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I have a 100+ year old house and while it's quite structurally sound there's been some settling over the years, leading to small cracks in the old plaster around the house.

I hired a professional to take care of some big cracks in the dinning and living room. But now I want to tackle the upstairs bedrooms myself. What is the best method for repairing these cracks in plaster (not drywall)? What products do you recommend for using in this project?

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

I don't own a house with plaster so please take this advice with a grain of salt...

As you pointed out, the cracks usually appear due to settling. As a result, you ideally want your repair technique to be resilient against future movement. As far as I know, there are 2 main ways of doing this:

Method #1: For smaller cracks, fill them in with painter's caulk (latex caulk). Because it's a latex compound, it will (supposedly) expand and contract with the crack. It also makes cleanup a breeze.

Method #2: Use a joint compound specifically made for plaster work, tape over the crack, and apply additional swipes with larger blades to smooth the look. The technique is described here: http://www.askthebuilder.com/B38_Plaster_Repair_-_Cracks.shtml (the author suggests drywall compound but as Niall pointed out, it's better to use other compounds).

-M

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The article you linked to mentions joint compound, which usually means drywall joint compound, and isn't good with plaster walls. Better to use a specialty plaster repair, like Plaster of Paris. Here's another article on that website that explains the difference. –  Niall C. Dec 30 '10 at 17:31
    
@niall c - Thanks. I'll update the answer. –  Mike B Dec 30 '10 at 17:36
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I've used drywall compound on plaster in the past with no problems. But it can't be the ready mixed stuff, get the power and mix it yourself (also cheaper). If the house continues to settle/move there is no product out there that will keep the crack from happening again.

The trick is to make a slight gouge in the wall with the crack, just putting a bit of compound over a hairline crack won't hold enough, with a pointy object or screwdriver trace the crack until you get a little valley, then patch with compound, sand, repeat if nessassary. Sanding is key here, good rule of thumb, if you can feel ridges with your fingers, you'll seee them when you paint.

Last, i would not use caulk as someone suggested. Caulk will indeed move a bit with the house, but you can't sand it flush, so unless you get it perfect you see it when it's painted over.

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