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Repairing Plaster Walls and Attaching Things to Plaster Walls

by The Handyguys

in Audio Podcasts, Radio

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Repairing plaster walls and attaching things to plaster walls are discussed in this audio episode of The Handyguys Podcast.

The Handyguys received this question from a listener:

Would you please talk in detail about homes with plaster walls? I have never lived in a home with plaster walls until now and have only heard horror stories about putting things/pictures, etc, up on the walls. Can curtain rods be hung on plaster? Is it best to live with and/or “enhance” the cracks as a feature, or can they be fixed for a reasonable amount of $$? LOVE YOU GUYS! Thanks!

No horror stories here. Some cracks might be inevitable but we discuss in the show doing repairs and hanging things on your plaster walls.

Types of plaster walls

Traditional plaster are often made by installing strips of wood lath to the framing and then multiple coasts of plaster are spread over the lath. The plaster can contain pig hair or horse hair for strength. This may also be applied, in some instances, over a masonry, brick or stone wall.

Plaster and Lath wall

Modern plaster, also called veneer plaster, is installed over a substrate board, similar to drywall.

Hanging things on plaster walls

Hardened NailPaul had good results with what he calls “tempered picture hanging nails” or also called hardened steel picture hook nails. You can get these at your local True Value hardware stores. Make sure you read the package for how much weight the particular hook can hold.

You can also use a screw into the lath or a stud. A trim head screw would be ideal but other screws could be used as well.

How about curtain rods? YES, you may be able to install the curtain rods with the hardware provided. If you are installing heavy curtains you will want to use a longer screw than may come with the curtain rods and then make sure you screw through the plaster and into the framing around the window.

If you are attaching heavy things like shelves, and you can’t screw into a stud, you may want to use a Toggle Bolt. These expand behind the wall to provide good holding power but will need a larger hole to install them.

All of these attachment methods assume your plaster walls are in good shape. What if they are not? Then you may have to repair the plaster before attaching anything to it.

Repairing plaster walls

There are a few types of common repairs; cracks, missing pieces or separated lath and plaster.  The repair method will vary depending on what type of plaster you have and how it was originally installed.

Repairing plaster separated from lath

If the plaster has separated from the wood lath its likely because the “keys”, where the plaster connects to the lath, have broken off. You need to re-attach the plaster to the lath. This can be done with drywall screws but a better solution would be to use “plaster washers”. These washers are either metal or plastic. They are about 1 1/2″ wide, a screw is inserted through the washer and driven into the wood lath. The washer pulls the plaster tight against the lath. You will need these washers every foot or so (or every few inches depending on how bad the plaster is detached) to secure the plaster. Once the washers are installed, and the plaster is stabilized, you then skim a coat of new plaster over the washers to hide them.

Plaster Washer

Repairing cracks in plaster walls

It seems that cracks in plaster are sometimes unavoidable in old homes. These homes will move with the seasons and cracks will re-appear over time.  A traditional approach to repairing cracks involves removing any loose plaster and then filling the crack with new plaster, also using some paper or fiberglass joint tape if the crack is large will help. If the house does move a lot then there may be little that can be done to keep the crack from re-occurring.

If the crack is small, Paul suggests just using a flexible, paintable, caulk in the crack. The flexibility of the caulk gives you a better chance that it will stay put and the crack will not re-appear. If that fails then you can try the more traditional method down the road.

plaster crack

Repairing holes in plaster walls.

For repairing a hole in a plaster wall Paul recommends “Patching Plaster”. It’s a fast drying plaster than comes in small containers for small repairs. Check it out and follow the directions on the package.

Plaster wall repair

Tools for plaster repair

You will only need some basic tools and supplies for repairing plaster. You will need a 6″ wide putty knife and a 12″ wide knife, your plaster washers, a utility knife, some paper repair tape and a container to mix the plaster in. These can all be found at your local True Value.

We were one of the bloggers selected by True Value to work on the DIY Squad. We have been compensated for our time commitment to the program as well as our writing about our experience. We have also been compensated for the materials needed for our DIY project. However, our opinions are entirely our own and we have not been paid to publish positive comments.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Patrick August 22, 2011 at 11:22 am

I run into this problem a lot I will try the ‘patching plaster’ next time. Thanks for the recommendation.

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The Handyguys August 22, 2011 at 12:58 pm

You’re welcome.

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NJ Cellulose Insulation Contractor January 6, 2012 at 11:29 am

Unfortunately we see the problem a lot as well. Even worse is when we see homeowners who have tried to correct it themselves and only made the crack worse.

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Tuiles July 18, 2012 at 10:44 pm

Thanks for the tips, I have this problem at home and every time I tried to repair it, it makes the crack bigger. I guess I’m doing it wrong.

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khan October 11, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Hi
I’ve just had a guy to plaster a new extension to my old house.
The guy plastered the new erected walls and its showing horizontal like crack lines .
Question:
How do I fix the problem

Reply

The Handyguys October 12, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Well, first thing I would do is contact the guy who did the job. I would expect him to stand behind his workmanship. But, if the walls were not build correctly, had movement in them, then it may not be his fault.

It depends where the cracks are and how the plaster was installed. Was it a plaster veneer over blueboard? If so, does the crack follow the seam of the board?

I would need more info, how the wall was built, how the plaster was installed (what type of substrate) and where the cracks are. Perhaps you could email pictures to [email protected]

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Marvin February 3, 2013 at 12:57 pm

I am trying to replace a toilet paper holder and the hole in the plastered wall is too big. HOw can I get the screw to hold in the wall?

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The Handyguys February 4, 2013 at 8:28 am

It depends how big the hole is. If it isnt tooooo big try using a toggle bolt instead of the supplied screws. If that wont work let us know.

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Rob April 23, 2013 at 12:24 pm

I’m having a problem with a plaster ceiling. I have a spot where the 1/8 finish plaster is seperating from the rough plaster. I picked as much as I dared out (about a 6″x8″ area) and filled with joint compound and that promptly cracked and wasn’t attached. So I’ve dug it out again.

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David August 13, 2014 at 11:38 pm

The screws holding one of my railing brackets to the plaster wall have pulled out of the wall. How can I repair these so the screws will hold safely?

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The Handyguys August 14, 2014 at 10:25 am

I would try to determine where the stud is in the wall (use a stud finder perhaps) then move the railing bracket so your screws can hit the stud. Make sure you use long enough screws to go through the plater, lath and well into the stud. If you cant move the railing bracket and use anchors I would use toggle bolts. The best solution is to move the bracket and not use anchors at all.

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