only know what he did in the Theatre but I understand that he patented Keene's Cement and from Mr Zacharius's letter to you he is mentioned in the same sentence as Donatello and Michelangelo !!!   This was fantastic news for me but I would love to know more.  Can you suggest anywhere that I can find information on him or anyone that I can contact who would also be interested in him ?  I would be grateful for any information at all that you could give me.   I live in London and my address is .....

How amazing that you still use Keene's cement.  Working at Drury Lane he made all sorts of props for the shows and especially for the pantomimes when he made hundreds of full size grotesque heads which were worn by children and the chorus, so couldn't be too heavy.  I have seen 6 of his costume designs and he obviously had a great sense of humour.  He was apparently deaf from an early age.  He finished up in dire poverty and I think had a stroke, very sad.  A fascinating man  -  I would like to write an article about him.

What USG , who makes Red Top Keene's cement says about Keene's cement:

Perfect for schools, hospitals and other "hard wear" applications.

Blends with lime putty to create a durable, crack-resistant finish.

RED TOP Keenes Cement is the ultimate choice for texturing. When mixed with lime, its highly calcined, "dead-burned," white, gypsum plaster produces durable, highly crack-resistant, smooth- and sand-float finishes. It mixes well in large batches, delivering a dense finish that requires a high-strength gypsum basecoat.

The cement sets in 3-6 hours and is retemperable, so it can be floated for an extended time period. It permits color finishing when sand-float finished.

Shower finishes:

Hello, really like your web page and have a question for u.
We are originally from Europe and big fans of the stucco.
Now based in the midwest we would like to build stucco / plaster shower enclosures, instead of tile. We like the free forming opportunity.
 We have not been able to find material here in the Midwest. In Cal we found Merlex, but nothing here in Ohio.

Do you have a recommendation for us. What material to use? Premix/ Mix ourselves.

We used keene's for this sand float finish in this church sanctuary. Since Keene's sets slow we were able to do large walls without leaving a join.
Color plaster finish is applied to this large kitchen and dining area. This couldn't have been possible using conventional plaster.
By mixing large quanities in a garbage can, we were able to white coat this
enormous addition the same day.
Mixing large batches of color plaster in a garbage can
assures uniformity.
My Picasa slide show of some color  Keene's cement finishes we did.

Keene's Cement is really a gypsum plaster
, and the only gypsum plaster than can be re-tempered, that is water added andremixed when it sets up to bring it back to life.
We used it over the years as a finish for bathrooms and kitchens, because Keene's is very water resistent and super hard making for scrubbable walls.
Keene's works good over a gypsum plaster basecoat, and cement basecoats,
even though I have had bad results using Keene's over cement basecoats twice.

My bad experiences with Keenes:
Keene's isn't resistant to cold weather and should never be used outside.
I used it outside on stucco to smooth trowel some beams and the finish crumbled and failed in less than 4 years.
I also had bad results using Keene's on a cement basecoat on a raquet ball court many years ago and it never set up all the way. It may have been a bad bag, I don't know. I went back the next day and troweled and troweled. Finally I went back and filled in check cracks a soft areas and got it barely good enough to pass. I have seen excellent results over cement basecoats in hospitals,
so I don't know what went wrong.

I can vouch for Keene's as a finish for a shower over a gypsum basecoat, but I would never use it for a bathtub, shower floor, or anywhere there is standing water unless it was on a cement basecoat.

If you see old buildings where the walls are scored to look like tile,
it was most likely Keene's cement. I worked on a circa 1901 hospital
in Richmond and an old 1903 mansion where the walls were scored to look
like tile and the walls were in good shape.
How do I know it was Keene's ? I worked with an old plasterer that assured me the hospital was Keene's, because Keene's sets slow allowing time to score the tiles. Also the walls were super hard.

A smooth troweled Keene's cement finish develops over 2,500 psi strength. Keene's is used a lot out west for textured finishes. Since it sets slow, large areas can be done at the same time, with out leaving a join.

We use Keene's for our decorative color finishes, for the same reason. Keene's can be mixed in garbage cans and can be troweled the next day. Adding silica sand also improves strength, add adds desired texture features which wouldn't be possible with other plaster finishes.

I used Keene's cement when I plastered my house. I had some cool color
finishes on the ceilings and troweled the walls smooth. I painted the
painted drywall with plaster weld, and put on a thin coat of veneer basecoat.
After a finish coat of Keene's I had walls that were super durable and scrubbable
in spite of how thin they are.

Keene's cement is used for scagliola, a faux marble plaster technique.

Why R W Keenes invented Keene's cement for theatrical masks is obvious. He wanted a mask that was a lot harder than molding plaster, and set slow allowing him time to shape his masks.

It is strange a plaster used for making masks had such an impact on the plaster industry.
Portland cement was invented by an English bricklayer to make fake stones and I don't
know what we would do without it. All the concrete around you is made from Portland
and it revolutionized stucco and masonry.

I often wonder what happens to high end bathroom and kitchen remodels where drywall is used and can't be scrubbed. I guess if someone got explosive diarrhea and splattered the wall, they would just
have to leave it. So much for designer pictures on Houzz.