It’s another busy week in Waterloo. Jeff is off to school (hooray!) and I’m heading out to BlogPodium tonight. Where did the summer go?!
Around the house, things are a bit chaotic, but slowing coming together. We are in the final stages of picking out a new roof (can’t wait!), and work in the master bedroom, is steaming ahead despite my August reno-cation getting high-jacked by a tropical storm.
As you may know, our 1920s house is blessed with plaster walls. Bumpy, cracked, melting, patched, wavy plaster walls. You either love ‘em or you hate ‘em. For me, it depends on condition. After 90+ years, some walls have a lot more cracking and patching than others. Overall, they suit the heritage of the house, so I accept them.
However, our master bedroom is one of the worst rooms in the house when it comes to uneven plaster. The walls have a LOT of random texture, and the corners are particularly nasty. It looks like someone poured plaster down from the ceiling, creating what I think looks like melted wall joints.
When remedying weirdo plaster, you’ve got a few options: gut & replace; cover-up; or patch & repair. In the bathroom, we ripped out and replaced the walls. In our office (and former kitchen) a previous owner covered up the plaster ceilings. So, in the master bedroom, it felt fitting to give the patch & repair method the good old college try.
After a bit of research, I stumbled on the idea of skim coating the plaster to try and even out some of the texture. Several sites recommended a tool called, no joke, the Magic Trowel, which is basically a wide, flexible squeegee. With a name like that, how could I not buy it?!
So, here’s the down-low on how I’ve been tackling the first layer of skim coating.
1) Gather Supplies!
A bucket, magic trowel, smaller flex trowel, two small containers (for scooping compound and water), a paint roller, a paint tray, a rag, and drywall compound.
A few of the resources I found recommended quick-dry drywall compound for skim coating. For my first few batches, I used Sheetrock 20 (which dries in 20 minutes), and it was a NIGHTMARE! I could barely get it on the wall before it dried and my roller turned into a rock. Yikes! Do yourself a favour, if this is your first time skim coating, pick a compound that has a slightly longer dry time to give yourself enough time to mix, apply, and trowel the compound in small sections. So far, Sheetrock 90 has worked much, much better for me.
2) Mix your compound!
For skim coating, you want your compound to be slightly wetter than normal. Think pancake mix or pudding. Because you’ll be working in thin layers it is critical to avoid having any debris or clumps in the plaster, which can scratch the wet plaster as you trowel. This will inevitably happen, but do your best to keep drying bits of compound away from the active compound you plan to use on the wall.
Use your smaller trowel to pour/scrape your mix from the bucket into your paint tray and soak it up with a nappy roller. It will take a minute or so to get the dry roller coated in the compound, but just roll back and forth as you would with paint.
3) Roll your compound onto the wall!
Work in small sections. If you try to do too much at once, the edges will dry out before you can trowel them smooth. I recommend working in 4’ sections or less. Likely you’ll have to refill your roller a few times just to get this area coated. Try to get the rolled on compound fairly even in the area where you’re working.
A spray bottle is super handy to have on hand to spritz any spots that look a little dry. Be careful not to water down the compound too much. A little spray goes a long way.
A forewarning that a plaster coated paint roller is a bit heavier than you’d think. No question you’ll be able to manage, but be mindful of stressing your wrist. I also recommend buying paint rollers (for all applications) that have less flex. When I buy cheap rollers, with lots of flex, I always find I have to put more pressure on the roller to get the coverage I want – inevitably tweaking my wrist.
4) Drag the Magic Trowel across the wet compound.
Keeping the trowel at nearly 90 degrees and applying a bit of pressure, drag the trowel from one end of your rolled area to the other. You’re looking to smooth out the compound and only keep a thin layer on the wall.
The method that has been working for me is to do my first pass with the trowel vertically (moving top to bottom, or bottom to top) at 90 degrees, and then do a lighter pressure, horizontal pass at a much smaller angle. This second pass helps smooth out some of the small ripples that are left by the first pass.
If you see debris in your work (you drag the trowel and pull along a tiny crumb leaving a long scratch), clean your trowel, try to pick out the debris, and make a light, perpendicular pass. If you’re plaster is already drying, don’t bother; just leave the scratch until the next coat. Much like mudding drywall joints, trying to fix minor imperfections on an otherwise good area can potentially mess up the whole thing. Know when to move on!
5) Overlap slightly as you apply compound, section by section, across the wall.
Once you’re first section is done, roll on the next section immediately next to the spot where you just worked. Try to overlap very slightly, but be mindful not to drag your trowel across near-dry areas.
The first coat is called a scratch coat and is only meant to fill in the biggest hollow spots. It will literally have a bunch of scratches in it! Have heart, the second (and possibly third) coat is where things will start to look a little more finished.
In the picture below, you can also still see the bow where the lathe sticks out on the wall (it looks a little bit like ribs, if you ask me). As a note, the type of surface skim-coating described above won’t eliminate this type of wave. If you want to have totally flat walls, you’re going to have to gut & replace or strap & cover with drywall. A professional plasterer might be another option.
For us, the real goal is to fix the corners and try to eliminate some of the surface texture (particularly where previous patching has been done). We’d rather have smooth wavy walls, than bumpy and cracked wavy walls. Hopefully once the skim coating is finished, and the walls have been primed and painted, it will look a lot more polished in here.
6) Let it dry!
Before you can start your second coat, you need to let the scratch coat dry completely. Trying to work wet plaster over or near drying plaster can result in a big mess, with your smooth coat peeling up in clumps. This type of finishing work requires patience, so take advantage – it’s the perfect time to put your feet up and have a glass of champagne. Just be sure to clean your roller, trowels, and bucket first!
At this point, I’m nearly done the first coat, and HOPE I’ll only have to do two coats in most places. Until it’s done, we’ve moved into the guest room and things in there are a little tight, to say the least. Ohia is not impressed.
What projects have been keeping you busy this week? Have you ever tried to skim coat your walls or used the Magic Trowel?
P.S. Going to BlogPodium? Keep an eye out for me! I’ll be the tall chick trying to herd everyone from room to room. See you there!