Can’t Win ‘Em All

By on 18 September, 2013 in Heather Coleman with 3 Comments

Typically when I write about my DIY projects, the article ends with the successful completion of the project. This isn’t that type of article.

The project started off simple enough. After taking out part of a wall with the kitchen remodel, the chair rail molding in the dining room looked odd and made the space feel boxed in. Taking down chair rail seemed a simple enough project for the weekend, even taking into account the fact that below the chair rail the previous owners had put up masonite board with wallpaper on it (we painted over that immediately after moving in). I have to paint the dining room anyway, and so it made sense to go ahead and take it out now.

I grabbed my wonder bar and started popping off molding and pulling down masonite. It went quickly. The masonite board was held on only by construction adhesive and molding. Judging from the wallpaper it went up sometime in the late 70s or early 80s. One, two, three walls went down with no problems. I sat to take a break, and was patting myself on the back, feeling both satisfied and accomplished. I still had a lot of adhesive to remove and had a little gouging and some minor staining from a water leak that I knew had occurred years ago, but everything seemed pretty reasonable.

I only had one small wall left — the one under our new bar. I started to pull it back and found a huge hole in the plaster– apparently where the main damage occurred from an overflowing washer drain when the previous owners had the house. We found floor damage when we ripped carpet out of the dining room, so I knew about the washer, but it never really occurred to me that there was a reason that they put the masonite up. After some debate I put the board back up on the wall under the bar. It isn’t really visible, especially when painted, and dealing with patching a 3×4 hole in plaster just seemed more of a project than I wanted to take on (especially since I also don’t have traditional lathe plaster).

First mini-crisis dealt with, I moved on to adhesive removal. There were thick, heavy squiggles of the stuff everywhere. The first couple scraped off easily, so I was hopeful that it would go well. Those hopes were dashed pretty quickly. Apparently the first were flukes. After doing a lot of reading, trying all manner of adhesive removers and scraping, I finally went out and bought a heat gun. The heat gun did work, but it was a horribly slow process. My dining room is small, only around 12×12 and it took me roughly 2 days to scrape and resulted in some very sore arms. After, I was left with huge gouges in the plaster and tiny remnants of adhesive everywhere.

Skim coating the bottom part of the wall seemed like the best way to even out the holes and cover up the little bits of adhesive that were still clinging to the wall. I decided to spackle the nail holes and deeper gouges first. My favorite spackle is DryDex. It is pink when you apply it but turns white when dry — completely takes the guesswork out of when it is time to sand. I had a couple of spots that needed more help than that, so I used mesh drywall tape to cover those. At this point, I felt like the walls were ready to skimcoat. I used lightweight joint compound, which was the right thing to use, but then I thought that I remembered using a 12 inch drywall knife when I did some patching before, so I tried for 2 days to get things even (3 coats, with lots of sanding in between, not to mention terribly sore arms), before I finally gave up and turned to the Internet to see what i was doing wrong. First, I learned that I was using a taping knife. Great for smoothing out taped drywall joints, not so great for applying joint compound to an entire wall. I read about a various techniques, and decided to try rolling the joint compound on, and then using something called a Magic Trowel to smooth out the compound, hopefully leaving myself with walls that needed minimal sanding.

Sherwin Williams is the only local store that I could find that sells the Magic Trowel, so off I headed, an hour before closing on Sunday afternoon. The first one had heard of it but didn’t carry it. She was really nice and called around until she found one for me. I got to the store right before close, explained to him what I wanted to do and he told me that I would need to roll it on with a texture roller because of the weight of the mud. I picked up one, some more drywall screens and headed home.

This was a busy week, so yesterday was the first day that I had free to start work. I figured that rolling on drywall mud would be messy, so I laid down newspaper, but rolling it on with the texture roller sprayed bits of it everywhere. EVERYWHERE. I am still pulling tiny bits out of my hair (which was mostly covered by a scarf by the way!). After rolling out the wall, I wet the Magic Trowel and pulled it down the wall, hoping to see nice smooth walls behind it. Instead I see very textured walls that basically have just the top of the texture scraped off. I pull it again, this time much harder. Still about the same, with a few smoother spots. I do the whole wall, thinking maybe that the spot that I started was just too thick or thin. Nope. The entire wall looks the same. I jump online (what did we do without the Internet?) and watch a couple of videos. I notice that the roller that they are using just looks like a typical roller, not a textured one like the guy at the paint store suggested. The wall that I just covered in textured joint compound was still wet, but not wet enough to manipulate, so I decided to try another wall using a regular roller. Much better! I found that if it didn’t look perfect after the first pull, then I could roll some more compound on and pull it again.

I zip through the next three walls pretty quickly and then turn my attention back to the starting wall. It was the longest amount of uninterrupted space. I start to inspect it, trying to decide if I should just sand it down and start over or if I should lay more compound on top of what I had just put on. Upon inspection I notice that a 2×3 area looks sort of bubbly and weird, so I start poking it with the tip of my putty knife. That’s when the fun began. I realized that not only was the compound bubbling up, the paint behind it was. The area that had slight discoloration from water damage before was all peeling down to the plaster. 45 minutes later I am sitting with peeled paint and half wet drywall mud everywhere. I also realize that there is slight damage to the plaster. At that point I sat down and deeply considered crying.

After a bit of a break, I sanded the other walls last night. They look great, so I would say that the Magic Trowel was a success. I am going to buy more joint compound this afternoon, and hopefully the last wall will go smoothly (ha!) from here on out, and I will be able to put this beautiful teal paint up and enjoy my nice, smooth, chair rail free walls. This was definitely not the project that I thought that I was getting myself into, and was a reminder that even an avid DIY’er can be faced with a lot of unexpected challenges when starting a seemingly simple project. Ironically, I have plans to help a friend drywall her closet next week!

Heather Coleman is a freelance writer and part-time DIY’er who mostly manages to fit her projects in around her family and her volunteer work. She lives with her husband, two boys and two pets in Midtown. She is on Google+, Linked In, Twitter and Pinterest.

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There Are 3 Brilliant Comments

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  1. MS says:

    I too have a Magic Trowel, and I used it to do our bathroom walls that were covered with impossible-to-remove wallpaper. It takes some getting used to, but the trick seemed to be getting the right consistency of the joint compound. Obviously, you don’t want too much water or else the compound won’t dry properly, not to mention it would make it impossible to work with. Too little water and it won’t smooth out with the trowel. I actually ended up buying a mixing attachment for my drill, which I then used to slowly mix in the water until I got the right consistency, about that of toothpaste. From there, it was smooth sailing. I applied it on very liberally, and just sanded (A LOT OF SANDING) smooth. Looks like a brand new wall and turned out to be way less time consuming than removing wallpaper.

  2. MS says:

    Forgot to mention a couple other tips:

    1) Make sure any loose or peeling paint is scrapped before applying joint compound

    2) Recommend putting down a coat of high-quality primer first. The primer will help seal the wall and protect it against the high-moisture content of the watered-down joint compound. Oil based would be best, but I got by fine with the Bullseye 1-2-3 primer (find at Home Depot). Sounds like this may have been the issue you ran into. With all that moisture from the joint compound, the wall became saturated and began to fail.

    3) Multiple coats of joint compound are required. In my case, I covered up wall paper so it only took 2 coats. But how many coats it takes you will depend on how it looks after each coat. I’d do a very light sanding after each coat, and then reapply to the areas that look like they need it. Obviously if an area is perfectly smooth, there is no need to do a second coat on that area, or else you risk ruining it with an imperfect 2nd coat. Never forget that anything you do screw up can be corrected by doing some sanding when it dries.

    4) Once you sand the final coat to a nice smooth finish, apply some more of that high-quality primer. Joint compound needs to be primed before painting because it’s so porous. Also, after you prime you’ll be able to better see any imperfections in the wall. Spot fix those small imperfections before you put the top coat of paint on and it’ll look great.

    Post pictures when you finish!

  3. actor1 says:

    heather! i just found this blog, by jumping over from the ‘lost in montgomery’ blog. nice write-up! you & kelly will have to share tips–she’s a wonder w/ a chainsaw, sawz-all, sledgehammer, & pry bar. she installed also installed our backsplash! beauty & brains too…

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