Modern Plaster Techniques (Video)

By Scott Sidler August 1, 2016

modern plaster techniquesI posted a while back about my aversion to drywall and how I feel it has absolutely no place in an old house. I mentioned a technique that my company uses called ‘Modern Plaster’ to repair and re-coat old plaster walls and new sheetrock to make them look and perform like a brand new old plaster wall.

Well, I’ve finally gotten around to making a video to show you some of the techniques that we use to attain this look. A lot of this work varies from home to home as we attempt to match the original finishes.

The plaster may be smooth and sand free in one house, then a heavy sand finish, or crow’s foot texture on the next. You never know what you’ll find, but with a little experimentation you can usually find a solution.


Modern Plaster

Modern Plaster is a hybrid of the commonly used veneer plaster and joint compound finishes available today. It was introduced to me by plasterer with over 40 years experience as a very workable solution to damaged plaster walls.

This post doesn’t cover how to patch plaster, which is handled before the application of Modern Plaster. The typical procedure for skim coating a wall with veneer plaster is to coat the wall with a PVA bonding agent. Typically two coats are applied and then you can begin skim coating.

With Modern Plaster you can skip the bonding agent and move right to plastering which saves hours but yields almost identical results. You get the same hard finish typical of veneer plaster in less time with a modern plaster wall.

The Mix

Here’s the recipe for my Modern Plaster mix:

  • 1 part Veneer Plaster (I prefer Diamond Brand)
  • 1 part Pre-mixed Joint Compound
  • 1 part Sand

Sand is optional depending on the texture you are trying to match. If you aren’t adding sand then it’s a 1:1 mix of veneer plaster to joint compound. When sand is added to the mix it becomes even parts of all three items 1:1:1.

To make a full bucket of Modern Plaster begin by filling a 5-gallon bucket 1/3 full of water and then mixing veneer plaster into the water and mixing thoroughly until ALL lumps are gone and you have a thin sour cream like mix.

Then add the same amount of pre-mixed joint compound (not setting type compound!) to the bucket followed by the same amount of sand. Tip: When you add the joint compound the mixture will stiffen up significantly so make sure to mix your veneer plaster a little thinner than you would want your final mix to be.

The thickness of your final mix should be thick enough that if you put a margin trowel right in the center it won’t sink down and disappear in the plaster. Aim for a regular yogurt (not Greek yogurt) like texture. If it’s too thick then it will setup too quickly and kill your shoulder during application, too thin and it’s unworkable.

Before you mix up a full batch try mixing a small amount to get a feel for working with the material.


Plastering Technique

Here’s where the video comes in. I can explain this all day, but you need to watch someone plaster to get an idea what to do. Watch this video and then practice, practice, practice. The first time you try it it will be weird and awkward like the first time you rode a bike, but you can get a decent technique down with a little practice.

No, you won’t be as fast and smooth as someone who has been plastering for decades, but neither am I and I make a living doing this stuff! Good luck with your plastering and feel free to leave any comments or questions below.

A note to the purists:

I know this is not historically accurate, but in the interest of saving more historic plaster this option makes skim coating more affordable, more attainable by the DIYer, and creates a historically accurate appearance to the original.

16 thoughts on “Modern Plaster Techniques (Video)”

  1. Hey Scott, Another question re the modern plaster mix. We want to add paint to the mix. Can we add paint? Do you have a formula for adding paint? How much and when to add? Any tips about adding paint? Thanks, Doug

  2. Scott, We have finally located and purchased the correct veneer plaster for the modern plaster formula. Now, we are having a hard time locating the sand. Which sand do you recommend for the DIYer to use in your above formula? Can we purchase it in bags? We bought some play sand, but it had some large pebbles that did not give a smooth skim. Thanks again! Doug

  3. Hello Scott, We watched your video re the modern plaster formula and you used the words veneer finish plaster. I cannot find that particular wording as I am looking for a plaster product. Can we just use “finish plaster” of any brand for your formula? Also, it is very hard to find finish plaster of any brand in stock at the retail level. Do you have a suggestion as to where to get some?
    Thanks, Doug & Rafa

  4. Scott,
    Can I use this mixture as a faster easier way to repair a hole in a ceiling? It is drywall with a knockdown texture. A repairman put his foot through it from the attic.

  5. Hi Scott, thanks so much for the video. I’m a little confused, so if you could explain one more time, that would be great. What are you applying the plaster over? Can we plaster over existing drywall? If we are starting a new wall, should we use the blue board that other people are talking about?

  6. Hi Scott,
    I am finishing my basement and found your article on the modern plaster technique. I would like to use this method over the traditional drywall mud, sand, repeat process. Can you tell me approximately how much area one bag of plaster and bucket of compound should cover?

  7. Hi Scott,
    I have a quick question, and I think it’s what you were doing in the video. I am looking to skim coat the plaster walls in my 1925 colonial. I have been all over the internet and landed on your site today.

    My walls are smooth in texture, but they have tons of pock marks and little holes. I believe this is from the original job; it’s not damage to the wall.

    I would like to have a super smooth wall, but I also want to keep the integrity and super hard strength of the original plaster. Is it even possible to get plaster smooth like that or is it inherently going to be a little rougher than a level 5 drywall job?

    Sorry for so many questions, but:

    If I want to skim coat with your modern plaster mixture, can I sand afterwards?

    Will the modern plaster mixture permit me to do the roll on method with the Magic Trowel?

    It seems something like Durabond 90 cannot be used to skim coat over plaster because while it’s super hard, you cannot sand it down. Am I correct in that thought? Many people mention using standard joint compound over Durabond – but I’m afraid then the joint compound won’t be as hard.

    What would be your recommendation for what I’m looking to do?

    Thank you in advance!

  8. Similar to Lauren’s situation, most of my 1895 Victorian’s severely damaged plaster was applied directly to brick, and some of the damage is 2-3 feet square (such as missing all plaster above a window).

    For repairs this large, and directly on brick, do you still recommend this modern plaster technique or something else (such as a more traditional 3-coat)?

    1. Modern plaster will work well directly on brick just make sure to thoroughly wet the brick first or it will suck up the water from the plaster too quickly and dry it out prematurely leading to poor adhesion.

  9. Hi Scott, Not quite sure where to begin because the story could be long…haha. My husband and I were lucky enough to purchase and start renovating a 1798 farmhouse. We came across your page too late, I think, unfortunately because we did use the dreaded sheet rock in some parts of the house. Now that I’ve confessed and we’ve found your page, we are in the last room of the house, which is also, the oldest. We just took down the lovely paneling from the 60s (trust me, it was everywhere) and discovered more plaster, that I don’t think is too bad at all. Here’s the catch though. It’s over brick, not lath, and it is covered with amazing old wall paper. The wallpaper is far from in good condition, but we’d love to attempt to save this plaster. Is this process the same over brick as it is over the lath? I have a few more questions if we could send pics. You inspired us in our irreplaceable, amazing historic home. Thanks for all your help.

    1. Hey Lauren, this works best over top of drywall or old plaster. It doesn’t matter what is behind the plaster whether brick or lath. You’ll have to remove the wallpaper though and to seal up wallpaper residue I prefer to prime the wall with an oil-based primer first.

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