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Plastering for beginners can be tricky. But with practice and the right tools, anyone can learn to plaster walls and ceilings.
From this article, you’ll learn how to prepare and plaster a wall from scratch. And at the end, there’s a video of the process you can watch.
Anyone can plaster a wall, but you need to follow a formula. You can’t just pick up a trowel and start throwing plaster on the walls.
Here are the three main stages of plastering a wall:
- Knowing what plastering tools and general DIY tools to use
- Correctly preparing walls for plastering (failing to do this can cause chaos)
- Plastering the wall
What plastering tools and equipment do you need to plaster a wall or ceiling?
Before you start plastering you need the right tools.
Here are the 5 main tools you’ll need to start skimming. You will eventually strive for a lot more but here are the basic tools you need:
- Plastering trowel
- Hawk/hand board
- Bucket trowel
- Water brush
1) Plastering trowel
This is obviously the most important tool. This is the tool that will affect your results the most.
So, yes, you need a decent trowel. The one below is a good starting point.
It’s a good size, it’s easy to use and it’s made from stainless steel, which makes it easier to maintain.
If you don’t fancy paying for one of these make sure you don’t buy a cheap and nasty one. It won’t pay off and you won’t get the results you deserve.
- Crafted from the highest quality hardened and tempered stainless steel to provide ultimate strength and durability
- Broken-in shape eliminates line and ripple marks and allows you to use the trowel from day one
- Aluminium alloy mountings are fully heat treated for strength and machine finished to ensure an ideal handle-to-post-fit
2) Plasterer’s hawk
This is another important one because this is the tool that holds your plaster. If you didn’t have one of these you’d have to throw the stuff on the walls!
There are many options but a plastic hawk board, like the one below, is ideal for beginners.
- Grooved, non-slip surface to hold plaster.
- Comfort grip handle
- Perfect for small DIY projects
Plastering for beginners can be strenuous and hard on your forearm muscles. So it makes sense to reduce the amount of weight you’re holding, if you can. Plastic hawk boards are lightweight and go a long way to making plastering easier.
The downside to using a plastic hawk board is that they’re not very strong so they won’t last forever. But you can upgrade once you get better at plastering.
3) Bucket trowel
This one isn’t as important. The main function of this tool is to scoop the plaster from the bucket and onto your hawk board.
- Redesigned and improved for 2015
- Ideal for occasional professional use or a DIY enthusiast
- Wide bladed trowel primarily used for removing mortar or plaster from a bucket, can also be used to smooth mortar
- Polished and lacquered carbon steel blade, length 7.5, width (front) 3 / 75 mm (back) 4.3 / 108 mm
- Ergonomically shaped handle with a soft feel grip
A decent plaster mixer is a good investment, even for those just starting out. It automates the mixing process so you don’t wear yourself out before you start plastering!
It mixes the plaster in double the time with little effort and generally creates a nicer, smoother mix. Prices can range from £50 – £300.
- PREMIUM MATERIAL – The cement mixer adopts high temperature resistant copper wire which has the ability to resist heat & cool down in a short time, electrical machinery winding ensures stable work and…
- 6 VARIABLE SPEED MODES – The cement mixer with 2100W high power motor and has 6 speed modes for tackling wide variety of materials evenly, in order to avoid mixing material splash caused by excessive…
- DOUBLE HANDLE ERGONONIC DESIGN – RUYIKA Stirrer is double handle ergonomic design which has four soft points so that it won’t let you feel tired. The cement mixer comes with UK plug 220V.
5) Water brush
A good water brush is a crucial tool in your arsenal of plastering utensils.
It keeps your edges clean, allows you to splash water onto your plaster and gives your walls a perfect finish. You could use a cheap brush but a more expensive one is a better option.
A cheap brush leaves its bristles on your wall, and can often be more trouble than it’s worth. Consider investing in a real decorator’s brush, like this one.
- 4″ (100mm) wide wall splash brush
- Blend of natural and synthetic
- Wooden handle
- Made in UK
You will also need a small brush to clean all your tools with. Use a decent hand brush that’s small enough to get between the paddle of your mixer.
Keeping your tools clean is one of the most important tasks when plastering. Remember – if you take care of your tools, they’ll take care of you.
How to prepare walls for plastering
You know what tools you need, now it’s time to learn how to prepare your walls. Keep this phrase front and centre – failing to prepare is preparing to fail.
Get this part wrong, and full sheets of plaster could fall from the wall. This is so crucial because weak preparation creates so many problems.
Let’s go through each step of the preparation process so you have the perfect base for skimming.
There are four steps you MUST follow:
- Strip wallpaper
- Wash down the walls
- Scrim tape any cracks
- Apply PVA
- Start plastering
Let’s delve deeper!
1) Strip wallpaper
This is probably one of the most hated jobs in the history of man (painting skirting boards is another).
Unfortunately, it’s vital for preparing your walls.
If you don’t remove wallpaper before applying new plaster (yes, people do this), you’ll be in a whole load of trouble.
Over time, the wallpaper absorbs moisture from the plaster and starts to fall from the wall. Over a longer period of time, the whole lot could fall from the wall.
This is why you need to remove ALL of the paper before you start plastering.
Yes, it’s hard work and it’s very boring, but in the long run, it’s worth it.
2) Wash the walls down
This isn’t always necessary but many professionals recommend it.
The reason is simple: grime and dirt prevent plaster from sticking. And if plaster doesn’t stick to the wall (or ceiling), it will fall off, bringing surrounding plaster with it.
To avoid a situation like this, wash walls with a mix of sugar soap and water by applying it to the area you want to work on.
This will remove any grime from the surface and prevent any issues with your plaster. (It seems like a pain but it does create an ideal base for plastering.)
3) Scrim tape any cracks
Scrim tape is a self-adhesive mesh tape placed over the joints of plasterboard sheets. When movement occurs the scrim tape prevents the plaster from cracking.
If you have any cracks in your walls, cover them with scrim tape. This stops the plaster from cracking if movement occurs around the cracked area.
4) Apply PVA
It is standard practice to apply PVA to a wall prior to plastering.
Every wall has its own rate of suction. Which refers to the amount of moisture a material absorbs. Brick, for example, has a very high suction rate. If you throw water on brickwork it will disappear within two minutes.
Applying PVA to a wall or ceiling before plastering slows the suction rate. Which gives you a longer time to apply the plaster before it starts to set. Another perk is that PVA helps the plaster bond to the walls.
Typically, you mix one part PVA with three parts water, give it a good mix and roll it all over the walls. You then have to then wait for the first coat to dry completely and apply a second coat before you can begin plastering.
Just before it dries completely you may find that the PVA is sticky (which plasterers call “tacky”). This is the moment you want to get your mix on and start applying the plaster to the walls. The best time to start skimming is when your walls are slightly sticky, as the plaster binds to the PVA and generally has a better connection.
This is where the 3rd and most important part of plastering comes in.
If you’ve got this far the preparation is over and it’s now time to start skimming.
5) Plastering the walls
Finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for: getting plaster onto your walls.
Mixing the plaster
The first thing to discuss is mixing the plaster.
British Gypsum Multi-Finish plaster is ideal for the job – it’s a great product and can be used on various surfaces, making it perfect to use on your walls. The instructions from British Gypsum (BG), state that you should use 11.5 litres of water per bag of plaster.
This is roughly a full bucket of water to one bag of plaster.
Some pros mix a full bucket of water with an extra litre (roughly 12.5 litres), because they find it gives the best consistency.
Always pour the water in first and add the plaster in stages.
Typically, add one-third of a bag of plaster first, mix the plaster using the mixer, then add another third whilst mixing.
Finally, throw in the final third and finish mixing.
This prevents any plaster from sticking to the bottom of your bucket whilst getting a decent mix to work with.
Always use clean water and never mix in a dirty bucket because you could risk the plaster setting at a faster rate. You want to aim for the plaster to be at a consistency of melting ice cream and the mix to stay on your bucket trowel without sliding off when held level.
Always check the date of the plaster. If it’s past its expiry date then get rid of it – there is nothing worse than using a dodgy batch of plaster.
Following these simple steps will give you the perfect mix for plastering.
Applying the plaster
Now you’re ready to go, so let’s get cracking.
There are six steps to plastering:
- 1st coat of plaster
- 2nd coat of plaster
- Flatten your plaster
- 1st trowel over
- 2nd trowel
- Final polish
Now, instead of describing how to apply plaster to walls, watch this video which walks you through every step of the process. Have a look and give it a go. You probably won’t be perfect the first time you try it, but with a little time and some practice, you’ll achieve great results.
And now you’re ready to begin!
I hope you enjoyed this article. You should now have the foundations to start plastering. All you need now is a wall to work on. Thank you for reading and good luck!
Blaine Gray is a plasterer on a mission! He wants to teach every DIY goer how to start skimming their own home. Visit the website Plastering For Beginners for practical tips on how to turn your house into the home you desire.
Different types of plaster
Used as a base coat on walls, brickwork, blockwork, breeze block and plasterboard. A 25kg bag will cover approximately 3-3.5 square metres at a depth of around 12mm. The setting time is approximately 2 hours.
Used as a base coat on walls, brickwork, block work and breeze block. This plaster has excellent adhesive qualities and will therefore bond to most surfaces. A 25kg bag will cover approximately 2.5 square metres at a depth of around 12mm. The setting time is approximately 2 hours.
Used as a top coat to give a smooth finish on Browning and Bonding base coat plaster. A 25 kg bag will cover approximately 10 square metres at a depth of around 2mm. The setting time is approximately 1-1.5 hours.
Used as a top coat on plasterboard. A 25kg bag will cover approximately 10 square metres at a depth of around 2mm. The setting time is approximately 1-1.5 hours.
Ideal for small DIY projects. As the name suggests only one coat is required and it is suitable for most interior surfaces. It can be purchased in various-sized bags from 2.5 kg to approximately 12.5 kg. The setting time is approximately 2-2.5 hours and when fully dried out gives a white smooth finish.
Plastering for beginners – resources and more
- Plastering as a career: National Careers Service
- The Plasterers Forum
- 50 Plastering Tips to Help New Plasterers