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Preparing Rough Plaster Walls for Painting

It's all about evening out the hills and valleys

Ask This Old House Crew
Photo by Matt Kalinowski

Our 1930s home has three rooms with rough plaster walls. I want to
fix one of the bedrooms up for my daughter, but just painting the wall
doesn't look right. Can the wall be smoothed out without having to rip
off the plaster and put up drywall? I also want to divide the wall from
the ceiling so it doesn't look like the wall runs on forever. Any ideas?

— Teresa, Maryville, TN


Tom Silva replies: You may be able to scrape or sand off some of the high
sections, fill in the low points with a skim coat of joint compound and
sand that lightly. Scrape or sand with a drag scraper or some 60- or 80-grit paper
and a sand block. Think of the plaster like hills and valleys
that you want to level. If you scrape and sand off the tops of the
hills, then you'll need less joint compound to fill in the valleys.
Installing a crown molding will give you the division of wall and
ceiling that you are looking for.


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