Are you ready!? We've got another absolutely thrilling post surrounding the tremendously suspenseful endeavor of plaster repair and a major skim coat undertaking. Woah, watch out, I hope that fall you just took out of your chair after I told you our post topic for the day didn't hurt too terribly. I know keeping your feet on the ground and rear end firmly planted in the chair is difficult when dealing with such a tremendously gripping subject matter.

In our long and enduring plaster journey—from cracked and failing to flat and smooth—that is represented in all of our many skim coating adventures, we reach a critical juncture where the walls begin to assume a "finished" look. Don't be deceived by the false notions of a completed project. In reality we are rapidly approaching one of those fateful DIY forks in the road where our efforts can culminate in either a beautifully finished result or a steaming pile of crap, all depending on our next critical steps.

At this all too important point of skim coat plaster repair there are still bumps, ridges, imperfections, and areas to be filled, but overall we've reached a milestone where our hopes begin to outweigh our doubts and we see the crisp and smooth plaster light at the end of the mud slinging and sanding tunnel.

With skim coating, as with many old house projects, the Devil is in the details. And while many have embraced the notion of "complete but not perfect" when DIYing, taking a lax approach at this stage of the game will so dramatically impact the finished product that you could barely even label it complete. Tedious? Yes. Important? Very. Doable? Absolutely. Just follow my easy steps :wink: :smile: :tooth sparkle bell ding: :thumbs up:

After allowing the material to cure from our last step involving the thin and truly skimmed layer of joint compound, we've got a rather tall task ahead of us before we're able to continue applying finish coats. We have to muster the patience, expertise, and desire to remove any and all imperfections before going onto the next several coats of finish. Rushing this phase of the project can only result in inferior results that are magnified by your first coat of paint, yet completely avoidable with just a little effort. Trust us, we know! We had this little issue with our own inexperience in our upstairs hallway, and I stare at it. Every. Single. Day.

While we could spend the next month giving a blow by blow of "skim coat, sand, skim coat, sand, etc," we'll save you from the truly boring and focus on the useful but moderately boring techniques and tricks that we've determined tend to work best to achieve that nearly perfect wall or ceiling. Or we could just show you photo after photo of white walls with giant sander heads in front of them.

We've already shared the large electric drywall sander we use, as well as our best approach for keeping dust to a very minimum while working, but once we reach the point where the corners and areas where the sander can't effectively reach need attention, what do we do? Let's take a look at each scenario, along with our solutions.

In the corners it's pretty difficult to get them perfectly smooth with the trowel, and you're inevitably faced with bumps and irregularities where joint compound has accumulated. While you'll need to sand with a corner sanding block, sanding alone would take forever and will still leave you with residual bumps. Before I grab my sanding sponges, I grab both my stiff joint knife and my large paint scraper.

First, using the joint knife, I begin scraping away somewhat large areas of joint compound that have dried as a bit of a blob. Some of it scrapes away in dust, some of it breaks off in large chunks, but the goal is to remove any major obstacles or bumps that will cause problems with sanding or the next skim coat.

It's okay if pieces break off that leave gaps or holes as we can fill those with the next coat, but our goal is to remove any high spots and reduce the overall bumps, both in the corners and across the surface of the wall.

Next I grab my paint scraper. I didn't use this tool in this way until recently, and when I finally did, I realized what a great solution I had been missing. The large, flat blade scraper offers a great way to ensure a square corner without material buildup by scraping the excess way. Unlike sanding, it doesn't remove the material you don't want it to. You just need to be very careful with the blade of the tool, scraping just enough to remove your desired excess material, but light and careful enough to ensure you're not gouging your walls.

It's a delicate balance, but one easily achieved with a little patience and a calm/steady hand. I like to work from the top to the bottom, pulling any chips or dust down into a small pile on the floor before vacuuming it right up.

The main reason you vacuum it all up is because your significant other may suspect you're doing something other than scraping joint compound if they happen to check out your work site.

It's about this point in the project where I begin to lose my often omnipresent patience. I don't know what it is about sanding in corners, but if the Devil is in fact in the details, sanding corners of walls is easily my own personal hell.

I think it's worth noting that we made a major decision years ago to do crown molding throughout the house. We made this choice for aesthetics, which a choice we're rather happy with, but I'm over the moon with the choice since it means I don't have to finish wall to ceiling transitions. This takes my fragile mental state at this stage of the project from "ready to lose it" back down to a more routine "just barely hanging on." This is all thanks to only really needing to focus on the vertical corners and leaving the ceiling corners looking more ragged.

After the corners have been scraped I grab my large corner sanding sponge and give them a major once over to smooth out any imperfections that may still exist. Using these steps in this order definitely gives the best and most consistent corners with minimal buildup of insanity producing rage. I call that a win-win.

The various corners in a skim coating project typically take up the largest percentage of time to get it looking good, but it's exceedingly critical. The areas I did very early on glare back at me today as an ugly reminder that I simply didn't take the time necessary to resolve all issues. But once your corners are done you can turn your attention back onto the expansive walls and ceiling.

Hopefully you've all gone out and bought yourself/rented the awesome Porter-Cable sander I mentioned last week as the most awesomesauce of wall sanding tools that every was. Short of a Harry Potter style wall smoothing spell, this sander does the job exactly as needed. "Plasterius Eventhium!"

However, last week I kicked the usefulness of this tool up a notch, and I didn't even know that was possible. I've been using old and tired sanding discs on my sander that have all seen better days. They are single unit pieces, sandpaper on foam, and when I need to change the disc, it's a giant pain.

I saw this great new set of sanding discs when I was looking around on Amazon and I had to order myself some. Think of them as a single giant hook and loop sanding pad like you'd see on an orbital sander. 

Once the hook and loop base is on the sander you can affix the large sanding discs directly to the base. Perfect!

I bought discs in an 80, 150, and 220 grit, and within 30 seconds of sanding using the 80 grit I instantly fell in love with this tool all over again. 

The surface it leaves was as smooth as I could have hoped for, and it truly put us on the right path to a complete and professional looking skim coating job. The only thing I noticed with these sanding discs is the fact the center of the disc really doesn't touch the wall. I think I'm going to cut a small piece of foam that I'll put in the center when I attach the disc that should force the center of the disc to actually get used.

And there you have it! Those are our top tips and tricks for achieving silky smooth and easy on the eyes corners in our skim coating process. I just hope that this and our other posts can give a whole host of people losing hope in their failing plaster the inspiration they need to repair it in a 100% DIY manner. We'll have one more follow up post when we reach our final steps so we can share our glasslike smooth walls and ceilings. I have to tell you that I'm particularly excited for the end result. Not only because our walls and ceilings will be complete, but because it will put us one step closer to a finished project. And honestly, there's nothing better than a finished project!

We have a whole series of plaster repair/skim coating posts you should check out if you like this or are trying to tackle the same thing. Here's the whole list for convenience:

  1. Plaster Repair for DIYers - No Need to Rip It Out
  2. Plaster Buttons to Fix Your Crumbling Ceiling
  3. Plaster Repair Part 2: Laying a New Brown Coat
  4. How To Fix Plaster Like a Boss: Sand Baby Sand
  5. DIY Plaster Repair: We Finally Put the Skim in Skim Coat
  6. My Skim Coating Nickname is Mr. Smooth - The Tricks I Use to Earn It - this post
  7. The Final Steps to Perfect Skim Coating
Comments 16


Melanie Allen
11/20/2013 at 8:59 PM
You are amazing and do great work

Thank you, Mellanie! I really appreciate it.

11/21/2013 at 1:19 AM

We are going to watch our plaster guy like a hawk when he repairs the first floor. Then we should be able to attempt the repairs on the second floor.

Our plaster walls are more like stucco. They are hard as a rock and you can see sand in it.

Your corner trick is great.


That's a great plan. I always follow around anyone we work with (which is probably really annoying) and end up learning so much along the way.

For your walls, is it sandy all the way through, or is it just a top coat thing? I've never seen the rougher surface on interior walls in person.

11/29/2013 at 11:20 PM

The sandy/rocky texture looks to be all the way down to the first coat that went over the wire mesh. In the winter it holds the warmth and in the summer the walls are cool.

The finish is so unique that I can tell in an instant where there have been patches and repairs. As I am stripping the paint off, I get an up close view and I swear I can see different people's style.

I am sure the few people we have hired don't like us watching closely, either. But I swear whenever you don't watch closely the repair people will take short cuts because few like working on old houses unlike those of us who are insane about our old houses.

11/1/2016 at 8:19 PM

Hi Jan, you posted a long time ago. So not really for you b8t for others that find this. That sand texture is actually sand added to paint. I do that texture quite often if you want to make the repaired areas disappear prrime the areas with sand and paint, then repaint room and your good

11/22/2013 at 5:54 PM

I'm going to try your tip about using the scraper in the corners. When drywalling, that is the hardest part for me, at least in areas where there isn't enough room for the corner trowel.


I know what you mean on the corners. It took me a long time to feel comfortable with them. At one point I even tried to run a bead of caulk in the corner of one wall that had bumps/gaps. That ended up looking pretty horrible. Alt smile

11/25/2013 at 11:37 AM

That sander is sweet....I may need to buy one of those...I'm thinking it would look really good under the tree. Until then, sanding blocks are all I've got for the kitchen reno.


I'd definitely try to work one of those bad boys into your gift list, that's for sure. I do still use the sanding blocks quite a bit to get spot areas done, and the finer grit tends to look the best in hard to reach places, but oh the dust!

12/1/2013 at 12:13 AM

I've done a lot of Durabond skim-coating in my day, much similar to your methods. But I don't do much sanding (and I have the Porter-Cable) because I've found if you just keep adding mud, angling hard on the knife with each successive coat, the knife (I use a 12 inch blade) rides the hills and fills the valleys until by coat 6 it's flat.

Oh, thanks for the great pics. You've done a very nice job here.

1/19/2015 at 11:28 PM

I have a similar job and have ordered the PC 7800.
You said you ordered sanding discs in 80, 150, and 220 grit. Would you recommend all three grits? Did you use them all. Aparently, many "pros" use just the 220, but maybe they dont have as much material to sand down.


Great! I don't find myself using the 80 very often, but I use the 150 a ton. I do tend to use the 220 only on the final finish coat to give the fewest number of swirls. I think you're right about the pros. Oh to be a pro. Alt smile

3/19/2016 at 8:21 AM

Wow, I can't believe I found a site where you show pictures of the exact same swirl plaster finish I have in my 1956-built Florida home! After reading many of your blogs, I have a new respect for my incredibly solid, well-built house. Even though it is nearly impossible to hang a picture on these walls, they do look amazing and are in perfect condition after all this time. However, I do have one wall in the LR that has been covered with different material over time (late 60s=full wall mirror! late 80s=horizontal cedar panels w/matching fake foam ceiling beams! you get the idea). So it has been pretty abused with black mastic, hundreds of small, square, double-sided sticky tape that has yellowed over time with cig smoke and age, and dozens of holes to secure the 1x2s that held the cedar beams. Anyway, I have been pondering for a year how to best cover this wall and, while it seems possible after viewing your site to gouge away the mastic and sand 'til kingdom come, I am not as committed (young!) as when I rehabbed my first house 25 years ago, so I am going with drywall or paneling over the wall instead. Thank you for the incredibly detailed and useful info and keep up the awesome work - you are a true artist.

11/1/2016 at 7:54 PM

Hello, I'm a professional drywaller. Hanger, and finisher and plaster repair . Been doing it since I was 16, and I'm 33 now. I'm not pointing anything out to be jerk. Just going to point out some of the things I do. I mesh tape all joints (flats, and butts) I paper tape all inside 90 a d 45 degree corners. With a 4 inch knife I coat one side of the angle. When it dries I do the other side. Corner trowels round corners and leave you sanding your butt off, or leave you with rounded corners instead of sharp 90s. As for flats, butts, and corner head.i start with an 8 inch knife I do a heavy smooth coat of durabond, then with a 10 inch knife I do a 2nd coat of green lid mud, then with a 12 inch knife I do a true thin skim coat of green lid compound. As in I put the mud on and take all off. So it stay only in the low spots.
With this method you only sand once When Your done. Only light scraping. So angles get a 1 coat on each side. Done. E coats over everything else with knifes increasing in width. Believe me or dont believe me but I am the drywaller every contractor in the area wants, and they will schedule jobs aroh d my schedule. Not being cocky just sharing my 1u years experience, and my father's 40 year experience.
If you want any tips or any proof of my method just let me know on here and I can show you and explain it better. Mr smoothie, give my method a shot. It will save you sanity. I sand an entire house in an 8 hour day by myself. Pole sa d 1st, fine tune with a folded piece of 100 grit. You have to fold it 4 times so the sand paper grips itself while your ssnding. Sponges are ok, but beware of thd line they cut in the other side of your angle. Folded 1p0 grit wknt leave a line and is more weildy
When it comes to patches same method. When kt comes to cracks , same method. My method can be adapted to any situation a wall or ceiling can throw at you. Some things are just had with time. I dk t recommend that a DIY guy uses compound to make a texture ceiling a smoothie ceiling, because that's where a steady hand, thd right pressure , and muse memory comes in to play. You can do it without experience. I guarantee you use 10 times more compound than needed and that you will sand your balls off. Which is fine if that's what you want. Just pick em back up and stick em back and in your sac and continue on hahaha.

11/1/2016 at 8:12 PM

Tried to edit my typos. Sorry small phone screen. After I corrected my typos it said I missed the window to edit it or something to that effect

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