How to Hand-Plaster Walls to Cover Wallpaper and Damage
Reasons to Plaster
- Cover Wallpaper: Not only can wallpaper make a house seem dated, it is also expensive to replace. An alternative, hand-plastering walls, can now be found in many upscale houses.
- Update Style: You can add a hand-plastered wall to accent a living room, kitchen or dining room.
- Cover Damage: Another use of this technique is to cover up damage in a wall. When a plumber did a bad patching job, I decided to cover up the mistake by re-plastering the whole bathroom.
- Cover Up Popcorn Ceiling: Hand plastering was so easy to do and looked so good that I later used this technique to cover up wallpaper and popcorn.
The materials are the same for each of these jobs, but the techniques are a little different.
How to Hand Plaster Walls
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- Plastering knives (4” works well for most of the wall, but you might want a 1” for corners and edges.
- Joint compound (all-purpose or lightweight both work fine).
- Tray or bucket.
- Plastic sheets or tarps (I like to use old shower curtains) for covering for floor and furniture.
- Painter’s tape or masking tape.
- Paper towels and water for clean-up.
Preparation of Walls
- First, take everything off the wall you want to plaster and move furniture out of the way.
- Next, cover the floor near the wall with plastic sheeting. Tape the sheeting to the baseboard with painter’s tape or masking tape. This job is messy and you won’t want the plaster to get on anything you can’t easy wipe up.
- Get paper towels and a pail of water ready. Joint compound can be washed with water and a wet paper towel can wipe it up easily when it is wet, so keep some paper towels and water around for cleanups.
- Put some of the joint compound in your plastering tray.
- Take about ¼ to ½ cup of plaster (don’t measure, just eyeball it) on your plaster knife.
- Start at an edge of the wall and hold the knife with the plaster against the wall at about a 45-degree angle.
- Pull the knife toward you and smear the plaster on the wall. You will want to press down so that you leave about ¼ of an inch of plaster.
- Pick up the knife and pull it across the plaster again in another direction.
- Continue to put the plaster on the wall and then smooth it in different directions. There is no one way to do this. If you don’t like the way the plaster looks, then try doing a couple of swipes across it in a different direction.
- Don’t make the swipes too long unless you are trying to get a striped look. Actually, I found that it looks better if I do this quickly and don’t try to fuss with it too much.
- After you've finished a 2’ by 2’ section, look at it and lightly swipe across any parts that don’t look the way you want.
Answers to Frequent Questions
Should You Remove Wallpaper?
Yes, if you can. If you can easily rip off the wallpaper, then you should probably do so. I used a wet sponge to help loosen the paper on my walls. However, you do not have to scrape all of the paper off a wall. Whatever sticks on the wall and can’t be easily scraped off can just be plastered over. If the wallpaper is really stuck on the wall and you can't get if off even when you get it wet, you probably can plaster over it, but you might want to try a small section first to see if you have any trouble with it tearing off.
Do You Need to Completely Cover Wall with Plaster?
No, actually I’ve found that my walls looked best with just a light coat over parts of the wall to give some texture. Some of the wall might show through but it will be covered with paint. If your wallpaper doesn't come off easily when wet and doesn't have a texture, you can just paint over it. Just be sure that you do cover up any seams with plaster.
How about the edges? I sometimes use a finger or the edge of a smaller knife to smooth the edges of walls, around fixtures in the walls, or between the wall and the ceiling.
What about texturing? Visit Home Depot, Lowes, or your local hardware store to see other tools to use in texturing. There are combs and sponges that can be used for different effects. You can also use crumpled up aluminum foil to roll across the wall.
Do you have to work quickly? Not really. The joint compound remains workable for an hour or more, so you can experiment with different looks. Once it is allowed to dry, you can still go over it with more plaster if you don't like it. Moreover, if you can't finish the project, you can stop and finish later. Just wrap up the joint compound to keep it from drying out. It is easy to add to a wall you’ve already started, and you will never know it wasn’t done in one setting after it is painted.
How can I get different hand-plastering looks?
Depending on how thick you put the plaster on the walls and how you swipe the knife across, you can get some very different kinds of looks. You can have a wavy look, a rough look, or a prickly look. Look at my pictures for ideas and you can also look at design books.
How long does it take? Believe it or not, this is a very quick home project. I’ve done a whole bathroom in an evening. In fact, I’ve often liked the rooms I did quickly better.
Covering Up Popcorn Ceiling
When can you paint? You will need to let the plaster dry completely before painting. You will know when it is dry when it changes color (from dark gray to light gray for all-purpose, from gray to white for lightweight). It should also feel dry to the touch. Depending on the air temperature and humidity, this can take a few days to a week.
What do you do to finish? Usually, I just paint over the plaster with one or two coats of high-quality paint. I like to use Behr paint with primer because it covers so easily. Use a thicker roller to get into the grooves of the plaster.
What colors look best? I love the look of Behr Ultra White, which I used in a bathroom which had blue, white and yellow Mexican tiles. However, any color can look good that matches your room. I tried white in another bathroom we had that was tiled in blue and green Mexican tiles with a Saltillo floor. It didn’t look right. When we switched to a color which matched the floor, it made the room look like it was from an old Mediterranean home by the sea. Another idea we've used is to do a base color and glaze over it with either white or brown. That makes an antique rustic look.