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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Do It Yourself: Plaster cracks tough to mend

Gene Austin McClatchy-Tribune

Q. My older house has a number of cracks in the plaster walls and ceilings. In some cases, the plaster is pulling away from the wood lath behind it. Can I fix these like drywall cracks — taping over them and using joint compound?

A. If you want the repairs to last, you’ll need to take some extra steps, especially where the plaster is pulling loose. The loose plaster must be secured to the lath. The time-honored way to do this is to fasten the plaster to the lath with washers. Traditionally, the washers are made of very thin galvanized metal about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. The washers are secured with drywall screws. When you have the loose plaster secured, you tape the cracks and conceal everything with patching plaster or drywall joint compound. If you use joint compound, a “setting type” compound is recommended, not the pre-mixed type.

Setting-type compound, which comes in a bag and is mixed with water, will bond better to the plaster. You should use fiberglass mesh tape with this compound. You will need plenty of washers if you have a lot of cracks. If you can’t find the washers locally, buy them on the Internet; use a search engine and the words “plaster repair washers.” Install the washers six to eight inches apart, staggered on opposite sides of the crack to avoid weakening the plaster. Some experts don’t approve of this method because, they say, the washers are difficult to conceal with the patching material and can cause a lumpy finish.

These experts often prefer a newer system that uses adhesive to bond the plaster to the lath. This system, called Big Wally’s Plaster Magic, also uses washers, but they are plastic and are used only as clamps to hold the plaster in place while the adhesive sets up. The plastic washers are then removed and the cracks and screw holes filled with patching material. Materials for this system are sold in kits at www.plastermagic.com. There are a number of kits, ranging from a “homeowner’s kit” priced at $79 to a “contractor’s kit” priced at $235. Details on the contents of the kits and the damage they will repair are listed at the Web site.

Q. I want to stain the cinder blocks on the foundation of my house. They get wet, so I don’t want to try paint, which would probably peel. Is it possible to stain them?

A. You can buy concrete stain that should work on your cinder blocks, but I doubt if you will get an even finish because of the mortar and high absorption of the blocks. You could probably get a more uniform color with paint. I have painted blocks a number of times, and the paint penetrates them well because of their porous nature. I have never experienced any peeling, though blocks that get wet a lot can develop dark stains from mildew, which can often be removed with a bleach solution. Whatever you decide, read the directions on the container before buying and follow them if you use the product.

Questions and comments should be emailed to Gene Austin at gaus17@aol.com. Send regular mail for Gene Austin to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, PA 19422.
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