Tips and tricks for working
with plaster walls—from pulling
it down to patching it up.
By Mark and Theresa Clement
If you live in a house built before 1940, you almost certainly have plaster walls and ceilings. At its best plaster makes surfaces uber-hard and
sound-deadeningly substantial. At its worst, it’s a brittle
wall-covering that’s practically looking for a way to jump
off the wall.
Good installation or bad, however, the presence of
plaster signifies several things beyond the age of the
structure, notably the home probably:
doesn’t have insulation
does have lead paint
doesn’t have many straight lines for easy trim layout.
So whether you’re adding trim or doing a gut-and-rehab
on an old house, here’s a few tricks for working with
plaster. But first (there’s always a “but first” with me
isn’t there?), here’s a little information on what plaster
is and why we don’t use it much anymore.
ANATOMY OF A PLASTER SURFACE
While plaster can be applied directly to block walls it is
often applied over a layer of wood lath (2-inch, rough-sawn
strips nailed with the world’s sharpest nails). Lath is
nailed perpendicular to wood studs or over 1-by fastened
to the block.