Tips for Working on Plaster Walls

How to Hang Pictures and Wall Items on Plaster Walls without Causing a Disaster

By Mark J. Donovan

Plastering of walls is pretty much a thing of the past. Drywall, with the use of joint compound, is the predominate method for creating finished walls. For the most part, finishing walls with lath and plaster died out about half a century ago. However there are many older homes that still exist today that have plaster walls and that occasionally need repair for one reason or another. In addition, there are some folks who still insist on using it, particularly when they’re building a custom old style home.

Plaster, without a doubt, is a superior product to drywall/joint compound as it creates much harder walls. Plaster walls are much less susceptible to being damaged or scratched. You can purchase plaster at most large home improvement centers and at paint stores.

Working with plaster can be challenging. As a matter of fact it took years for an apprentice to become a master plasterer. Consequently working on plaster walls yourself is difficult. It’s hard to apply, sets up fast, and is nearly as hard as concrete.

It’s also much harder to clean up than joint compound. Moreover, it is more sensitive to hanging pictures and paintings. Installing nails or screws into plaster can cause large chunks of plaster to break away. But this said, by following the below tips you can do a reasonably good job working on plaster wall.

Summarized below is a list of tips for working with plaster walls.

1) When hanging pictures with nails onto plaster wall, place tape over the spot where you want to install the nail for the picture hook. Then pound the nail into the wall over the tape. Once the nail is into the wall remove the tape. This method will help mitigate the risk of plaster chipping away.

2) If you plan to install a screw into the plaster wall for a wall hanging, again apply tape over the spot for where you want to locate the screw.

Make sure to locate the screw position over a wall stud. Do not rely on just the plaster and lath to hold the wall hanging. It won’t. Then use a drill and small drill bit to create a pilot hole into the plaster wall. You only need to penetrate about ¾ of an inch into the plaster with the pilot hole. Once you have the pilot hole, you can then install the screw. Once the screw is in place remove the tape.

3) To find wall studs in plaster walls it’s preferable to use a stud finder with deep penetrating technology. Your typical stud finders will not work through the thick plaster and lath. Alternatively, if you feel courageous, you can tap on the plaster walls with your knuckles listening carefully for the change in frequency from a hollow sounding noise to a dull thud noise.

How to Repair a Large Drywall Hole EBook

The wall stud is located directly behind the dull thud noise sounding area. Note that with older homes, the wall studs will most likely not be spaced evenly on 16 or 24 inch centers.

By following these three basic tips you can dramatically mitigate your risk of causing major damage to your plastered walls when hanging pictures and paintings.

For information on repairing a large drywall hole, see the “How to Repair a Large Drywall Hole” Ebook from  The “How to Repair a Large Drywall Hole” Ebook provides step-by-step instructions on how to repair your damaged wall so that it looks as good as new.

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