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Plaster Ceiling Tool Guide

It may seem overwhleming, but anyone can plaster their ceiling. All you need are the tools, the know how and someone to massage your stiff neck afterwards.

What You Need
Plastering your ceiling will be much easier if you have the right equipment. You'll need:


  • A broad, sharp utility knife
  • A drywall knife or saw
  • A sturdy ladder with a tool ledge
  • A framing square (a large "L" shaped metal ruler)
  • A portable drill
  • A piece of drywall to make the patch
  • Drywall screws
  • Drywall tape
  • A hammer
  • A masonry chisel
  • Joint compound
  • Finishing plaster if your ceiling is smooth
  • Spray-on texture if your ceiling is cottage cheese or other texture

Step-by-Step Guide
Once you have your tools ready, the real fun begins!

1. Use a framing square to draw a square or rectangle around the damaged section. By keeping the edges straight, the patch will be easier to measure to hide once installed.

2. Wear goggles to prevent plaster dust from entering your eyes. Score your marked lines with a sharp utility knife, keeping in mind that you'll be breaking through this patch, so try to make clean lines. You may need to go over them a few times to get a good score.

3. Position several strips of wide masking tape outside your scored lines to help keep the plaster from crumbling. Overlap the strips until you have 2-3 inches of tape laid around the square. Then use a hammer and masonry chisel to tap along your scored lines and remove the damaged section

4. If your ceiling has a wire backing, you'll need to extend the area you're removing so that you expose two ceiling joists (the studs in the ceiling framing). You'll need to attach your patch to the joists to ensure stability. If the backing is wood lath, however, you'll be able to anchor the patch directly to it, so no need to expand your hole/patch size.

5. Cut a piece of drywall that is approximately ¼ of an inch shorter and narrower than the hole. For example, if the hole is 16" by 4", the drywall patch should be 15 ¾" x 3 ¾".

6. Position the patch in place and make sure it sits level with the rest of the ceiling.

7. If the drywall patch is thinner than the surrounding ceiling, shim the area behind the patch with wood or asphalt shingles until it is level. Attach the shims to the studs and mount the patch over them. If it's easier, you can opt instead to attach the shim to the backside of the patch.

8. Sand or cut off any splinters, burrs or rough areas around the patch and wall opening.

9. Secure the new patch with drywall screws, spaced about 4 inches apart. If you're installing over mesh, make sure to insert the screws directly into the joists. Blow or brush away any dust or debris.

10. Cover the joints with drywall tape. If the tape buckles or bubbles, remove it and install a fresh piece so it is smooth and flat.

11. Use a putty knife to smooth on a thin layer of plaster and allow the area to dry. Use sandpaper to smooth any ridges or mounds.

12. Apply another thin coat of plaster and blend it into the surrounding area. A small paintbrush may help you achieve good results. Sand. If needed, apply another plaster layer and sand again. You can repeat this process until the patch becomes unnoticeable. Once you have it just right, prime and paint.

13. If you have a sand or textured finish, see our section on Making the Patch Match. Most ceilings are textured, so we highly recommend spray-on texture, available at hardware and home improvement stores.

14. Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum.

Tip: To make repairs in "cottage cheese" or "splatter" ceilings, a spray-on compound is the only way to go. Before you try it on your ceiling, however, get the hang of applying it by trying it on a down-facing board or large piece of cardboard. You can even tack the cardboard to the ceiling for the most accurate practice model. Remember to put drop cloths on everything before you begin!

Hammer Share your DIY tips with others in our Walls forum.