How to plaster walls: Everything you need to know beforehand

Want to plaster walls? Make sure to read this comprehensive step-by-step first

plaster walls here is everything to know
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Attention: any DIYers in need of a new project? Skip the house renovations, and go ahead and start trying to plaster walls. A good finish is not only fabulously satisfying (when done right — but also provides a strong base for a beautifully decorated room down the line — whether you are intending on wallpapering your room or painting one solid wall after. 

To plaster walls like the professionals — and end up with a professional finish, you need to dial in on working carefully and concisely.

In short: it takes time and effort, and there are no shortcuts here. You will get frustrated and most likely annoyed, but the upside? Once you complete this project and see that beautiful new wall (or walls) that you worked so hard for, it will be well worth the struggles. 

Now, before we continue to get ahead of ourselves: let us back things up a minute. Whether you are a first-time plaster or looking to bring on some fresh faces to assist you in this endeavor, we have outlined a step-by-step process to make this process as smooth as ever. 

The essentials you will need to plaster walls:

  • Plaster
  • Protective sheets
  • Bucket trowel 
  • Plastering trowel
  • Hawk board

Additional items you might need to plaster walls

  • Plaster tape 
  • PVA 
  • A paintbrush or roller
  • Sharp knife 

How to prep your walls

Remove all furniture

Start by clearing everything out of the room — furniture included. Also, depending on the wall you are plastering, some might need to disassemble any curtain rails or even take off radiators (or cover them at the very least). 

Clean the walls

Dirty walls are a major no-no for anyone who is going to plaster walls. Ensure that your wall is clean as possible by removing any dirt and debris; while also removing any loose plaster or wallpaper. 

Do you wet the wall before plastering them?

If the wall is brick or there are building blocks exposed that the answer is yes: you should wet the wall before plastering to prevent the plaster from drying too quickly. 

How to begin plastering your walls

New plasterboard or drywall

Start with plaster tape to cover the joints, and then use scissors to make sure the edges are neat as possible. You do not want any excessive material here, as it will interfere with the process. 

What about previously plastered walls?

For existing plaster walls or any wall previously painted, do not begin with plaster tape. Instead, make up a PVA solution to hold the plaster to the wall. The best approach here is to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and use a roller or brush to apply it to the wall. When it feels tacky, you can begin applying plaster to the wall.

Keep electric off

Continue prepping your walls by turning off the electricity and release the light switch, and sockets are removed from walls ahead of time. 

Think ahead

Bearing in mind that you will need to work fast once the plaster is mixed, opt to mix the plaster ahead of time into a clean bucket using the bucket trowel, as you stay in line with any of the manufacturer’s instructions. As you create the consistency, be mindful that the formula should be reminiscent of a thick and smooth custard. 

Steps to plaster walls

  • Begin by putting some plaster onto the hawk board. Working from the lower-left center of the wall, use the plastering trowel to apply a small amount of plaster each time directly to the wall. Ensure you are holding the trowel at a 45º angle as you begin to work on an upward sweep. Flatten the trowel at the end of each stroke, and making sure you do not press the trowel flat against the wall either. 
  • Continue working upwards and outwards until the plaster is spread evenly across the entire wall. 
  • Allow the first coat to dry for roughly 20-minutes and not a minute longer. During which time, use a trowel to get rid of unevenness; spraying the plaster with water only if necessary, so it's easier to smooth out later. 
  • Next, apply a second coat following the same method (and double-check if the manufacturer has any additional instructions). Keep in mind this coat will be thinner than the first, resulting in a smoother, more even finish.  
  • Allow the plaster to dry a little until it doesn't move when you touch it but still feels slightly damp. Using a damp clean trowel blade held a slight angle and dampening the water as you go, use backward and forwards motions sweeping movement to smooth the entire surface. 
  • Most importantly, remember the plaster must be completely dry before you paint or wallpaper. 

Is it easy to skim a wall? 

Yes, it is relatively easy to skim a wall in hopes of giving it an even finish. In this case, using one coat plaster is much easier than using the gypsum plaster that professionals call upon. 

To skim a wall, be sure to follow the method above, but with one change: wait around 15 minutes for the plaster to dry a little. Once it's ready to go, smooth the surface down, holding the plaster trowel at a slight angle, using backward and forward motions. 

Can you skim over painted walls?

If the previously painted wall is in good condition, then yes, it is possible. However, this process might require you to wire-brush the surface with detergent and then follow up with a bonding product. To see what your wall may (or may not) require we recommend testing out a small area to be sure. 

Is plaster stronger than drywall?

Plaster is stronger than drywall in the sense that if it's applied to the wall correctly, the product is not only harder but more durable than drywall. In addition, it's also a better sound insulator, more flexible, and results in a higher-end finish. 

Whereas, with drywall, you get what you paid for: the material costs less to install and repairs easier than plaster, but not as sleek of a finish as the former. 

Sarah Warwick
Sarah Warwick

Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor writing for websites, national newspapers, and magazines. She’s spent most of her journalistic career specialising in homes – long enough to see fridges become smart, decorating fashions embrace both minimalism and maximalism, and interiors that blur the indoor/outdoor link become a must-have. She loves testing the latest home appliances, revealing the trends in furnishings and fittings for every room, and investigating the benefits, costs and practicalities of home improvement. It's no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house revamper. For Realhomes.com, Sarah reviews coffee machines and vacuum cleaners, taking them through their paces at home to give us an honest, real life review and comparison of every model.

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