Hard-to-find washers repair plaster walls Reader tracks down this elusive product at Boston hardware store

Homework

November 23, 1997|By Karol V. Menzie & Randy Johnson

SOMETIMES pooling information is the best way to solve a problem. That was the case when a reader e-mailed to ask about a problem, and we were able to provide a hint of solution that allowed him to track down the product he needed -- and what's more, he told us how to find it.

"I have plaster walls that, for the most part, are in good condition," the e-mail read. "There are one or two bad areas, however, where the plaster has pulled away from the lathe. I read somewhere that this problem can be treated by reinforcing such areas with 'plaster washers' and drywall screws. My problem is that I cannot seem to find plaster washers. The large home-improvement chains won't admit that there were walls before sheet rock. The small hardware stores tell me that they are not aware of washers made out of plaster.

"Would you happen to know where I can get ahold of these washers, or who might be able to help?"

As it happens, Randy used to have some of the plaster washers, which aren't made out of plaster, but are small metal discs with a hole in the middle to accommodate a drywall screw.

When they are screwed to loose plaster, they draw the plaster back to the lath behind it.

Plaster becomes loose in the first place because it loses its "keys." Plaster is applied over lath, narrow wooden slats nailed to studs. The first coat of plaster flows through the spaces between the lath and curves down, locking the plaster to the lath. The bits behind the lath are called the keys.

Over time, the keys can break, leaving the plaster floating free of the lath. It doesn't take a strong blow to break the keys; the vibrations of walking through the house, of work done over the years, of traffic rumbling outside, can do it. You can actually push on the plaster and feel the movement.

Randy had a distinct memory of having a bunch of the washers in a brown paper bag in the corner of a shelf in the workshop of his first house in East Baltimore.

So he e-mailed back. "I used to have some of the plaster washers you heard about. I got them at least 15 years ago from the Old House Journal. The Journal used to sell all kinds of products for hands-on renovation. You may want to check a recent copy to see if you can find any indication of the product. I have been unable to find [the washers I had] and I have never seen them for sale anywhere else. If you find them, please let me know where. I would love to replace my supply."

The next day he got another e-mail from the reader. "You should be happy to know that you can still find plaster washers for sale in the Old House Journal. There is an ad in the back for a hardware store in Boston that sells them."

The source is Charles Street Supply Co., 54 Charles St. Boston, Mass. 02114. (800-382-4360)

This was great news for Karol, who has a section of loose plaster in her dining room ceiling.

To use the plaster washers, start at the edge of the loose area and work on small sections at a time. (Don't start in the middle of the loose part, because that could crack the plaster.) Gradually insert the screws into the lath through the center hole of the plaster washer, pulling the plaster tight.

After you have rescued the plaster you will have to finish over the washers, and you may also have to repair any cracks. Use a quick-drying plaster that you mix, such as Durabond 90, to go over the washers first. Put on just enough to cover the washers and work smoothly, wiping off all excess plaster. Never mound up plaster so it forms ridges and clumps when it dries. The smoother it goes on, the less you will have to sand.

To repair a crack, dig out to sound plaster. Spray the edges lightly with water and fill the crack. Once you have the washers covered and any cracks filled flush to the wall, go over the whole area with pre-mixed joint compound, using a 12-inch-wide drywall knife. (The pre-mix is smoother and a lot easier to sand.)

Let the area dry for a day or two and then sand it smooth. Make sure that all ridges and uneven spots are covered. You may need to touch up one more time with the joint compound.

Wait to paint until the surface is totally dry. Use an oil-base primer to seal the area. If the primer fails to cover a stain, use a stain sealer on the area.

Randy Johnson is a Baltimore home-improvement contractor. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, e-mail us at homeworlark.net, or write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; TTC comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

Pub Date: 11/23/97

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