Is “hell’s bells” a prayer? Because Daddy says it all the time.

– Lisa Simpson

I spent much of the weekend finishing plaster repairs in preparation for reconnecting the ground floor ceiling lights. My neck and shoulders did not thank me for the exercise.

If you need to chisel out a hole for a new electrical box in a plaster-lathe wall, it’s a good idea to use masking tape on the line to be cut. It helps hold the plaster together so that cracks don’t propagate.

Kevin pointing out the lack of tape (retrospectively).

Kevin pointing out the lack of tape. This one turned out ok.

I forgot this step and ended up with an awful mess.

Well, nertz.

This one did not.

To fix plaster screw-ups of this magnitude, cut pieces of sheetrock (UK: plasterboard…?) to fill in as much of the huge void as possible.

I got your huge, gaping void right here.

I got your huge, gaping void right here.

Make sure that the sheetrock is no thicker than the depth of the missing plaster. Measure and sketch the gaps — my measurements turned out to be wrong, so I put a piece of paper on the ceiling and rubbed the side of a pencil lead along the edge to “trace” the hole. Then I cut the pieces a titch smaller than the pattern.

A sheetrock insert near the hall light -- I didn't get a photo of the inserts for the worse mess around the bedroom light.

Insert near the hall light; it’s actually flush with the plaster, despite the weird shadows.

Screw the pieces into the lathe. Or crack the piece of sheetrock while trying to screw it to the lathe, and nail the smaller pieces in place instead. Or try Liquid Nails — strong initial tack! — and come back 10 minutes later to find the piece on the floor. Whatever works, just get it up there. Use painter’s caulk to take up some of the space in the cracks, but keep the caulk above the level of the ceiling surface (it doesn’t sand well).

Hall light with some joint compound applied and drying

Hall light with some joint compound applied and drying

After that’s all set, slather on some joint compound to make it all smooth. Thin coats are more durable, so you may need to build up the coverage. Make sure you really push the compound into the gaps so you don’t end up with new holes when you sand.

If you are having a weekend like mine, you may need to do this multiple times to get it right. If you are good, you can apply the compound smoothly enough that it requires almost no sanding. I am not good.

Bedroom light with joint compound


Wait until the compound is really dry all the way through before sanding (remember thin coats), and wear a mask and eye protection. And use drop cloths and an air cleaner for the room. And a mop and dust cloth. IT WAS A TIRING WEEKEND. But even I was able to put together a reasonable plaster repair using this method.

I still need to paint, but this is the bedroom ceiling that had the horrible gaps.

Bedroom ceiling with the horrible gaps filled in. The lines show where plaster ended or sheet rock began, and will disappear under paint. Hopefully.

Prime the fresh surfaces, then you can repaint. I haven’t repainted yet, but the ceiling is THERE, which is an advance on last week.

Hall light -- the primer coat is more obvious here.

Hall light — the primer coat is more obvious here.

Once the ceiling was fixed, I was able to reinstall the lights with their fresh, this-century wiring. While the Kev worked on running a circuit for our eventual in-floor bathroom heat, I put up the lights, then turned off the power and ran the new wire into the breaker box and hooked everything up. I flipped the breaker on and we ran upstairs to party like it was 1899.

Only nothing worked. It didn’t make sense! NO SENSE WAS MADE. I was speechless, but Kev managed to ask, “Did you make all the connections in the junction boxes?”



I was so focused on the fixtures that I completely forgot connecting all the lines to the POWER. Ten minutes later, everything worked, and much wailing and weeping was averted.

Post-script: The post title is a Texas-ism from way back before my time — an expression to avoid blasphemy. I don’t always avoid blasphemy, especially this weekend.

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