Pneumatic Finisher Hits the Streets

Don Procter

April 2005

Readers may recall the column I wrote about an ergonomic study last spring comparing pneumatic drywall finishing equipment to conventional finishing methods. The pneumatic equipment was a clear winner. It cut finishing times dramatically while reducing repetitive strain injury and musculoskeletal problems associated with conventional equipment such as mechanical sets and hawk and trowel.

With those kind of rave reviews, you might think that drywall finishers would be lining up to buy the new tool. Quite the contrary. It is estimated that there are only about a dozen users of the Apla-Tech pneumatic finishing system in the Greater Toronto Area, a city with a population of about five million.

So why aren’t contractors rushing out to buy them? There are a few good reasons, but probably the best one is simply that this is an industry that is slow to adapt to new technology—no matter how much easier it might make their work lives.

Another significant reason, however, is that the study was conducted in a controlled environment—primarily in the cosy confines at Interior Systems Contractors Association of Ontario’s training center in Toronto. A true test is on a real project. That is why ISCA has embarked on a two-year in-field study.

The $240,000 (Cdn.) study includes a three-day training session conducted by ISCA instructor Dennis Kelly at the contractor association’s training center in Toronto. Once participants learn the basics of how to use the Apla-Tech pneumatic taping finisher, they take them to their work sites. On-site support is provided by Kelly, who says it takes up to a month to become proficient with the pneumatic finisher. At a cost of about $3,500, the finishers are pricey, but participants in the study are provided one free for the duration of the study, thanks to a grant from the Workplace Safety Insurance Board of Ontario.

For three months at their workplaces, the participants must undergo six tests with electromyography equipment (electrodes attached to muscles) to measure their muscular activity while applying drywall compound to flat and corner joints. The tests are conducted by the Construction Safety Association of Ontario.

The study’s objective is to assess 20 people using the Apla-Tech and 20 more in a control group using mechanical sets over a two-year period.

Kelly says to the best of his knowledge there has been no study as indepth in Canada or the United States.

While participants are paid $300 for the three days of training at ISCA and an additional $300 for complying with ergonomic testing over the following three months on site, he points out there isn’t any line-up of people waiting to get into the testing program—at least not yet. That could change as word spreads on the merits of the equipment.

Kelly, who started using a pneumatic finisher in his drywall finishing business a couple of years ago, says it has cut three hours off a typical eight-hour day’s work with a mechanical set. What’s more, the pneumatic finisher takes all the aches and pains out of the job. While cynicism in the industry abounds partly because of the high price of the equipment, Kelly says the tool pays for itself in short order for any busy contractor.

The finisher comes with a mid-sized pump, three coaters ranging in size from 7 inches to 12 inches, a 3-foot canon and a set of bead tabs.

"When people finally realize they can get their work done quicker and without the injury, they will see that they are a godsend. They’ll start thinking with their brains, not their backs,” Kelly says.

About the Author
Don Procter is a free-lance writer in Ontario, Canada.