How to skim plaster

Written by laura reynolds
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Dings, bangs and bumps can take their toll on a wall after a while. Whether from kiddie cars, wallpaper that wouldn't give up gracefully or age, many plaster walls may occasionally need refreshing. If the plaster or wallboard is basically sound, the best way to restore a smooth, flat surface is to skim-coat the whole wall or room. With the right tools, a little skill and a great deal of patience, you can make your walls look like new again.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Plaster knives
  • Hawk or mud pan and float
  • Quick-set (hot mud) or plastering compound
  • Joint compound
  • Spray bottle and paintbrush
  • Buckets
  • Dust sheets
  • Painter's tape

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  1. 1

    Clean and repair the wall. If water doesn't do the trick, use a cleaner like trisodium phosphate that doesn't leave a film. Repair cracks by scraping any loose plaster out and patching with plaster, mesh tape and joint compound. Sand the repaired wall lightly when dry. If your wall is covered with paint or wallpaper components, sand well with a medium-grit sandpaper to remove any material that might keep your first coat from sticking. A new wallboard area will require only taping, countersinking and mudding, but edges should be sanded. Vacuum well to remove dust and wipe the walls well with a damp cloth to remove all plaster dust.

  2. 2

    Prepare your work space. Spread dust sheets and cover woodwork or architectural details if you don't want to have to dig plaster out of them. Use painter's tape to cover surfaces that come in contact with the wall but be careful to avoid putting tape on the wall itself--you'll pull plaster off with the tape and have another repair to make. Make sure that all your tools are clean and draw a bucket of clean water to keep them clean as you work. Read the directions before mixing your plaster. Some "hot mud" mixes have a limited work time from a few minutes to an hour or more. It's important to know how long your plaster can be worked, especially if you've got a big wall to do.

  3. 3

    Apply your first coat. Mix according to directions and load your mud coat onto your hawk or mud pan. Begin from the bottom of the wall and apply the plaster with your float or knife in upward, curving strokes. Try to keep the float at a 30-degree angle as you apply the mud. When you finish, let the mud dry for about 20 minutes, depending on temperature and humidity. Then go over the wall, working in the reverse direction with a plain float at a low angle, smoothing any ridges or high points and removing excess mud. Sweep off any plaster on woodwork with a wet paintbrush. Your first coat should be even and very thin. You may even be able to see details of the wall through the first coat. This coat should take 30 to 40 minutes to dry, depending on temperature and humidity.

  4. 4

    Repeat steps with second coat but start from the ceiling instead of the floor so that any unevenness is caught as you work. After you level the wall, use a spray bottle with water or sprinkle water with a paint brush to keep plaster damp and "polish" the wall, working your float back and forth until the plaster is absolutely flat and has a hard sheen. Remove any painter's tape and allow the wall to dry completely for at least a day before priming.

Tips and warnings

  • Some plasterers recommend using a coating of PVA, an adhesive similar to wood glue, on painted plaster before skimming. Others recommend sanding. Whichever method you choose, remember that the idea is to provide a surface that the plaster can adhere to.
  • If you're skimming a whole room, do opposite walls rather than risking spoiling the corner on an intersecting wall. Wait until the adjoining wall dries before continuing.
  • Use "corner beads"--wire corners--to hold plaster on corners where walls meet.
  • Be sure to start with an absolutely clean wall and to clean your tools as you work. Little pieces of dried plaster can ruin a skim job.

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