How to Safely Drill in Old Plaster Walls

Written by cat mccabe
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How to Safely Drill in Old Plaster Walls
Drilling through old plaster can be tricky. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Old plaster cracks and crumbles easily, and can sometimes separate completely from the wooden lathwork that anchors it to the wall. In order to repair a cracked plaster wall, you must drill into the plaster and inject adhesive to reattach it securely. The trick is to quickly drill into the plaster without disturbing or drilling into pipes, wiring or wooden lathing behind it. Some trial and error may be involved if you don't have schematics for wiring and pipes.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • Electric drill
  • 3/16-inch or 1/4-inch carbide drill bit

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  1. 1

    Choose an area about 3 inches on either side of the crack in the plaster. Check to see that the drilling point is not directly above or below a light switch, outlet or faucet. Mark it with a pencil.

  2. 2

    Arm your electric drill with a 3/16-inch or 1/4-inch carbide bit. Twist the locking mechanism on the drill head to anchor the bit securely. Set the bit against the pencil mark and turn the drill on.

  3. 3

    Drill into the plaster, using light forward pressure, letting the drill do the work. You'll either feel the drill punch into a void between the wooden laths behind the plaster, or you'll feel immediate resistance. If you feel you've hit the lath or hear a metallic whine, put the drill in reverse and back it out.

  4. 4

    Place the drill bit an inch or so below the first hole and try again. You'll want to drill your holes into the gaps behind the plaster between the wooden laths in order to inject adhesive. Mark any holes that hit lath or pipes with a pencil for patching instead of adhesive injection.

  5. 5

    Repeat drilling every 4 to 5 inches on both sides of the crack until you've drilled along its entire length.

Tips and warnings

  • Use a stud finder to locate wall joists for hanging heavy objects on plaster walls. In this case, drill through the plaster into the wall joist before installing a long screw to support the weight.
  • Don't try to hammer a nail into old plaster. Depending on the plaster's composition, it will either bend the nail or crack and crumble the plaster.

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