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How to achieve perfectly smooth walls

Listed under Blog, Painting, preparation Posted Oct 23 2011

This was first posted on my Posterous painting tips blog.

Whenever I tackle a painting and decorating job, I am driven to do the best job possible in the most efficient way. This is probably down to a mix of my genes, and excellent training from old school teachers, where pride in your work was of paramount importance.

Obviously if this was 1911 and I worked for the lord of the manor, time would not be a problem – my wages would be pennies a day, so I could therefore work without compromise. However, nowadays, for the most part, the trick is to balance quality, time and materials, to end up with a very professional specification at a realistic price.  

There are a few options to take the quality of your plaster wall surfaces to the next level, without breaking the customer’s bank, too badly!

Fill walls and paint

Basically, any bare or painted plaster wall in OK condition can be sanded, bad dings filled with a polyfilla, sanded smooth and painted with a couple of coats of good emulsion. This is the nuts and bolts of all decorating work! There are loads of different products, and these are some of the decorating fillers I use, and when.
To maximise chances of filling every ding, wear a head torch or rig up unforgiving halogens.

Fill walls, prime and paint

To take your painted walls to the next level, once you have finished your standard amount of filling and sanding, you could use Zinsser 1-2-3 as a basecoat before emulsioning. The surface will be solid, even and tough, and the topcoats will go further ie you will use less paint. You can tint the primer too.
On a recent job where a solid even finish was paramount, I specified the following system for 1000m2 of plastered walls and ceilings, that had been badly painted, had evidence of limewash on external walls and several areas were suffering from old damp, soot and crayon. Not a simple job, and not a job for Zinsser 1-2-3, in my opinion.

Sand walls, apply Blackfriars Problem Solving Primer, fill dings and dents, sand, apply 2 coats of Little Greene acrylic matt emulsion.

With a few select tools, special equipment and hard graft, this is a glimpse of the transformation from terrible rough painted walls

to a finish that looks like newly plastered and painted walls

The pitched ceilings get the same treatment too. (Also, an extra couple of hours dealing with the joints between beams and plaster really make a ceiling jump.)

Skim fill walls, prime and paint

Rather than a simple fill over using a 3″ filling knife, you can skim coat the whole wall. Decorators use a 10-12″ plastic caulker blade to apply a variety of fillers. Ordinary filler, Gyproc Easifill to name but two. Drywall skim products work too.

If you have a plasterer to hand, you might consider asking them to apply Toupret TX120, a high spec ready mixed tub filler that is specifically formulated to accept paint. A small detail you might think, but the detail plus judicious use of an orbital sander can result in a paint finish that looks like the highest grade spray finish- achieved with a roller!

Skim a new coat of plaster and repaint

Skimming previously painted walls with a new coat of plaster is the standard high spec quick way to a top finish. The only downsides are that not many plasterers get a beautiful finish these days, and the standard approach of applying PVA on the wall can open a can of worms if the paint or plasterwork underneath is not very solid.

Spray filler on walls and repaint

The Toupret filler range is basic fare on the continent, and comes in various mixes for spraying. The minimum spray rig for the skinny skim finish Toupret Pulsar would be about £1000 up to a basic £4000 kit to spray the heavier TX120 filler.

It is a very reliable refurbishment product compared to skimming with gypum plasters, mainly because the decorator has more primers in their armoury than plasterers to overcome dodgy wall issues, and if there is a problem the Toupret can be patched in with less aggravation. It does need a controlled environment though, and lots of walls ready to do at one visit!

This is how they achieve a Level 5 “perfect” finish on plasterboard in USA

Fill walls and cross line

Basically, any bare or painted plaster wall in OK condition can be sanded, bad dings filled with a polyfilla type filler, sanded smooth, sealed and then lined with heavy duty lining paper prior to re-painting.

Conventional good quality lining paper is virgin pulp paper in a 1200 or 1400 grade. Usually costs around £3/roll. This was a standard spec for me for years.

There is an argument that lining paper adds another layer of potential issues. That is correct, potentially. However, if you use Beeline Primer Sealer as a “size” before hanging your paper, and you double paste the joints with a tub paste, and use a sponge to tease the joints close, you can’t go too far wrong in achieving an even and uniform and durable surface ready for painting.

This is a checklist for stripping wallpaper, lining, wallpapering >

MAV lining paper specialists, Coveryourwall, sell a range of high tech lining paper where you paste the wall, not the paper. Their Premium lining paper gives a plaster smooth finish.

I hope you have found some use in this guide, and the related explanations.

I obviously do this sort of work on a professional basis – if you want it done well and you are in Cheshire / Wirral, give me a call.

Alternatively, if you are a homeowner in the Cheshire, Chester area, and you would like to be pointed in the right direction with a big DIY home decorating project, I offer a one-to-one service where I work out what the best and most economical approach is, and demo some different tasks. Best / least traumatic ways to do preparation is a popular request!

Contact me for details of half and full day consultations.

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