Lately, I've gotten a tremendous amount of e-mails and letters that keep asking the same basic questions, namely, what steps should be taken to do repairs and when to patch vs. resurface. It's more than I can answer in one column, so I thought I'd use some recent repairs I've done to illustrate some options you may want to keep in mind. This month, I wanted to cover one repair in particular-an open hole. We'll cover falling plaster and the topic of when to patch or resurface the next time around.


Oftentimes, I notice holes that are cut by a plumber. For this job, the repairs were made to the pipes so it was time to seal the area back up. There are basic questions that need to be asked right from the get go, one of them being if the area is still wet. Often, the plaster is damp or actually wet from a previous leaking situation, so it's a good thing to make sure the area is aired out and completely dry before making the repairs. One technique I use frequently is a good fan on the open hole. This fast-forwards the drying process.


Another basic question that has to be asked is what has to be matched. Is it a texture or smooth finish? It seems a basic enough question but one that is going to help make deciding the right techniques much easier. Personally, I find it a whole lot easier to blend a repair like this when it's on the edge of a ceiling. A repair this large in the center of a ceiling will take doing the right techniques in the right order-with just the right timing-if you don't want it to show. And it's much easier to blend a smooth repair than a textured surface.

What you do to make a repair work is important.Whenit is done is even more important. Let me give you an example.

After I fill the hole with plasterboard or drywall, I'd use a latex bonder about a foot around the hole. I'd then basecoat the area and use fiberglass mesh tape that would bridge the area between the board and the existing ceiling.

Now here is where timing comes in. If this is a smooth coat finish, I am not too worried about when I do the next step, namely the smooth coat. I can do it that day or the next day. The reason is simple: Even with dry basecoat, I can coat it with smooth finish and blend it with little trouble and get an even, smooth finish in the end. But it's a different story with a textured surface. And this is where many who write me run into trouble.

One of two things is attempted. The first is trying to do the texturing the next day and the second is trying to do the texturing at the same time as doing the initial repair. I always recommend using the technique of repairing the area first using basecoat and mesh, then doing the smooth finish or texturing afterward.

But time and again, I am called in to do repairs that have been attempted several times. The problem with those who attempted the repairs before me was one of two things: Either they had the texture bunch up in clumps on them over the surface of basecoat or they tried to do both the repair and sand finish texture all at the same time. This last technique was done to save time but actually ended up taking more time than was needed. So many repairs I do behind people require me to spend at least half the time scraping and chipping off the plaster or toothpaste and Portland cement combination that was used to do the repair.

The trick to doing excellent, invisible repairs is the timing. Once I basecoat the area, I get the texture mix ready to go. One technique that has worked well for me is the mix itself-I use much less sand in it than I would for a new construction setting where I am going over basecoated walls and ceilings, room after room. Cutting back the sand content lessens the sticking or binding problems that occur when too much sand is in the finish being used. This is a common and deadly mistake when it comes to doing repairs.

I just got called in to a new house to do three ceiling repairs that were smack dab in the middle of each ceiling. The original plasterer was called in to fill the three boxes that needed to be filled and textured. It was a sand finish swirl ceiling in each area. Two things went wrong: First, no mesh tape was used over the areas, and second, when the basecoat was used to fill the holes, they went over them when they were bone dry and didn't wet them down at all. Add to that the fact that they used sand finish with a high sand content. They applied the sand finish over the dry basecoat and the moisture was instantly pulled out of it.

There's this thick mixture with a huge amount of sand in it looking like a small mound about 1/4 inch thick over the area. Doesn't sound high but that kind of bulge made it stand out on each ceiling. They tried rubbing it down but all that succeeded in doing was making it bald in some areas with the sand swooped and clumped into a peak on one side. Needless to say, it was rejected on the walk-through by the homeowner. The second attempt only made things worse.

My point on texture repairs is this: Strike while the irons hot. In other words, block or base in the area, then, while the basecoat is just about to set or has just set-follow up immediately with the texturing. You use the moisture that's present in the base as a foundation over which to work. Going over fresh basecoat lessens the amount of moisture being pulled out of the finish you're applying over it, allowing the sand to spread instead of building up instantly on the basecoat.


One of the most important points in figuring your pricing is location, location, location. Where is the repair going to be done? An area that really doesn't matter much, say behind a refrigerator, is much different than an outlet box or light hole cut in the wrong place in the center of a dining room ceiling that has full sunlight on it all day long. The one behind the fridge the homeowner and/or contractor can live with done well. The one on the ceiling needs to be exactly right and is critical to a homeowner giving the thumbs up on the final review of the new house. This is why a person who does repair work exactly right is worth their weight in gold and can charge pretty much what they want.

I mean think about it: What are the options for the contractor if the repairs are rejected? That's what you want to base your pricing on-not on the amount of material that's used or the amount of time it took to do the work. That's all relative. It's the end result that counts. Are three ceiling repairs (done with a trowel full of material in 20 minutes) worth $500? I think so, especially if the only other solution is to resurface all three ceilings over again. Lesson: Go for the gold.

Lately, I've been describing myself less as Plaster Man and more of a touch-up artist. I hope you adopt the same line of thinking. It makes paying the bills-and filling the gas tank-a little easier.

Congratulations go out to Miles Kihara from Honolulu, Hawaii, this month's winner of the Plaster Man/Walls & CeilingsT-shirt. To enter the T-shirt contest, send your name and address to me in care of this magazine or e-mail Your entry will also put you in the running for another work-site radio we'll be giving away soon. Until next time, Plaster On!

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