to do when you've gotten your-self into a hole.
the hang of it, Part
What to do when you've gotten yourself into a hole
in a series about plaster walls. Last week’s column was about the
proper way to hang something on a plaster wall; today’s deals with
how to patch a hole, in case hanging something on the wall didn’t go
first thing to do is be pleased you’re working with plaster. Fixing
a hole in a plaster wall is a bit more art than science, but very
doable. The worst parts of the job are setup and cleanup (due to the
dust, but one of the products we’ll mention is dustless).
First, measure the hole. Your goal is to put something in the hole
that plaster will stick to, and it’s called hardware cloth. Think of
chicken wire with much smaller holes – the hardware cloth you’ll
want to use has a quarter-inch mesh. Cut a piece of the cloth and make
sure it’s larger than the hole you poked in the wall.
a string to the middle of it,” says Mike Frentz, “and then force
the hardware cloth into the hole. Then, gently pull on the string
until the hardware cloth is flush up against the wall.”
going to mention three different patch products to fill the hole.
Whichever one you decide to use, here’s how to make that hardware
cloth stick to the inner wall: coat the edges of the cloth with the
patch product before you force it into the hole. That way, when you
pull the string, the edges will come into contact with the inside of
the wall, and stick. Drying time is important – it can take
several hours, but don’t rush it or you’ll be pushing a patching
compound right through the hole.)
the string when dry and then you’re ready to apply your first coat
of whichever product you’re going to use,” Mike says. “You’re
not going to want to try to fill the hole in one step. First, apply a
thin layer of the patching product, enough to cover the hardware cloth
and bring you almost level with the wall.” Let it dry.
second coat is the finishing coat, and will be raised slightly raised
over the hole, making sure all the edges are well covered. Slightly
raised means just that – don’t worry about piling patching
compound on to the point where it stands out an inch from the wall,
because you’ll just have to sand it off.
Mike recommends one of five products to patch a hole in a plaster
wall. Each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages:
ONETIME, from Red Devil, is Mike’s favorite. It’s a
premixed compound ready to use.
Very light weight (that’s important – heavier compounds tend to
roll out of the hole and with those, it can be like trying to patch
a hole with bread dough. “Most people pick up the container (of
ONETIME and wonder if there’s anything in it, it’s so light,”
can smooth it with a putty knife and let it dry with absolutely no
sanding,” Mike says, adding that once customers have tried this
mix, they wonder why they didn’t use if before.
word on sanding: If you feel confident about what you’re doing,
you can wet sand, which is what the pros do, to avoid the dusty mess you’ll get when the patch is dry.
Mike hasn’t dry sanded plaster in years. Here’s how: “Wait 15
minutes after applying the second coat and then, with a damp sponge,
gently go over the surface, squeezing the excess out of the sponge
into a bucket of water. I do it all the time and it eliminates
worrying about drying time and cleanup.” You don’t have to do
this with ONETIME.
Mike notes ONETIME is the most expensive of the five patching
compounds he recommends, starting at a little more than $4 a pint.
It also doesn’t dry to an absolute concrete hardness – “you
can take your fingernail and draw a line in it when it’s dry,”
Mike says. What does this mean? Mike says ONETIME probably is best
for small-to-medium size holes. “It’s more expensive, but it
lasts forever,” Mike adds.
Ready Patch, also premixed, is the stuff you would expect Mike
to hand you if you asked for a can of spackle.
It is less
expensive than ONETIME and if you’re a person more comfortable
using traditional preparations, this is it. When it’s dry, it’s
like concrete (Mike recommends 12 hours drying time per application
for any of these patching products.) Ready
Patch is the stuff to use for slightly larger holes, something
bowling ball sized, for example, because it will dry to such a hard
This is your
chance to try wet sanding; if you don’t, you will be sanding down
Ready Patch with traditional sandpaper (traditional patch,
traditional follow-up) and you’ll wonder how so much dust can be
produced by such a small project. Also, this is the stuff that’s
like bread dough. It’s tough to keep it from rolling out of the
how: Mike says once the first, thin coat is applied and has dried,
scratch and lightly dampen that surface – that will help the
second, heavier coat adhere.)
The Original Patching Plaster, which is not premixed. It
comes in a 4.4-pound box that, when mixed with water, will yield about
a half gallon of patching compound.
If you are an
impatient person trying to learn patience, this is the stuff for
you, Grasshopper, because just getting the consistency right is
quite the art. “Most places probably don’t even carry this stuff
any more, which is one of the reasons we do,” Mike says. Very,
very economical, if that’s an important consideration – this is
the least expensive option.
Mike says he
rarely recommends Patching Plaster because over the years, superior
products like the others mentioned here have been developed and they
do the same job, better, with less fuss. There’s a lot of set-up
time involved with Patching Plaster compared to opening a can of
Ready Patch and starting to work. Also, it has the same problems as
any heavier, moist patch – the bread dough effect.
Joint compound. Let’s get something straight. Joint compound
was not made to fill holes in plaster walls. It is a premixed
preparation designed to seam joints on dry wall. Joint compound is the cheater’s delight and
is often used to fill holes in plaster walls.
at about $5 per gallon. This is the stuff to use for really, really
big holes. “I’ve had instances where people have put a thin
coating on an entire wall to fix water damage,” Mike says. It does
dry to a hard surface, it can be wet or dry sanded.
It just wasn’t
made for this job. Drywall is an entirely different animal than
plaster walls, and if you don’t do it just right, you’ll always
be able to tell exactly where the patch is – unless you’re a
professional who does this for a living, in which case that isn’t
true. “I kind of size people up when they come in,” Mike says.
“If some guy’s got dry plaster spots all over his clothing, then
he probably knows how to use this stuff. But if you’ve never done
this before, one of the other products probably is the smarter way
DryDex, a brand new product from DAP called . “It’s only
been out a month or so,” Mike says. It’s a premix and weighs in,
literally, somewhere between the ONETIME and the Ready Patch.
It’s not always
easy to know when your patch is dry. The surface might be dry to the
touch, you might start sanding and hit a wet spot, which can be
irritating. That’s why DAP made DryDex. It comes out of the tub
and goes on pink, and we mean a hot, vibrating, livid,
horror movie, better-not-have-a-hangover-and-pry-the-lid-off
–this-stuff pink. All of the other compounds we’ve mentioned go
on white. However, you don’t have to wonder if DryDex is dry. It
turns white when it is.
Too early to
tell, but probably not too many. DAP is a quality producer that’s
been around for years. And really, it doesn’t matter what color it
is – you’re going to paint over it anyway, right?