Plaster skim coating - advice needed

Hi all,
I recently moved into a house, built in 1897, with primarily wall-papered plaster walls. The plaster (on wood lathe) was apparently meant to be papered (not painted) as it is not very smooth. From the look of it, sand was mixed into the plaster.
I'd like to paint the walls rather than repaper them. This means, apart from some minor repairs, that I'll have to skim the entire surface of each wall to create a smoother surface. The house has no real historical value but I'd prefer to keep the look of plaster. I was leaning (based on past posts here) towards using joint compound for this but am now thinking of using some kind of plaster top-coat which, I'm told, will look better.
In my research it's become clear that skim coating is not as easy as it sounds. I'd be grateful for some advice on the materials and technique. Also, if anyone has had this done by a professional, I'd be interested in having some idea of the cost. I live in the Poughkeepsie, NY area. I'll be getting a couple of estimates but would like to have something to compare them to.
Thank! SZ
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Do your self a favor and go out and laminate / fur out your existing plaster wall with 1/8" sheet rock. You will get the walls you desire for much lees work than trying to repair the plaster. Plaster will crack over time no matter how good of a job you do.
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Try painting a wall and see how it looks. I've added sand to plaster walls just to give them some texture for the paint. It looks better than plain flat walls.
Bob

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snipped-for-privacy@flexdesigns.com (sz) wrote in message

First off, let me just say that I applaud you for keeping the plaster. Too many people give in to slapping up sheetrock rather than repairing the old plaster walls. I'm currently working on an 1895 Victorian myself. Below is a link to a sight that gives great directions for DIY plaster repair. Also, are links to 2 other sites dedicated to old homes. Great resources.
http://www.worleyplace.com/plasterrepair.html
http://oldhouse.com/forum / http://216.25.63.4/cgi-local/forum1/index1.pl
Greg
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I skimcoated my ceilings with joint compound last year. A relative in the trades showed me once, then I tried on my own. First time I screwed it up pretty bad, but no damage. He then showed me again and pointed out what I was doing wrong. With a bit of practice, a lot (!!!) of patience and a little sanding they came out very nice. A skim coat of compound will be smooth as glass, so it is a little different from a lathe and plaster finish, which usually appears textured. I think that plaster would be a better choice because for one thing it is more durable. I would try a small area such as a closet to see how I can handle the job. Plasters that I have worked with set pretty fast, and many pros have at least two plasterers and a mixer. Good luck. Doug snipped-for-privacy@flexdesigns.com (sz) wrote in message

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snipped-for-privacy@flexdesigns.com (sz) wrote in

Hi There.... I've done too many old homes over to know that trying to repair old plaster is a waste of time. It's too bad to let it go but it's the best choice. I've seen pros do repairs only to have surface cracks appear within the first heating season. Not only this but the sub surface has to have some integrity to hold the butter finish plaster. This is usually not the case in old homes. Old horse hair was used extensively in the past to reinforce plaster walls and this will even let go over time. Most of the time the old plaster "keys" that hold the plaster to the wall lath have broken and there's nothing holding the main plaster to the wall. I see two choices here. One...take the plaster off completely or go over it with " sheetrock nailed into the studs. I prefer removal since it gives me a chance to rewire or run pipes of whatever plus I can then insulate the old home properly. Nine times out of ten if a house has blown in insulation, it was done in a halfed assed manner and isn't doing a good enough job anyway. Fiberglass can be added to exterior walls then. It's a lot of work too. But if you remove the old wood trim around the doors and windows and sheetrock the way it should be, it'll look every bit at good or better than plaster and will last much longer. It's also much easier to repair if you need to. Good luck. Old homes are tough but there beautiful when they're done. I live in one that is a labor of love since 1977 and it was built in 1864 in Malone NY. It's historically correct and it's updated to last another 100 years.
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I would respectfully disagree with almost everything you said. The amount of work and cost to rip out all of the old plaster and put up sheetrock does not seem to be reasonable. As for repairs to plaster not lasting maybe it was shoddy workmanship that caused this. I know several people who have repaired plaster walls with great success and I live in earthquake country. These repairs still look great years later. When keys break and the plaster separates from the lathe you can use plaster washers (aka ceiling buttons) and or adhesives to reattach it to the lathe. As for wiring, you can easily fish new wires behind walls with out destroying plaster. Plumbing will only be a few a places in the house so you may need to open up a few small places in the walls to upgrade but this is easily repaired or will most likly be behind cabinets and appliances. Save and repair the old plaster. It is a part of what makes an old house charming.
Greg
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Don't forget that the walls will have to be furred out and even then there can be a lot of work necessary to make the walls even enough for a good drywall job.
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Sand-finish plaster was almost never intended to be papered. It was a two-coat job, less expensive, and was probably whitewashed, if not left natural.

This does not stand to reason; in fact, the sand-finish walls can be painted as easily as white-coated walls. The will obviously have a different texture.
The house has no

The odds of a first-timer doing a decent job with white coat are low.

You'll need: Lime putty, gauging plaster, retarder, mixing board, hawk, decent trowels/floats, brushes, sponges, staging. Take care of pre-existing cracks in the substrate first. The white coat will bond to the brown coat, but maybe use a bonding agent ("Link") if the previous plaster has been painted. Casey

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Thanks everyone for your input!
I'd like to avoid going over the walls with drywall in the main rooms. This was done in the kitchen by the previous owner and the trim around the windows and doors does not look as nice when the walls are even with it. I would also have to extend all the electrical boxes. I probably will do this in a couple of closets, where it matters less and allows me to avoid extensive plaster repair.
As for the rooms, I'll do a little experimenting as suggested. The sand-finshed plaster walls have never been painted before but luckily the paper comes off very easily. I have a poor imagination when it comes to visualizing how things will look so a test patch with the existing texture is probably best. If it doesn't look good I'll try my hand at skimming in an unobtrusive area.
So many projects, so litle time! When the house is finally ready I'll either be a pro at DIY projects or ready for some new construction (which has it's own problems of course)!
Just in case, I've also started looking for local contractors to get estimates for professional skim-coating. :-)
Thanks again!
SZ
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