Damaged plaster ceiling

I'm trying to rehab and old plaster ceiling from a 1940s apartment in Manhattan. I have scraped off most of the plaster and much of the old patch work but a lot of the patches and more recent work is impossible to get off the ceiling. There are no more flaking pieces of the ceiling so I am ready to move on to the next step.

I don't need to remake the ceiling in a perfect manner as the walls are not in great shape either. I am looking to do a decent job and one that will cover up most of the problems and the ceiling. I was hoping that someone could start to describe different products and how to go about starting off. I understand that I have to fill the gaps and gouges, maybe an intermediate coat then possibly some real plaster to finish it off but I don't know the actual product names or order in which I should start these repairs due to conflicting opinions.

  • 1
    Hello, and welcome to Stack Exchange. We can't really recommend products for you (see the help pages), and this is a pretty broad question, so it's going to be tough for you to get good answers here. – Daniel Griscom Mar 30 '18 at 19:49
  • I think I might've just hung new lightweight 1/2" drywall and taped the joints. You have a lot of sore triceps in your future. – isherwood Mar 30 '18 at 20:05
  • Daniel's right about the question being too broad. The short answer is that you get a bucket of joint compound and start troweling. I'm sure there are plenty of technique videos to be found. For example – isherwood Mar 30 '18 at 20:09
  • Have you considered covering it with drywall? You'd loose about a 3/8 (drywall) + 1" (furring strips) of ceiling height if you use the thinner drywall, then you will have largely flat surface and just have to tape and mud the gaps and can caulk the area where the walls meet the ceilings. The benefit of this approach is you can install led downlights (looks pretty dark in there). As other answers suggest you can skim coat it, but it is going to be hard for a novice to get it smooth. – Alex Jan 2 '19 at 6:18

You'll want to use a setting type compound, like Durabond, for the initial "fill-in" coats. Then regular joint compound is OK after that, in multiple thin coats.

Wet the old plaster prior and during the first coat, with a well wrung sponge, or mist it with a spray bottle. Don't soak it, just get it damp.

On the finishing coats, you don't have to get it wet, but do allow plenty of drying time, between coats, and wipe any sanding dust off, between coats with a well-wrung sponge.

Do not put regular joint compound directly on the old plaster - it will dry out too fast, shrink, and fall off. The interface layer of "Setting Type" (I use Durabond 90, in the bags), is required, if you plan to finish with "All-Purpose" premixed joint compound.

Note: It is entirely OK, and recommended, to work in small sections at a time - don't try to get it all done at once, or even in one day.

  • Thank you Tahwos. I will get to the lumber yard Monday and start stocking up on supplies. – Garynyc Mar 31 '18 at 20:01
  • @Garynyc I added a note to my answer, that you work in small sections, and take your time. – tahwos Apr 1 '18 at 14:57

Looks like a good scrape job. Next step is get a box/bag/bucket of topping compound. I think a 5 gallon box, premixed, is about $15-20. Then get a 10" taping knife and start "floating" it. If you haven't before, you'll get the hang of it quickly. Slop on some mud, and pull it in long smooth strokes trying to maintain the depth. Some will plop onto the floor, that's okay, you can wash it off or cover the floor. Some lines (ridges) in-between your strokes is also expected. Don't over work it. Just get the mud up and even it out to the thickness that the original plaster is built up to... maybe an 1/8" or so.

Next, allow it to dry a little bit to where there is a skin formed and its not gooey anymore, but still soft enough you can indent a fingernail in it. At that point you can 'sand' off the ridges with a damp sponge. You can get it looking really nice a smooth (at least compared to what it was!). Then just let it dry, prime and paint it.

Optionally if you want to get a textured look, you can do another step. Add water to your Mud to make it thinner than usual, and use a paint roller to roll it on. That will leave some random patterns that look like a medium texture.

  • Thanks Freshop. Great advice. I am more confident than ever that I can get this job done! – Garynyc Mar 31 '18 at 20:02

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