Plaster: How to Remove Old Plaster

Intro

The walls of many older houses are covered with plaster rather than drywall. Plaster is applied as a wet paste over a series of thin wood strips called lath, which are attached to the wall studs. The plaster is squeezed between these thin pieces, oozing into the wall cavities. When the plaster dries, this ooze, called keys, holds the plaster to the wall.

More recently installed plaster uses an expanded metal mesh rather than wood lath. Use tin snips to cut through the metal mesh. The most difficult aspect of removing plaster is avoiding damage to adjacent areas.

Before you begin removing plaster, turn off any nearby circuits at the electrical service panel. Remove all receptacle and switch coverplates. Wear a dust mask rated for fine dust.

Prestart Checklist

Time
About 1 to 2 hours per 8-foot section of wall

Tools
Hammer, pry bar, power drill/driver (for attaching reinforcing 1x2s), handsaw, reciprocating saw (for removing parts of walls)

Skills
Prying, pulling nails, cutting with a reciprocating saw and handsaw

Prep
Isolate the work site to contain the mess; determine what utilities may be contained within the wall

Materials
1x2s to reinforce surrounding plaster, if necessary

Step 1

Plaster is a tough wall surface, but too much pounding and vibration can jar it loose in places you don't want to remove. To avoid problems, attach 1x2s in the corners of walls and the ceiling adjacent to the wall you are removing.

Step 2

If you remove only part of a wall, stop at a stud. You can't cut through lath in the middle of a bay without destroying the plaster. To find the end stud, drill 1/8-inch-diameter holes every inch through the waste section of plaster until the drill hits a stud. Attach a reinforcing 1x2 along the stud.

Step 3

Knock the plaster off the wall with a hammer. It is easier to shovel up the loose debris before the lath is mixed in. If lath strips continue past the end stud, cut them flush to the side of the end stud with a handsaw or reciprocating saw.

Step 4

As you remove the lath with a flat pry bar, some of the lath nails will stay in the studs; others will come away with the lath. Either way, it's best to remove the nails as you go and pile the lath neatly for disposal.


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