How to Plaster a Wall – A Guide for Beginners

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Get ready to dive into this detailed guide to plastering for beginners by somebody who does it every day!

Through my whole experience as a plasterer, I’ve always been lucky to work with people who knew what they were doing. I’ve been shown the right plastering tools to use, the correct ways to prepare a job, and more importantly, I’ve been shown how to put the plaster onto the wall!

But what do you do if you’re new to plastering or DIY and have no one to show you how to plaster a wall? What happens if you want to try to improve your home but just don’t know where to start?

It’s just so expensive to pay a professional to do a job in your own home sometimes.

Well, I’m here to say you can do it yourself! You can plaster those walls!

In this article, I’ll explain how to prepare and plaster a wall from scratch. And at the end, there’s a video for you to watch of me practicing what I preach. Anyone can plaster a wall (really, anyone), but you need to follow a formula. You can’t just pick up a trowel and start throwing plaster on the walls.

I’m going to show you how with 3 main stages:

  • Knowing what plastering tools and general DIY tools to use
  • Correctly preparing your walls for plastering (failing to do this can cause chaos)
  • Plastering your walls

This is an in-depth subject and there is a lot to cover (no pun intended) but by the end of this tutorial, you should be ready to plaster a wall. And if you want to see the process in action, keep reading until the end where you’ll find a couple of videos that are worth watching. Let’s get to it.

Part 1 – What specialist plastering tools and equipment do you need to plaster a wall or ceiling?

Before you start plastering you need the right tools. Like a golfer, you need to make sure you have the best clubs because your results will be affected if you walk on the green with wooden planks!

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:

  1. Plastering trowel
  2. Hawk/hand board
  3. Mixer
  4. Water brush

1) Plastering trowel

This is obviously the most important tool. This is the tool that will affect your results the most. I’ve heard many of the old boys say that it doesn’t matter what trowel you use, “just get it on the wall!”

I’m here to say that they’re wrong!

You need a decent trowel, especially if you’re starting out. I recommend a Pre Worn Marshalltown stainless steel finishing trowel. (13” x 5”) This is the perfect trowel to start with.

It’s not too big, it is made from stainless steel which makes it easier to maintain, and they are just so easy to use.

If you don’t fancy paying for one of these just make sure you don’t buy a cheap and nasty one. It won’t pay off and you will not get the results you deserve!

2) Bucket trowel

This one isn’t as important. The main function of this tool is to scoop the plaster from the bucket, onto your hawk (or hand board depending on where you’re from). It doesn’t matter if you get a good brand or not in my eyes.

You can buy a bucket trowel from Amazon for less than a tenner – they’re really not that expensive but you need it all the same. You can splash out if you want but it’s simply used to scoop plaster and clean buckets.

3) Plasterer’s hawk/hand board

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 I have one that’s ideal for beginners.

I recommend getting a foam/plastic hawk. This might sound strange but there are many reasons for getting this type over the rest. The main reason being that they are extremely light.

Especially when you’re starting out (although I also get this from time to time), the plaster can get heavy on your forearms.

Imagine holding a hawk full of plaster all day while your other arm is skimming the wall. It can ache. The plastic hawks are a lot lighter which gives you chance to develop your muscles for endurance.

Let me be honest – plastering can be very strenuous – but if you can soften the workload even a little bit, you’re onto a winner.

Another reason for choosing a foam/plastic hawk is that they are generally quite cheap, the only downside being that they aren’t that strong. They won’t last forever but they’re perfect whilst you’re learning the ropes.

4) Mixer

Remember the good old days where all we had for tools was a spade and a hammer? Well, times are a changin’! We’re not in the caveman days anymore. Now we have technology to do all the hard work for us.

That’s why you need to invest in a decent plaster mixer.

It will mix the plaster in double the time with little effort and generally create a nicer, smoother mix. Prices can range from £50 – £300. It really depends on which one you choose.

I would personally check on Amazon and click through the reviews, although a good option (and of the best sellers) is the this one.

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 choose a standard brush but I firmly believe it pays to buy a slightly more expensive one.

A cheap brush leaves its bristles on your wall, and can often be more trouble than it’s worth. That’s why I recommend investing in a real decorator’s brush, like this one.

I’ve had mine (not the one linked to above, mine’s by a company called Fat Hog) for nearly 2 years and it’s showing no signs of wear. The downside is that they’re quite pricey but if you look online you might be able to get a bargain.

You will also need a brush to clean all your tools with. I usually use a decent hand brush because they are often small enough to get in between the paddle of your mixer. Keeping your tools clean is one of the most important tasks in this area of work: look after your tools and they will look after you.

So these are the essential tools you will need to begin your journey into the world of plastering. You will buy more but this in the minimum you should invest in.

What’s next?

Part 2 – Preparing your walls for Plastering

You have the tools, now you need to learn to prepare your walls. When I was learning to plaster my boss always had a phrase I still follow to this day: failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

I have seen full sheets of plaster fall to the floor due to a lack of respect for this part of the job. This is so crucial because getting this wrong creates so many problems.

That’s why I’m going to walk you through each step of preparation process to allow you have the perfect base for skimming.

There are four steps you MUST follow:

  1. Strip wallpaper
  2. Wash the walls down
  3. Scrim tape any cracks
  4. PVA/Blue Grit

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). Everyone knows that stripping wallpaper is very boring, hard work and (did I mention?) very boring!

Unfortunately, it’s vital for preparing your walls.

This is what happens if you decide to plaster over paper: you apply the plaster to your walls and it all looks grand. You apply the second coat and guess what? It still looks fine, what’s all the worry about? However, the effects will start to show.

You might notice little bubbles appearing in the plaster. Then you might notice parts of the plaster falling onto the floor. Slowly but surely your hard work begins to look wasted.

Eventually, you’ll probably have to remove all the plaster from the walls and start from scratch. (If you don’t your walls will dry and the plaster will probably fall to the floor anyway, so there’s no getting around it.)

This basically happens as the wallpaper absorbs all the moisture from the plaster (getting damp in the process) and starts to remove itself from the wall. This is why you need to remove ALL of the paper from your walls.

I know it’s hard work and it’s very boring, but it isn’t worth the trouble it creates in the long run.

2) Wash the walls down

This isn’t always necessary but I personally recommend washing your walls down. Like everything in life, the walls in your home can develop grime and dirt. It doesn’t sound like much but I’ll give you an example of where it went very, very wrong for me.

It was a fairly simple job – plastering a ceiling. I prepped the walls and followed all the steps. All except for one – I didn’t wash the ceiling down before I started.

I skimmed the ceiling and it all looked good.

Upon my return the next day, I noticed a huge bulge in the middle of the newly plastered ceiling. I looked closer and saw a huge bubble where the plaster hadn’t adhered to the surface. Within two minutes the whole lot was on the floor. I was gutted!

There was basically a layer of grime that prevented the plaster from sticking to the ceiling. To avoid a situation like this in your house I suggest that you wash your walls down with sugar soap, mixing it with water and 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 really does create an ideal base for plastering.)

3) Scrim tape any cracks

Scrim tape is basically a mesh that is often applied between the joints of plasterboards. This allows for natural movement in your home and prevents your plaster from cracking.

If you have any cracks in your walls you should apply scrim tape. If there is any movement and the crack is affected the scrim tape will prevent your finished plaster from being disturbed.

4) PVA

It is standard practice to apply PVA to your walls. As a beginner, it seems a bit strange but this is such a good invention for the world of plastering.

Every wall has its own rate of suction which is basically the amount of moisture a material absorbs. Brick, for example, has a very high rate of suction… if you throw water on brickwork it will literally disappear within 2 minutes. Throw the same amount of water onto an old wall however and the water is hardly absorbed.

If you decide to use normal finish plaster on brickwork, you’ll probably find that the mix soon goes completely solid, and it will eventually crack. This is because the brick has taken all the moisture from the plaster which forced the thistle to crack.

PVA slows the rate of suction making it easier to plaster. If you decided to just start plastering onto a wall without using PVA, the plaster will set at a very fast rate giving you little time to get a decent finish, so it’s worth applying to buy you a little more time to get the results you desire. (And another perk is that PVA helps the plaster bond to the walls.)

There are many brands of PVA out there, but I’d recommend Unibond PVA as I personally believe it’s a better product to most. You will want to mix your PVA with 3 parts water, giving it a good mix and simply roll it all over your walls. It’s not the best job in the world and I will warn you that your hands and arms will be covered in tacky PVA glue. (Sorry in advance!)

You will want to mix your PVA with three parts water, giving it a good mix and simply roll it all over your walls. It’s not the best job in the world and I will warn you that your hands and arms will be covered in tacky PVA glue. (Sorry in advance!)

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 throwing your plaster onto 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 to your 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 to your walls.

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.

Part 3 – Plastering your walls

Finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for: getting that plaster onto your walls.

The first thing we have to discuss is mixing the plaster

I advise that you use British Gypsum Multi-Finish plaster for the job – it’s a great product and can be used on various surfaces, making it ideal 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 1 bag of plaster. I mix a full bucket of water with an extra litre (roughly 12.5 litres), because I find this gives the best consistency.

You always pour the water in first and add the plaster in parts.

I usually add one-third of a bag of plaster first, mix the plaster using the mixer, then add another third whilst mixing.

Finally, I 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 sell by date then get rid of it – trust me there is nothing worse than using a dodgy batch of plaster. Following these simple steps will give you the perfect mix for plastering.

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, I’ve created a video where I walk 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.

Related resources if you want to learn more about plastering: