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How to Skim coat Broken Plaster Walls and Ceilings

By Edited Jul 6, 2014 1 11

skim coating walls

How to skim coat broken plaster walls and ceilings, is a challenge that more and more people are encountering now a days. A lot of older homes have come to market and they are attracting the young improvement minded buyers.

This type of home will often require walls and ceilings to be repaired due to falling, or cracking plaster. Some of these can be repaired with a lot less effort, then would be required to remove the existing plaster and either replaster, or hang sheet rock in it's place.

Cracked ceiling
If you have a large wall or ceiling area that's fallen completely out then you will at the least have to remove the rest and install sheet rock of the appropriate thickness. Skimcoating isn't an option because too much is gone.

This article is more for the homeowner finding walls that are still there but badly cracked and beginning to let go of their lathes. These types of problems can be repaired with a few tricks.

The first thing you must have on hand is a good supply of plaster washers. These are about an inch in diameter round washers, with a screw hole in the center and smaller holes throughout their surface. This allows plaster or joint compound to squeeze into them for grip.

plaster washer
Plaster washers are available at all home improvement stores or hardware stores and their used to pull in loose plaster back to the lathes or studs. Using a screwgun a center screw is pulled in until the washer tightens the loose plaster back to where it belongs and gets it behind the final surface height.

Take on one wall or area at a time and install a sufficient amount of screws and washers to tighten all loose plaster. Once you have a good solid wall you can begin the process of skim coating your wall or ceiling.

It's recommended to use a large sheet rock trowel, at least 12 inches wide to start with. Skim compound over a two by two area. Now having a hawk to hold the compound in one hand and your trowel in the other you will scrape the compound off untill you get a good smooth surface. This will not happen on the first coat and maybe not the second or third. It takes time and patience to get it smooth.

A good way to go is to use a slightly wider trowel each time you add a coat. Another tip is to try not to touch the wall until each coat is completely dry. Sometimes you can run a pole sander over the area between coats to get any high spots that are going to upset your trowel on the next coat.

curved sheetrock trowel
For really bad areas with bumps or seams showing they make a curved trowel for sheetrocking seams. This trowel is slightly bent to leave more mud or compound in the center of the pass. This trowel can help immensely to cover those aggravating blemishes that seem to keep coming through no matter how many coats you put on.

Paper tape
For large cracks and small holes use paper sheetrock tape embedded in mud to help you fill the area. This is a good practice for cracks as well. The paper adds a lot of strength, once hardened within the compound. Use caution not to oversand areas were tape is used. Instead, feather the edge with another coat or two. As you do this, each coat will be thinner, so it dries faster and faster.

Learning how to skim coat broken plaster walls and ceilings is a challenge, it does take practice. The more coats you do the better the end result is going to be. If your a beginner remember at least three coats before your even going to believe you can ever get it flat. Give it time and keep adding thin coats and trying different trowels. You can achieve a perfect finish with time. Just remember if it isn't perfect, then it isn't done.


Xl Zinc-Plated Plaster Washers
Amazon Price: $4.95 $3.57 Buy Now
(price as of Jul 6, 2014)
Goldblatt G06216 12-Inch Finishing Trowel, Pro-Grip
Amazon Price: $21.67 $13.75 Buy Now
(price as of Jul 6, 2014)
Goldblatt G05224 12-Inch Mud Pan, Stainless Steel, Heli-Arc Welded Seams
Amazon Price: $16.85 $4.99 Buy Now
(price as of Jul 6, 2014)


Jun 5, 2011 3:38pm
dreamaker, if you threw in pictures you could sell this guide!
Jun 6, 2011 11:24am
Thanks EvanEdge913,
For the visit and the added motivation to add the pics.
Jun 9, 2011 1:34pm
I tried doing this myself once with disastrous results. After reading your article, I know everything I did wrong! Thanks!
Jun 9, 2011 1:36pm
Takes a little practice Diva. Thanks for coming by.
Jun 10, 2011 4:35pm
Right on time article, got back from vacation and noticed a crack from ceiling to the top of the doorway in my dining room. Will try to patch myself.Thanks.
Jun 10, 2011 5:50pm
Glad to be a help lynsuz and thanks for the visit.
Oct 8, 2011 6:12pm
We all need to know how to do these things ourselves, especially during these hard financial times. Great tips.
Feb 10, 2012 11:56am
That's for sure. A lot of people are saving money by doing their own home improvements. I'm happy to be able to help.
Thanks for the visit.
Mar 22, 2012 12:17am
Plus the rusty roofing sheets. The challenge has come to me in retirement but with patience all will be tidy.
Mar 22, 2012 12:53am
What do you have a rusty tin ceiling? These usually have plaster above them. If it's broken and cracked sometimes repair as above is an option, sometimes it's better to hang brand new sheetrock over the existing mess or after tearing out if you have the energy.
Thanks for coming by if I can help at all my email is in my profile here at InfoBarrel. Cheers!
Sep 21, 2012 7:20pm
Good guide dreamaker. I've worked on this type of thing myself, and it isn't easy. The plaster in our home isn't smooth, either, by design. There are a few repairs that need made, and I'm thinking perhaps a wet sponge or some non-stick aluminum foil to put the dings and little bumps back into the plastered areas.

I do agree that if you expanded this and gave step by step pictures, you could sell this as a guide.
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