Master Bedroom Part 3

Getting Plastered!

The Master Bedroom is taking a fair amount of time and work to repair.  The walls and ceiling (not to

Cleaning up debris after sheetrock removal

mention the floor) all need resurfacing, molding is missing and windows are in need of repair and paint. We knew this room would take considerable effort since it’s the largest of the four bedrooms and upon first glance there’s more noticeable plaster damage in this room than any (not counting the stairway and upper hall areas). The master bedroom also has the primary brick chimney (nicely finished in plaster) running through it on the eastern wall. And chimneys, despite their massiveness actually like to move … and movement is what causes plaster to crack. The chimney was reworked about 6-8 years ago and is stable and in excellent condition. It’s very likely that at the time of building scaffolds and working on the chimney, the chimney’s surrounding areas were stressed and cracked.


It’s a very attractive chimney, only double flue but large and decorative. Many neighbors comment the chimney being the nicest in town but I digress. Future plaster damage caused by the chimney’s movement should not be an issue so on with the renovations!

We’ve chosen to renovate vs. remodel. While the difference seems subtle (since both terms have been bastardized by many websites and TV shows) the difference in approaches and activities can be significant. A neighboring house very close to us is being truly renovated and conserved. We are told the owner has been at it for over 15 years and will likely never finish. Honestly, we’re really doing something between renovations and remodeling however we try to lean towards renovation, the more conservative and less invasive approach while maintaining as much original materials and craftsmanship as possible (and as much as we can afford). Renovations tend to value the original materials and methods used while taking a conservative, less invasive approach. Remodels tend to allow major intervention and demolition with less concern and respect to materials and craftsmanship and tend to have more desire to modernize.

It is our opinion that the homeowner has a responsibility to the integrity of the home. That’s not to say they have to follow any specific guidelines or rules but they should steward the home as best they can, consider the homes original craftsmanship, materials and intent and make thoughtful choices.

One example to share pertaining to the Master Bedroom is the decision to stabilize the existing plaster on the ceiling as compared to taking it down and starting “new” or covering it up with sheetrock or another material choice. The decision to stabilize the existing plaster allows us to retain the original plaster and to a large extent is less work than the demolition and rebuild a new ceiling would require.

Most commonly, a remodeling approach would be to “hide” the current ceiling behind a new sheetrock ceiling, maybe tearing out the original damaged plaster (including the plaster that is stable) and installing a new sheetrock ceiling or worse (in my opinion), hide the damaged plaster behind a “drop ceiling” and hope it never comes down!

I researched several approaches to stabilize ceiling plaster that has already partially separated from the lathe. This becomes a key concern (pun intended … keys are the plaster that gets “smooshed” between the pieces of lathe which create the physical mechanism for the plaster to adhere to the ceiling or wall) … ok, I digress again … The keys being damaged is an important factor in the renovation process and must be dealt with first. Any subsequent materials applied to the surface of the ceiling will only weigh the ceiling down and further damage the plaster. The existing ceiling has to be stabilized before anything is added.

I chose a fairly new method using some “modern materials” I appreciated because it was less invasive and focused on the damaged areas while allowing a complete resurface at the same time

Scraped ceiling crack

First, the cracked area is carefully scraped as clean as possible of any loose chipping or peeling paint. Sometimes, as it is with this damaged area, there may be some water damage from previous roof leaks. Water damage often causes paint to delaminate from its substrate so thorough removal of the poorly adhered paint is best.

I had to work carefully as to not upset the plaster much more. It’s already damaged and more damage due to my scraping is not wanted!

Many methods suggest that gouging out the crack to fill it with plaster is best. I’ve tried this method on walls and while it can work, I wanted to try something less invasive on this ceiling. So to some extent, this is a test for me personally!

Instead of removing plaster along the entire crack, the new method suggests drilling 3/16th holes every 3 or so inches (about 1 inch from the crack) along both sides of the crack being stabilized. Most of the holes drilled will hit lathe, some might be located between the lathe in the plaster’s keys. Either is acceptable but the lathe holes are preferred.

After the holes are carefully drilled, each hole will be liberally filled with Liquid Nails construction adhesive. Now this is where we could easily argue that Liquid Nails is not a historically accurate material to use on an 1895 home. We could argue but I’m not going to … like I said … somewhere between renovation and remodel. Seriously, I have no problem using modern materials to attain safety, security and an aesthetic that replicates the original or helps me preserve the original materials and appearance.

Crack repaired with Liquid Nails and Screws

After the holes are filled I use sheetrock screws outfitted with large plastic washers to “clamp” the plaster in place while the glue sets. Depending upon how concave the surface is will influence if the screws stay or not. In one area near the chimney the screws are far beneath the overall surface so they will stay! If it seems that the screws will protrude proud of the surface I may remove them after the glue dries.

I then work stone and tile adhesive into the crack as well as I can. This helps “glue” the actual crack line more strongly than plaster or joint compound. At this time, this is exactly where the ceiling repairs have been left. The next steps are to apply the reinforcement mesh and skim coat with joint compound mixture. We are working on the walls at the same time and have don some mesh and plaster work we can show and explain. It;s the same procedure that will follow for the ceilings.

We treated the walls as we did the ceiling. Instead of tearing out the wall plaster (which was more stable than the
ceiling plaster) we used a self adhesive stabilization mesh that acts like thousands of tiny “bridges” creating
a strong matrix of old and new plaster. The wall cracks were very slight with no damage to the keys so there was no need to do the drilling and gluing and screwing to these walls.

Karyn applying reinforcing mesh onto cracked wall

The wall pictured here with Karyn applying mesh had several “large” cracks and many “smaller” cracks with no separation from the lathe. Very stable really, just cracked significantly.

The mesh is self adhesive but the real strength of the repair comes from skim coating several coats of plaster or joint compound into the cracks and filling the texture of the mesh. these coats of plaster sandwich the mesh between the old wall surface and the new … a very strong matrix that will resist future cracking and provide a smooth wall surface to paint or wallpaper.

Skimcoating the mesh on a wall

We’re still skim coating joint compound on every surface in the master bedroom. There are a few repairs left to make on the ceiling and all the walls need at least two more coats of plaster to make them smooth. Karyn was practicing her plaster technique in the closet (yeah, the plaster in the closets need some help too) and she’s just about ready to plaster more public walls!

There’s a lot of surface to cover still so stay tuned for at least another one or two posts for this room! We still just dreaming about painting in here but Karyn has the color picked out and I’m not spoiling the surprise of her finish choices in this post but let’s just say I’m lobbying for a very fancy decorative finish!


6 thoughts on “Master Bedroom Part 3”

  1. i love this site- a tutorial on plastering too!
    you are both so talented and have so much patience! living with dust and sheetrock andplaster is not fun.. but what you have done so far is amazing=- and i am sure the master bedroom will be no exception!

    why do you think this room was in the worst condition?
    most used or least used??

    1. Part of the reason the ceiling was cracked was due to chimney movement. The one wall had damage from the built-in wall and closet that was covering the two main windows. I think the room got used but not too much.

  2. We had the same thing happen to the plaster ceiling in part of Conrad Jr.’s room. It’s a lot of work to repair it, but as you know it’s well worth it. How large is the master bedroom?

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