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Rough walls.

We get lots of letters from readers telling us about their woes with walls and ceilings: holes, cracks, peeling wallpaper--you name it. We've done a few stories over the years on how to fix them too (see p. 63).

But there are a few stubborn problems that still bug people. Here are four of them: bad drywall joints, unwanted ceiling texture, wallpapering over rough walls, and coping with really bad walls.

If you're the owner of rough walls, don't be shy about calling a pro--a drywall contractor, plasterer or drywall finisher. Some techniques, like skim coating (see below) and finishing drywall joints, take a practiced hand to do well, and a pro can do them smoothly and very fast. So fast, in fact, that it may cost a lot less than you imagine.

The basic tools for repairing walls are very simple: a 12-in. broad knife (Photo 2), a 4-in. taping knife, a pan for joint compound and the compound itself. If you're confused about which joint compound to use, see p. 60. If you want help with the basics of wall repairs and using drywall and related tools, see the references on p. 63.

Bad Drywall Joint

PROBLEM: "One of the drywall joints in my wall is just terrible. There's a crack going down the middle, and one side of the joint is lower than the other. I've tried spackling it, but it still looks terrible! Help! What do I do?"

--"Crazed" in Cincinnati

SOLUTION: First, attack the crack, and don't be timid about it. The problem is that the tape that originally covered the drywall joint has ripped and probably pulled away from the wall. Here's what to do:

1. Dig the paper out with a putty knife, going a few inches beyond the crack. Cut (don't tear) the tape off 1 or 2 in. beyond that.

2. Push on the seam to see if the drywall sheets are securely fastened to the stud. If not, attach them more solidly with drywall screws.

3. Scratch out all the loose joint compound, vacuum out the dust, and tape the joint again (Photo 1), bedding it in a setting-type compound (see p. 60). Important: The tape must be completely covered with compound on the back side. Use paper tape, and don't overlap new tape over old.

4. Fill the low side of the joint with joint compound (Photo 2). Important: Use setting-type compound if the low side is more than 1/8 in. deep. After it's dry, finish with several coats of compound, feathered out.

5. Sand the joint with 150-grit drywall sandpaper (wear a mask!). Watch out: Be sure to sand the edges of the compound thoroughly. A sanding block helps. Use your light to check carefully, because any little edge will show later. Dust, use a latex primer, then paint.

Unwanted Ceiling Texture

PROBLEM: "We're fixing up an old house that has ceiling texture in some of the rooms. I hate ceiling texture. How do I get rid of it? We want plain, smooth ceilings."

--"Helpless" in Houston

SOLUTION: Well, this can be very easy or very hard. You can get beautiful results, and also some nasty surprises. Texture is sometimes applied--especially in old houses like yours--to cover up water damage or big patches in the plaster. Remove the texture and you may have to have the ceiling skim-coated (call a pro) or put drywall on top of it (see p. 60). In newer houses, texture is often put on as an economy measure; the drywall joints need less finishing. Remove the texture, and you're faced with finishing the joints, plus repairing any damage that stripping caused.

Here's how to approach it: Spray a small area with water, and let it sit for an hour. Does the texture soften? If so, you're in luck; you'll be able to soak and scrape it off (Photo 3). Get everything out of the room, drape the walls and floors with plastic, and get ready for a major mess.

Scrape with a stiff, but not sharp tool, being careful not to gouge the paper on the drywall, or to damage the drywall joints.

Watch out: The joints will be soft. A stiff, wide putty knife or a wallpaper tool ($8) with the blade put in backwards are excellent choices (Photo 3).

What if the texture doesn't soften in water? Try putting a little rubbing alcohol on it. If that softens it, you can use a special mild stripper called Texture-Off to remove the texture. Roll it on (Photo 4), let it work for a couple of hours, and you should be able to scrape off the texture. Again, be prepared for a monster mess. Texture-Off is available in paint stores for about $18 a gallon. It's made by William Zinsser & Co.

And what if the alcohol doesn't do anything? You've got a problem. Call in a pro for skim coating or putting new drywall on top of the texture.

PROBLEM: "We raised six kids in this house, and it was old to begin with. Some of the walls are a wreck! Cracks, patched holes and some loose plaster. Is there some way to get these wans looking good again?

--"Perplexed" in Pittsburgh

SOLUTION: Sometimes old walls can look like a battlefield. If the walls are basically sound, though, just patch each problem individually, and skim coat lightly over the whole wall (see p. 62). Prime, size and apply a wallcovering. Your best choices are a low-sheen dark color or one with texture, both of which hide irregularities. If you want to paint instead of wallpaper, call a pro for skim coating.

If your walls are really bad, however, with large sections of loose plaster or heavy and oft-patched texture, the only solution may be to cover with new drywall. On walls, the easiest approach is to simply butt the drywall up to the existing trim and tape the edges (Photos 5 and 6). This works only on older homes with thick trim, and it has the drawback of making the trim look thinner. Use 3/8-in. drywall, drywall adhesive (it comes in a tube like caulk) and long enough screws to penetrate studs or lath. With the adhesive, you need screws only every 12 in. on the edges, and every 16 in. in the middle of the sheet.

Switches and outlets will have to be remounted with "box extenders," metal rings that bring the front edge of the electrical box flush with the surface. (For an example, see J/A '90, p. 64.) On ceilings, use drywall at least 1/2 in. thick, and consider covering the wall/ceiling joint with molding so you don't have to tape and finish it (and redecorate the walls!).

With thin, modem trim it may not be possible to butt drywall up to it successfully. Your options in this case are:

1. Remove all the trim, keeping it intact for reuse.

2. Extend or replace the sides of windows and doors to cover the additional thickness of the wall.

3. Add new drywall.

4. Tape all joints, including the wall/ ceiling joint

5. Replace the trim.

Clearly this is not a small project, undertaken lightly.

PROBLEM: I just bought a house, and some of the walls look like a beach, for Pete's sake! little grains of sand all over them. I want to put up wallpaper, but how can I do it over all this grit?

--"Bummed Out" in Baltimore

SOLUTION: Ah, those sand finishes --some people love |em, but if you don't, they're a pain. The same goes for some of the more exotic swirled and brushed textures. The best fix is to "skim coat" the wall, that is, to apply a thin coat of joint compound over the entire surface.

If your final goal is to paint the wall, or if the texture looks like the Himalayas, your best bet is to hire a pro. It's going to be tough to get a smooth enough surface without a practiced hand. But if you plan to wallpaper, and the texture's not too rough (for instance, the sand finish you mention) you can do the skim coating yourself.

Here's what to do:

1. Remove the highest points by sanding or by scraping with a broad knife held perpendicular to the wall.

2. Sweep and vacuum the wall.

3. Apply all-purpose light-weight joint compound, using a broad knife (Photo 7). Avoid the setting types. Make several thin applications, feathering them out at the trim. For a fast first coat, try thinning the compound slightly with water and applying it with a paint roller. Then remove the excess compound (everything above the tops of the sand grains) with your broad knife.

Knowing when to quit working the surface is one of the keys to skim coating. Concentrate on filling low spots, and don't worry about thin ridges left by the tip of the knife--you can sand or scrape them off easily.

4. Sand the wall, using 80-grit drywall sandpaper on a rubber sanding block, or a firm, damp sponge. Yes, you can sand compound with a sponge. It makes much less dust, but it takes longer and doesn't leave the surface as flat.)

5. Prime and "size" the wall. Priming seals the wall, and sizing prepares it for the wallpaper adhesive. Red Alert! This is a crucial step. Omit it and you'll have trouble: The wallpaper could either pull your skim coat off, or stick so tenaciously it'll never come off when you want it to.

You can use a separate latex primer and wallpaper size, or a combination product like Shieldz. Check to see if the wallcovering manufacturer suggests any special wall pretreatment.
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Title Annotation:do-it-yourself project; includes related article on using drywall compound
Author:Collier, Ken
Publication:The Family Handyman
Date:Feb 1, 1994
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