Tools & Equipment

The UK’s Best Plastering Trowels To Spread & Smooth Plaster

construction worker plastering a wall with a trowel

Plastering can be a tricky business – that’s why there are professional plasterers. Enthusiasts can learn using a budget trowel, and up their game massively by getting a high-end model because plastering is one of the few tasks in which the tool counts almost as much as the man.

Trowels come in an astonishing variety of specialised types and sub-types – there are over a dozen of them. The plastering trowel is a type of masonry trowel that is meant for spreading and smoothing plaster, stucco, mortar, or aggregate material. It may be used interchangeably with a finishing trowel for screeding and skimming.

A simple enough hand tool that is not so simple to make, a trowel basically comprises of a blade, a handle, and the shank between the two (besides possibly an invisible tang). High-end trowels have a second, supporting blade or bracket. The blade is usually made of stainless or tempered steel. The stronger the blade’s material, the lower the possibility that it will deform through pressure.

Plastering trowels and finishing trowels have minor differences but they are both very obviously different from brick trowels and rendering trowels. One difference that may not be so obvious is that, unlike in brick trowels and rendering trowels, a degree of flex is not only acceptable but actually desirable in plastering trowels and finishing trowels. Although you will be using a plastering trowel flat and face-on nearly all the time, in order to achieve a smooth and level finish, especially where the plaster is uneven, you will need to use a wrist-based technique to take advantage of a quality trowel’s inherent flex.

Though many plastering trowels and finishing trowels are designed to have some flex, a desirable property, this flex will not be uncontrolled or inordinate. As for the handle, it should be conducive to a firm grip but also a comfortable one. You need to be able to get a firm grip as you may well need to exert some pressure on an uneven, firm, or fast-drying patch of plaster to smooth it. The handle also needs to be comfortable because, even as a DIYer, you could be using a plastering trowel for over an hour at a stretch.

Rendering and spreading the first coat is a rough job and you don’t need the best trowel or a worn-in trowel for this purpose. However, for smoothing and finishing (or ‘skimming’) the skim coat, you may run into a problem if you use an incorrect type of trowel, a cheap low-quality one, or one that has not been worn in (or broken in): the sharp edges, corners or burrs will leave indentations or marks on the plaster. You’ll try to smooth them out – and will make fresh drags and marks! For this reason, it is virtually a requirement to wear in or break in a new trowel (or to buy a pre-worn, high-quality plastering trowel in the first place).

Our #1 Top Pick
Nela FLEX II 16 Trowel Gold Edition
Value Pick
Draper Redline 69153 Trowel Set (5-Piece)
Also Consider...
OX Pro Ultra Flex Finishing Trowel - Stainless Steel Concrete Finishing Hand Tool - Plaster...
Thickness
0.3mm
13mm
0.3mm
Material
Stainless Steel / Cork Grip
Caron Steel / Plastic Grip
Stainless Steel / Rubber Grip
Blade Size
46.2cm
40cm
46.2cm
Weight
490g
1,110g
599g
Price
£43.30
£17.95
£36.89
Our #1 Top Pick
Nela FLEX II 16 Trowel Gold Edition
Thickness
0.3mm
Material
Stainless Steel / Cork Grip
Blade Size
46.2cm
Weight
490g
Price
£43.30
Value Pick
Draper Redline 69153 Trowel Set (5-Piece)
Thickness
13mm
Material
Caron Steel / Plastic Grip
Blade Size
40cm
Weight
1,110g
Price
£17.95
Also Consider...
OX Pro Ultra Flex Finishing Trowel - Stainless Steel Concrete Finishing Hand Tool - Plaster...
Thickness
0.3mm
Material
Stainless Steel / Rubber Grip
Blade Size
46.2cm
Weight
599g
Price
£36.89

Last update on 2020-10-19 / Affiliate links / Images / Pricing from Amazon Product Advertising API

Underneath we go through four plastering trowels from a budget-priced and basic but good-quality DIYer’s tool to an expensive, high-end, pro-quality trowel, and take in a value deal 5-piece trowel set.

Best Pick: Nela FLEX II Gold Edition

Ergonomic, worn in, durable, expertly engineered, immaculately finished – Nela FLEX II is a near-perfect plastering trowel that will give the perfect finish.

Nela’s FLEX II trowel has a flex blade made of hardened stainless steel and which has slightly rounded edges and corners. It measures 406 x 109 millimetres and is 0.3 millimetres thick. It has a double ‘blade,’ i.e. a fused bracket to the blade, to impart strength and durability. The blade is superlative in terms of its quality and smoothness, and degree of flex.

NELA is a German company that focusses only on trowels and other rendering hand tools.

You can really use this trowel ‘out of the box’ as Nela claims; it is pre-worn-in. You may decide to wear it in but it’s not necessary.

The ‘BiKo’ cork handle is as grippy and ergonomic as claimed. Moreover, it is different from other handles that are just as comfortable in that you can get a good grip and use the trowel effectively even with sweaty or damp palms.

The FLEX II Gold Edition enables you to smooth and finish up plastering such that it is free of lines, ripples or any other kinds of flaws. It is also easy to use; an imperfect technique will not result in a shoddy job. In fact, it is so superlative a trowel that a diligent first-timer could use it and do a finishing job that would be the envy of a professional plasterer!

Another positive that you may not realise in advance: this trowel is so lovely a specimen of a hand-tool that even after a hard day’s work you probably won’t chuck it in the tool chest or the garage, and get a cuppa or a pint. No, you’ll probably feel compelled to wash, clean and dry this little beauty first. Liquid refreshment will take second priority.

The overall quality, machining, and immaculate finish of this kit are just exceptional. It is also robust and durable yet for such a robust hand-tool it is perhaps on the light side at 490 grammes.

Though Nela FLEX II Gold Edition is expensive compared with other trowels, it is still worth the price. And so much so that it is quite an easy choice as our Best Pick.

Pros

  • Overall quality, machining, and finish are unmatched.
  • Makes a smooth-as-silk plastering job almost effortless.
  • So marvellous a hand-tool that you’ll feel duty-bound to keep it clean and dry!

Cons

  • Costlier than many other plastering trowels.
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Value Pick: Draper Redline 5 Piece Trowel Set

Not one and not two but five serviceable, very nice masonry trowels at one incredibly low price? Yes, and Draper’s Redline set is surely the deal of the year.

Draper Tools, a hundred-year-old British company, produces a complete masonry trowels kit, the Draper Redline 5-Piece Set. It comprises of a 280-millimetre Plastering Trowel, a 280-millimetre Brick Trowel, a 180-millimetre Gauging Trowel, a 150-millimetre Pointing Trowel, and a 13-millimetre Brick Jointer (Joint Trowel aka Tuck-Point Trowel). 

‘Redline’ denotes Draper’s “entry level range.” It is sourced, designed, and volume-bought for affordability.

This kit sets you up to do the whole nine yards – well, almost – of masonry jobs from slapping on the stuff to tuck-pointing. Yes, this 5-piece set may not have one or another type of specialised trowel but you can always improvise with one of the five you do get.

These trowels ought to be worn in, and the plastering trowel certainly should be worn in. 

The ‘soft grip’ handles are worth a mention; they are easy to hold and grip and make handling comfortable enough so that the novice can concentrate on learning the ropes and on his/her technique. 

All five trowels are quite well designed in terms of shape, size, and proportion, and feel good in hand.

If not used too frequently, these trowels last quite well; the blades are made of ‘carbon steel’ but one wonders about the ‘lacquered finish’ as the blades are prone to rusting. However, this is easily taken care of by treating them with a rust-inhibitor spray, WD40, or a light coat of tool oil. Also make sure to clean and dry these trowels after each use.

These well-designed trowels do the job very well but they cannot be called very strong or tough with the respective shanks and their joints being the weak links. This set is meant to stock up a DIYers toolkit. They are very good for periodic home use, but not for professional or heavy-duty usage.

This very affordable 5-piece kit costs considerably less than the price of a single ‘name brand’ trowel and is less than half the price of a high-end plastering trowel from any of the two or three big names. Look at it this way: you’re paying for a good plastering trowel and a brick trowel – and getting three more trowels free! It is a sharp purchase for novices who want to get their feet wet on masonry tasks and even for DIYers who do the now-and-then masonry job.

To select Draper’s Redline 5-piece trowel set, a real steal at the price, as a Value Pick is a no-brainer.

Draper provides a Lifetime Warranty (which appears to be a genuine lifetime warranty without the often-seen play-on-words interpretations).

Pros

  • Absolutely ideal to get the aspiring mason started or to test the waters before committing.
  • A particular type of trowel will always be at hand just when you need it.
  • One of the best value for money deals among all hand-tools.

Cons

  • Heavy-duty use may cause the shanks or joints to bend or break.
  • The blades rust quite quickly.
  • Not meant for professional use.
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OX Pro Ultra Flex Finishing Trowel

Outstanding build quality, sterling workmanship, and just-right flex counting among its many positives, OX’s ultra flex towel is costly but worth every penny.

OX Pro makes its ‘Ultra Flex’ plastering trowels in four sizes: 280, 355, 405, and 455 millimetres in length, each of them 110 millimetres in width. Our choice from this series meant for professionals is the 405-millimetre (16-inch) size. The stainless steel blade is 0.3 millimetres thick.

This trowel has round corners and smooth edges as if pre-worn. Though this high-end tool can be used out of the box, a light touch-up with 100-grit would not hurt.

The ‘twin blade’ comprises of the blade and the ‘blade bracket’ to which the shank is fastened, very solidly and securely. Another positive feature about this trowel is its ‘ultra flex’ which tends to enhance control yet makes the tool forgiving of poor technique. Most plasterers will really go for this desirable feature of design and materials.

OX’s claim about this trowel having ‘superior balance’ is 100-percent correct; its just-right balance makes it ‘natural’ to hold and use. Rounding up OX’s top-class trowel is a comfortable rubbery handle that will enable you to work for long periods. All said, this trowel is robust, really solid, and of very high quality.

A little too often OX’s retailers do not pack items properly and securely so a trowel may arrive in less-than-optimal condition, having been dented or damaged in transit.

This trowel is perfect for finishing, is easy to use and gives a silky smooth finish without any lines or imperfections. Even newbies will get a certified frustration-free plastering experience. That said this is an expensive professional-grade trowel that justifies its price and competes with big names that make the ‘best’ trowels.

Pros

  • Excellent balance and comfortable grip make it easy to handle and manoeuvre.
  • Clearly a robust and solid hand-tool of very high quality.
  • Just the right degree of flex for a finishing trowel – perfect.

Cons

  • Costlier than many other plastering trowels.
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Draper Redline Soft Grip Plastering Trowel

Though not very durable, a good, solid entry-level DIY trowel with a really good handle and a good if rust-prone blade for loose change – what great value.

This ultra-low-priced plastering trowel is another pick from Draper’s Redline; in fact, it is one component of the 5-piece set reviewed earlier. This DIY hand-tool is 280 millimetres in length; Draper Redline also make a bigger one measuring 450 millimetres.

It bears mentioning here too that ‘Redline’ is Draper’s “entry level range” for which tools are sourced, designed, and manufactured for affordability. Draper says that this soft-grip plastering trowel is ‘manufactured for the professional or for industrial use’ but this is clearly at odds with the positioning of its Redline range.

The hardened carbon steel blade is good and the ‘soft grip handle’ is even better; it is a very good, ergonomic handle that permits an easy but firm grip. The blade will rust sooner rather than later so make sure to clean and dry it after each use, and either spray a rust inhibitor or WD40 on it, or daub it with tool oil. This trowel will need wearing in.

The shank is the weak point. It is not robust and frequent use and heavy-handed finishing may cause it to bend or even break. That said, this is a plastering trowel and not a brick trowel or rendering trowel. It has very little, if any, flex. Though flex is considered a positive feature in plastering (and finishing) trowels it is also a question of preference. There are some who will like the rigidity and others who won’t.

In sum, this is a good, basic plastering trowel that does the job admirably. This ultra-light 390-gramme tool feels good and firm in hand. Though it is certainly not a durable hand tool, this trowel’s quality is impressive for its bargain price – and the price must count as one of its most attractive features. 

Draper provides a Lifetime Warranty (which appears to be a genuine lifetime warranty without the often-seen play-on-words interpretations).

Pros

  • A good entry-level trowel that is perfectly serviceable.
  • The quality-price ratio makes this kit a super value.
  • So very cheap that you can buy it virtually assured you won’t waste your money.

Cons

  • Heavy-duty use may cause the shank or joint to bend or break.
  • The blade rusts quite quickly.
  • Not meant for professional use.
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Spear & Jackson Stainless Steel Trowel

Boasting a very good albeit rigid blade, comfy handle, and overall high quality, Spear & Jackson’s fine example of ‘Sheffield Steel’ is an outstanding value.

Spear & Jackson, a Sheffield company, has been making hand tools since 1760. Clearly it’s doing something right! This company’s affordable basic plastering trowel has a ‘polished and lacquered’ stainless steel blade. It measures 330 by 114 millimetres. The shank and tang are made of die-cast aluminium.

This budget-buy plastering trowel will need to be worn in.

The soft-grip handle is more than serviceable; in fact, it is pretty good. However, the best part about this kit is probably the blade. For a budget trowel, it – the blade – is definitely of high quality and it is very durable too. However, it is quite rigid and so much so that this trowel is not well suited for finishing or skimming though it is just fine for spreading the first or second coat. 

In sum, if you like a fairly rigid blade and an ultra-light trowel, then this 435-gramme kit is really your best buy for plastering. Its very light weight allows it to be manoeuvred easily, and used for prolonged spells of work. 

While this trowel does not compete with or compare to the top brands or high-end trowels mainly in quality or workmanship and in the fineness of finishing, it is quite a solid and sturdy functional tool that does the job and is very inexpensive, making it an outstanding value buy. 

Spear & Jackson’s plastering trowel is a very good choice for DIYers and hobbyists who want to maximise bang for their limited buck. It may also be a smart buy for those tradesmen, like electricians and plumbers, who need to do a now-and-again small plastering job.

Pros

  • For the price point, the blade and its material are of surprisingly high quality.
  • Its unusually light weight makes it manoeuvrable and easy to handle for long periods.
  • All said, an excellent value buy for DIYers and hobbyists.

Cons

  • Needs to be worn in.
  • Blade is rigid and it won’t do for a finishing trowel.
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How To Wear In A Plastering Trowel

It is a good idea to wear in or break in a new plastering trowel; in fact, this procedure is so important that some high-end plastering trowels even have a worn-in or pre-worn blade. The goal of wearing in is for the blade to be free of burrs, the surface smooth, and the edges and corners bevelled and rounded.

Old timers may tell you to simply use your new plastering (or, God Forbid, finishing trowel) for a few rendering jobs but the old timers aren’t always right!

First, you need to smooth out the trowel’s surface. Rub a piece of 100-grit sandpaper all over the surface for a couple of minutes. You should be able to feel the ‘before-and-after’ difference simply by sliding your fingers over the trowel’s surface.

It is even more important to smooth out and also bevel the edges, and round the square corners. Take a metal file and file the edges so as to bevel them, keeping the file at a 30-to-40-degree angle with the surface. File all round the trowel’s edge. You can also use a medium-grit sandpaper for this purpose.

Finally, round the corners by filing them, bringing the file along the edge and over and around the corner, filing with a curving, arcing motion. Do so on all four corners. Finish up by rubbing the file or medium-grit sandpaper at an angle, same as you did on the edges, so that the corners too are bevelled.

If you know the technique, an alternative but slightly more difficult way to wear in a plastering trowel is by using a whetstone, preferably of the water-stone type.

How To Clean Your Plastering Trowel

If your plastering trowel is caked with dried plaster (or is rusted), say sayonara to getting even a decent finish let alone a smooth finish. To keep your kit shipshape, simply wash it immediately after use (yes, you may be quite tired but there’s that bit about prevention being better than cure). To a pail of clean water add some liquid soap and clean off the fresh plaster. Use a soft brush to thoroughly clean the blade. Finish up by spraying some WD40 on the blade or giving it a light coat of tool oil.

If you’re looking at caked gunk, put the trowel in a container filled with enough water to cover the trowel and add a liberal amount of sodium bicarbonate. Stir the water up a bit and let it sit for an hour. Then agitate the trowel and also the water. You will see the caked plaster breaking off. Scrape the blade’s surface with another trowel. Let it sit for half-an-hour, then repeat the agitation and scraping. By now the trowel should be good to go. Wash it in running water, dry it thoroughly, and spray a bit of WD40 on the blade or give it a light coat of tool oil.

About the author

Kersasp 'Kersie' Shekhdar

Kersie learnt the basics of gardening as a toddler, courtesy of his grandfather. In his youth he was an active gardener with a preference for flowering plants. He is a professional and vocational writer and his freelance projects have spanned various kinds of writing.

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