previous
  • Video Series: Tile a Bathroom
    Video Series: Tile a Bathroom
  • Video: Install a Fence
    Video: Install a Fence
  • Custom Flooring Inspiration
    Custom Flooring Inspiration
  • All about Roofing
    All about Roofing
  • Tips & Techniques for Painting
    Tips & Techniques for Painting
  • Basement Remodeling Tips
    Basement Remodeling Tips
  • 12 Remodeling Secrets
    12 Remodeling Secrets
  • 9 Concrete Countertops Ideas
    9 Concrete Countertops Ideas
  • Pro Tool Rental
    Pro Tool Rental
  • 7 Smart Kitchen Solutions
    7 Smart Kitchen Solutions
  • Remodeling Articles and Videos
    Remodeling Articles and Videos
  • Master Carpenter Videos
    Master Carpenter Videos
  • Read FHB on Your iPad
    Read FHB on Your iPad
  • 7 Small Bathroom Layouts
    7 Small Bathroom Layouts
  • Magazine Departments
    Magazine Departments
  • Projects Done Right
    Projects Done Right
  • Design Inspiration
    Design Inspiration
  • Energy-Smart Details
    Energy-Smart Details
  • Clever daily tip in your inbox
    Clever daily tip in your inbox
  • 7 Trim Carpentry Secrets
    7 Trim Carpentry Secrets
next
Pin It
continued 123next>VIEW ALL

Removing Interior Wall Finishes

An excerpt from the book Unbuilding by Bob Falk and Brad Guy

Plaster removal is dusty. Make sure to wear a disposable respirator! Plaster removal is dusty. Make sure to wear a disposable respirator! Photo by: Brad Guy

After we removed the roof shingles on this house, we moved inside to attack the walls. The house had been remodeled over the years and contained a mixture of interior wall finishes. The added dormer was gypsum drywall, and the first floor was lath and plaster. If you use the right techniques, removal of both types of finishes is relatively easy.

Lath and plaster removal

Lath and plaster is an old type of interior finish that’s found in most homes built before World War II. The most common type of lath is wood, though metal lath is also found (and is more difficult to remove). Although lead-based paint is more likely on exterior wood siding than on interior plaster, it’s a good idea to test for lead because removing plaster creates a lot of dust. Chapter 5 explains how to use a lead test kit.

The common mistake in removing wood lath and plaster is to use a claw hammer or sledgehammer and try to remove both materials in one step. This method is slow and exhausting, and the head of a hammer is simply too small for the job; all you will do is punch holes in the plaster and break the wood lath. Also, you end up with a pile of intermixed lath and plaster that is difficult to shovel and bulky to move. A much more effective method is to remove the plaster completely, clean it out of the room, and then come back in and remove the lath. Pulling off the lath in a separate step allows you to more compactly bundle the lath for efficient removal and possible recycling. 

By removing plaster and lath in two steps and keeping them separate, it’s easier to move both materials out of the house for disposal. By removing plaster and lath in two steps and keeping them separate, it’s easier to move both materials out of the house for disposal. Photo by: Brad Guy
Hitting the wall with the back of a shovel will crack the plaster. Work up and down between the studs. Hitting the wall with the back of a shovel will crack the plaster. Work up and down between the studs. Photo by: Steve Culpepper

Start the plaster (and drywall) removal process by creating maximum ventilation—such as opening or removing windows and doors, if they haven’t already been removed. A flat-bladed or roofer’s shovel works well to remove the plaster. Basically you want to hit the wall to crack the keys off the back of the plaster then use the blade of the shovel to remove sections of the plaster face. The idea is to make the most of each hit by aiming each blow to a spot midway between the underlying studs. This flexes the plaster and more effectively cracks it. It’s important to hit the plaster hard enough to crack it, but not hard enough to crack the wood lath, which will only make the lath harder to remove later. It helps to shovel off as much as possible in a direction parallel to the lath strips, so you don’t constantly catch the tip of the shovel in the gaps between the lath.

Place a wheelbarrow against the wall directly below the plaster to eliminate at least some of the work of scooping it off the floor. Alternatively, line part of the wall with several wheeled rectangular plastic trash cans, which can be rolled outside to dump (be careful not to fill them so full that you can’t move them—plaster is heavy!). Work around the room and finish the walls before tackling the ceiling.

With the plaster cracked, it’s easy to shovel off big chunks. With the plaster cracked, it’s easy to shovel off big chunks. Photo by: Steve Culpepper
Work parallel to the lath and the shovel tip will catch less often. Work parallel to the lath and the shovel tip will catch less often. Photo by: Steve Culpepper
A flat-bladed shovel works well for cleanup. If you can handle the weight, a scoop shovel carries more debris A flat-bladed shovel works well for cleanup. If you can handle the weight, a scoop shovel carries more debris Photo by: Brad Guy

Waiting to do the ceiling till last means you don’t have to contend with dropped plaster all over the room while you’re working on the walls, minimizing a slip and trip hazard on the floor and making it easier to move the wheelbarrow. It’s harder to get the plaster off the ceiling than off the walls as now you have to swing a heavy shovel above your head. Standing on a rolling scaffold makes the job easier because if you are closer to the ceiling you can more effectively hit with the flat of the shovel, and it is easier on your shoulders and back. If you have access to the ceiling lath from the top side—that is from the attic or second floor above—you can make the plaster removal job easier by whacking the lath between the ceiling joists in the same manner (except now from the backside) as described for the walls. Because you have gravity and the weight of the plaster working for you, much of it will fall from the ceiling, eliminating the need to use a shovel to remove it from the ceiling below. A flat-headed shovel and a scoop shovel work best for cleaning up the plaster.

Once you have the plaster removed and cleaned up, it’s time to start with the lath. Ideally, you want to remove each piece of lath along with all its nails. Lath is held to the wall with small nails, so you can simply hook a tool behind the lath and yank it from the wall. If you hook your tool close to the stud, you will break less lath. Because the lath is pretty flexible, you have to develop a feel for pulling hard enough to pop the nails out, but not so hard you break the lath.

Remove the lath and drop it into a wheelbarrow when possible. Try to pry the lath gingerly enough to pull as many nails out as you can with the piece of lath. Remove the lath and drop it into a wheelbarrow when possible. Try to pry the lath gingerly enough to pull as many nails out as you can with the piece of lath. Photo by: Brad Guy
If you pull too hard, the lath will break at a nail. Then not only do you end up with a lot of small pieces of lath to deal with but you have to go back and pull a bunch of lath nails from the framing. If you pull too hard, the lath will break at a nail. Then not only do you end up with a lot of small pieces of lath to deal with but you have to go back and pull a bunch of lath nails from the framing. Photo by: Brad Guy
Once you open up part of the wall, another option is to use a longer tool, such as the shovel shown here. Once you open up part of the wall, another option is to use a longer tool, such as the shovel shown here. Photo by: Steve Culpepper

There are a couple of tools that work for removing lath. A flat-bladed prybar is small and easy to handle and has about the right length of blade to hook behind one lath at a time. It also allows you to pull nails as you go. Some people prefer a bigger tool, such as a short-handled pick or mattock or a long-handled shovel. Though heavier, a larger tool allows you to pry against several lath strips. Crowbars don’t work well for lath removal as the curve of the bar is too tight and all you’ll do is break the wood.

Once all the lath is removed, pull out any remaining nails. We prefer to use a flat prybar rather than a hammer for this job as the small lath nails tend to get stuck between the claws of the hammer, requiring you to stop to clear each nail.

Drywall removal

If you’re dealing with drywall, try to remove it in the biggest pieces easily handled by one person. Drywall is somewhat frustrating to remove, as it always seems to break where you don’t want it to. To get started, use a flat-bladed shovel, garden spade, or roofer’s shovel to make a horizontal cut at about shoulder height. This helps create a place you can grab the drywall and pull it down in pieces. For the upper part of the wall, place the head of the spade or shovel along the wall behind the drywall, angle the handle across the nearest stud, and then pry the piece off.

Once you have removed the drywall from one side of the wall, it is easy to remove it from the other side of the studs if you push it off from the backside. Some people use a garden rake to pull drywall off by hooking the tines of the rake behind the edge of the piece. In any case, avoid using tools with a small head, such as a claw hammer or a sledgehammer. You’ll only create a mess and wear yourself out.

Photo by: Steve Culpepper
Photo by: Steve Culpepper
When removing drywall, try to pull off pieces easily handled by one person. When removing drywall, try to pull off pieces easily handled by one person. Photo by: Brad Guy
Once the drywall on one side of an interior wall is removed, you can use the flat of a shovel to loosen the drywall on the other side of the wall. Once the drywall on one side of an interior wall is removed, you can use the flat of a shovel to loosen the drywall on the other side of the wall. Photo by: Steve Culpepper
Bob Falk is a supervisory research engineer at the U.S. Forest Products Labratory in Madison, Wisconsin. He is also a ground-breaking researcher in the recycling and reuse of building materials. Brad Guy trained as an architect and is currently the president of the Building Materials Reuse Association.
From BookUnbuilding , pp. 197-202
continued 123next>VIEW ALL