Monday, October 12, 2009

The Great Plaster Disaster--A Retrospective

We have been invited to submit our DIY goofs for the Value / DIY Drama Contest, and I can think of none better for me than this past June's Great Plaster Disaster, or The Dangers of Putting Things Off.

I noticed in June of 2007 that the plaster in the sloped ceiling over the stairs to my third floor study was cracked and started to sag a bit. I did nothing about it.

In July of 2007 I attended a lime plaster workshop taught by the great Rory Brennan, and learned all about his Big Wally's PlasterMagicTM
repair system. I still waited to do anything about my stairway plaster.

In my defense, I needed an adjustable ladder, to manage on the stairs. In April 2008 I received and learned to used my Little GiantTM ladder. I still did nothing about the sagging ceiling over the stairs to the study.

In March of this year I ordered and received my Big Wally's repair kit. And did nothing with it.

Finally, in June of this year I decided I'd get around to fixing my ceiling plaster. I put down the drop cloth, set up my ladder, and went to work.

Now, the Big Wally Way involves drilling holes in proximity to the cracks so conditioner and adhesive can be injected. Late on June 6, 2009, I drilled a few holes till the battery in the drill ran out, decided the hair in the plaster would hold it up awhile longer, and went to bed.

On June 7, 2009, I was back at the Great 3rd Floor Study Stairway plaster repair project, and, well, let me quote my entry of the day:

I am an IDIOT.

And any other hard names you'd care to spit at me.

About a half hour ago, I was drilling a Few More Holes to make sure I'd get the loose plaster well secured to the lath on the sloped ceiling. But the vibration was too much for it and a big square piece about 18" square came swinging down, literally hanging on by the cattle hair along one edge.

And I am a world class GOOF, BLUNDERER, and IDIOT. Did I dash over and ease it off in one piece? Did I, o did I?

No, I did not. I thought it'd be so cool to have a photo of it for the blog! So I picked up my digital camera, turned it on, and--

When I'd barely pressed the shutter, the monster loose piece came crashing down to smash on the stairs below, along with big chunks of the plaster that'd been next to it.

I wasn't even in time to get a shot of it falling.


I picked up the broken pieces. Maybe I can put them back together like a puzzle and glue them back up?

Or maybe I'm going to have to use what I learned at
Howard Hall Farm in July 2007 and fill in the gap with real haired lime plaster.

Meanwhile, I'm waiting for the Big Wally's conditioner to work so I can at least stick down the edges of what's still up there and keep it up.

6:58 PM-- I don't think so. No. I got part of the droopy plaster back up, so it's not falling down, but overall it's no go. Most of the plaster is gapping by 3" or more, and the part I secured still has a gap of 3/8" to ½" between it and the lath. There's too many broken off plaster keys behind it that're keeping it from snugging up. And the really godawful loose parts are so warped that when I try to bring them up with the washers and screws, they bend and break. That is, if I can even reach the lath with the ends of the screws. And I don't have enough Big Wally screws and washers to secure it all anyway.

To make it worse, some of the laths are loose from the rafters and I'm not sure how to put them back in place without causing more vibration and bringing more plaster down. And it's got to be put back in place, or the plaster will still be insecure.

O vae mihi! vae mihi! Oy vey iz mir!

Okay, Kate, deep breath. The loose pieces that are still up don't look ready to fall down. Not right away, at least. Now if an overweight robin lands on the roof, all bets are off. But right now, stay cool, don't make any sudden moves, and maybe, it'll stay up till tomorrow.

On June 8, 2009, I called the Brennans up in Vermont and Rory's wife Lauri advised me to brace what was still up so it'd stay up. But did I do it that day? Noooooo!
On June 9, 2009, I didn't even begin to do anything about securing the loose plaster until it was after noon.

But then I got onto it. I really did. Especially after I began to hear rustlings on the plastic dropcloth around the stairs, that were not made by any of my cats. Whoops! Keys failing! Down I ran to the basement virtuously to cut some 1x3's I had to the correct length. Meanwhile, up on the 3rd floor, several square feet more of plaster were giving up their hold and coming down. Okay, okay, I get the message! Definitely time for serious damage control. I was off to the blue and gray store; do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Bought four 1x2x6's and a box of coarse 2" drywall nails.

I cut the wood strapping to the right length and brought it upstairs to screw it to the ceiling.

This was the point when my low blood sugar kicked in and filled me with woe, angst, existential gloom, and general consternation. I could not get the screws to screw in. And when I did, they weren't long enough to hold. Aaaagghhh!!! I can't do this! What is wrong with me? Why aren't I rich enough to hire somebody to help me do this? Why am I single-- if I were married, I'd have someone around who'd have to help me do this! What if all the plaster in the room falls down? Why are all my friends not available right now? Why? why? why? Woe! woe! woe!


Going back to bed and sucking my thumb wasn't an option. So I did what any normal DIYer would do in the circumstances-- I drove back to Lowe's for a box of 3" coarse drywall nails and more 1x2 wood strips and a packet of Phillips-head driver bits. My head was so woolly I couldn't verbalize what the last item was called and the clerk looked at me as if I were the world's worst ditz.

Never mind; I found what I needed and got it home. With the help of a late lunch (which finally kicked in) and my old corded drill (which still works, thank God, and has better torque than the battery-operated one), I got the strapping up and hoped the plaster would now cease its rain of terror.

After that, I wasn't sure. Lauri Brennan thought it'd be easier for me to put the existing plaster pieces back up. But the more I looked at the void over my stairway, the more I wondered if I'd rather take a crack at replastering it.

I mean, I did take that class, didn't I?

By July 3, 2009, I'd restocked my supply of Big Wally's and got the remaining loose plaster secured. I confess I haven't done a thing since then to fill in the 5' x 3' gap on the ceiling over my third floor stairs. I need to decide what quality lime putty to use for my plaster.

And considering that I'll have to mix it outside and the weather's getting chilly, that lath may not be covered till next Spring.

But it ain't falling down anymore, is it? Nope. I can procrastinate some more.
(This post was written for as part of a sweepstakes sponsored by True Value.

1 comment:

Aaron said...

Hi, I sent you an email regarding your contest entry at Please check your email or contact me via editors at houseblog dot net