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We just bought a house and were pulling some nails left over from what was probably crown moulding. The nails had been painted over and some of the paint came off with the nails.

Nail removed paint peeling

I peeled off a bit more to see if I could find a good place to sand and fill in with joint compound, but it just kept coming off (rather easily too). After closer inspection it appears that it might be the paper from the gypsum has detached, although I can't tell what's texture/joint compound and whether the layer below that is the actual drywall.

layers

It appears that what's peeling off may actually be paint (left), texture (center) and drywall paper (right).

So several questions:

  1. What's actually going on here -- is this a common problem and my google-fu is failing me?
  2. Is there something that can be done to the affected area only?
  3. And if not, can I just peel all of this off, smooth over rough areas with joint compound, prime, texture and paint? Or is there something else that needs to be done?
  • As an afterthought, could one of the layers be old wallpaper that was painted over? – lukiffer Jul 15 '16 at 5:55
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Although difficult to see and you are not sure if you have exposed the base drywall, I suspect what you have is painted wallpaper. The drywall paper rarely comes off easily without taking some gypsum with it. Because you have described three distinct layers, you may have wallpaper that has been skim coated with mud or primer then painted. What typically happens when wallpaper is coated or painted is that the wallpaper paste is reactivated or wetted by the coating put on it. The added weight of the overcoat tends to pull the paper away from the drywall. Short of stripping a large area, you could try using a sharp utility knife and score a square around the area. Then peel to the score which should leave a clean border, hopefully at a point where there is still a good bond of all the different layers. you could lightly sand that border to ease the edge, then apply a coat of mud or spackle. If the area is not too large, I prefer lightweight spackle because it dries very quickly and has less tendency to react with the existing wallpaper, wet it and cause it to separate from the drywall even more.

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