Posts Tagged ‘smoothing compound’

You’ve Gotta Get Dust Off The Walls

September 9, 2020


If you look closely at the right side of the corner, you will notice dust on the textured wall.

Before anything can go on the wall – primer, wallpaper, smoothing compound – all the dust needs to be removed.

This is because nothing sticks to dust. Any sort of stress on the wall, such as new wallpaper drying and shrinking and putting torque / tension on the walls, or wallpaper expanding and contracting with temperature and humidity changes, can cause the material to let go from the wall, most usually at the seams.

My example is that it’s like when you flour a cake pan – the paper will kinda stick, but it won’t really stick.

So before I started to apply my smoothing compound to the walls, I went around the entire master bedroom with a damp sponge and wiped the dust off. A little dust fills up a sponge quickly, so I had to keep rinsing it clean frequently.

Rust From Water Damage Will Stain Wallpaper

August 11, 2020

Look to the right of the can. Notice the tiny spots of red. This is rust, and rust is bad because it (along with certain other substances, like ink, tar, oil, tobacco, water stains, wood sap (knots), mold, mildew) will bleed through wallpaper. Maybe not immediately, but, over time, it will work its way through the primer and the paper and to the surface, leaving a spot that cannot be washed off.

Actually, there was a whole lot of rust along the entire height of this wall’s corner. An air conditioning leak had kept the drywall wet for a period of time, and rust had formed along much of the metal corner – called a “bead.”

I skim-floated over the affected area with joint compound, and that buried the rust … for a while. But rust (and other substances), will eventually work their way to the surface, leaving spots on the wallpaper.

So a stain blocker was called for, which will prevent any stains from bleeding through. For this I love KILZ – but only the “Original” oil-based version. The water-borne products just don’t measure up

Some reasons I skim-floated over the area was to provide a buffer space between the rust and the sealer in hopes that the rust would not make it all the way up to the surface, to create more material over the very corner itself that could soak up the sealer, and because the stain blocker would soak into the porous smoothing compound more so than to the sharp corner of the metal bead.

Textured, Woven, Faux Grasscloth in Cypress Master Bedroom

February 2, 2020


Even with high (13′) vaulted ceilings, the original medium-toned purple paint in this master bedroom in a new home in the Town Lake neighborhood of Cypress (northwest Houston) made the room look a little closed-in. And the purple didn’t coordinate with anything the young homeowners own.

So they broke out the extension ladder and painted three walls a creamy white. Then they had me install a textured vinyl wallpaper with a woven grasscloth look on the wall behind the bed.

The job too two days. One day was to apply smoothing compound to the heavyish texture which is typical of new homes in the suburbs. The next day I sanded it smooth, wiped off the dust, primed, and then hung the paper.

Daylight was fading fast, so I had to take the “after” photo when only three strips were up. But you get the idea.

In the top photo, you see I have laid my rolled-up strips against the wall in the order they came off the bolt, and in the order in which they will be hung. This helps minimize color differences

As with most solid color and textured patterns, I used the “reverse hang” procedure to minimize shading – you hang one strip right side up, and the next strip you hang upside down. This way, the same side of each strip is placed next to each other. That way, if, for example, the left side of a bolt of wallpaper is slightly darker than the right side, you won’t notice an abrupt color change between your two strips, because the two darker sides are placed next to each other. I know that sounds complicated, but it’s a common practice when hanging wallpaper, and it does reduce color variations between strips.

One strip did end up a tad darker than the one next to it. They are all from the same run, so who knows what’s going on there. It’s a minor color difference, and not nearly as bad as if they had chosen real grasscloth instead. (Real grasscloth has tons of disappointing color variances between and even within strips.)

The close-up shows the beautiful texture of this embossed vinyl material. I have no idea why it came out grey – the paper is actually navy blue.

The vinyl wallcovering has a woven fabric (scrim) back, and is way more durable and stain-resistant than real grasscloth, or any other wallpaper, for that matter.

This wallpaper pattern is called “Bankun Raffia” by Thibaut Designs, and was bought from my favorite source for good quality, product knowledge, expert service, and competitive price – Dorota Hartwig at Southwestern Paint on Bissonnet near Kirby. (713) 520-6262 or dorotasouthwestern@hotmail.com. She is great at helping you find just the perfect paper! Discuss your project and make an appointment before heading over to see her.

Problem With Wall – Unstable Paint

October 22, 2019


Here’s where a little bit of paint has peeled away from the wall. Why? Most likely because over the 60 year lifetime of this house, various products have been applied to the walls.

Oil based paint, followed by latex paint, then gloss paint, maybe some smoothing compound, then more paint and then another coat of paint.

In all probability, improper prep, or, more likely, no prep at all, was done between all these surface treatments.

The thing is, all of these disparate materials are not likely to stick to one another, especially if no prep has been done.

The problem becomes, then, that when a new surface treatment (paint, wallpaper) is applied, and then dries, which results in shrinking, which results in pulling taught and putting stress on the wall’s surface, the stress can cause these various surfaces to actually pull apart (delaminate).

That’s what you’re seeing here.

Please Don’t Tell Me You’re Ready If You’re NOT

September 27, 2019


This young family in the Rice University neighborhood of Houston has been undergoing a weeks-long remodel of the master bed and bathroom suite in their 1939 home. They’re eager to get moved back in. I was scheduled for three days to smooth walls and hang paper.

I’d been told by both the homeowner and the contractor that the room is ready for wallpaper. So I showed up for work today to discover that it is not.

First photo – The painters are working in adjacent rooms and need to pass through my work area frequently. You can see piles of their equipment in my space. This is very disruptive to the thought process needed to hang wallpaper.

Second photo – There is no running water. I had to run down to the family’s kitchen to fill a gallon bucket so I could rinse tools and rags – which is not the same as keeping things squeaky clean with fresh, running water. And since there is no toilet, there is nowhere to dump the dirty water.

On the left, you notice an extension cord. Which leads to the third photo – there is no electricity. No lights. So I had to connect two extension cords and hang one measly 100 watt bulb from the ceiling fan, in hopes of having enough light to work.

The fourth photo shows where I am trying to spread smoothing compound onto the wall. The compound and the wall are virtually the same color, and, in the dim light, it’s next to impossible to see what I’m doing.

The contractor dug out a heavy-duty extension cord and borrowed the painter’s work light, which helped a bit. But later the painter (who was working in a room with no windows) came and took his light back.

There is also skimpy air conditioning in this room. It’s not about the temperature, folks – it’s about humidity. You need the A/C cranking to pull humidity out of the air. I won’t hang wallpaper when the HVAC systems are not running, because the resulting humidity is detrimental to wallpaper – adhesion, shrinking, yada. And smoothing compound won’t dry, primers won’t dry …

Fifth photo – the carpet has been ripped up, leaving nail strips along the walls, and leaving exposed nails here and there all over the floor.

I did what little prep I could and then left. I am not coming back tomorrow.

Unfortunately, because of mis/discommunication, this family’s wallpaper will have to wait until I have a client whom I can switch install dates with.

Also, due to this, I lost at least one day of work (self-employed people don’t get “vacation pay” 😦 ), and other clients of mine whom I could have helped that day didn’t get their paper up, either.

Painters Aren’t Wallpaper Preppers – Bless Their Hearts

July 28, 2019


Someone else did some work in this powder room, and that included skim-floating and “prepping the walls for wallpaper.” The main part of the walls that you see when you walk into the room looked nice and smooth.

But on closer inspection, it’s clear that they did not bother to remove switch plate covers or the A/C vent, and didn’t know how to smooth the area along the top of the pedestal sink. Sorry, no pics.

And along the baseboard and crown molding, as well as behind the toilet, they did not get a smooth transition between the smoothing compound and the wall. Please see the photos. You notice where the smoothing compound is globbed on top of the baseboard in an irregular mess.

This is a problem, because these areas are exactly where the wallpaper will be trimmed, and asked to adhere tightly. The problem is, the paper needs a smooth, intact area to grab ahold of. These areas do not provide that.

I could chip off some of this stuff, but not all of it. So the homeowner will be left with jagged cuts at these areas, plus the possibility that the paper will not cling tightly to the irregular surface.

Again, folks: Wallpaper prep should be done by a paperhanger, not a painter or handyman or other kind of tradesman. They simply don’t understand what is required, and typically don’t have the patience or desire to do the detailed work correctly.

Roiling Clouds Wallpaper in a Montrose Bathroom

July 4, 2019


Historic British manufacturer’s Fornasetti Line “Nuvolette” wallpaper pattern… I have long wanted to hang this paper, and finally got my chance today!

The walls in this first-floor bathroom of a newish contemporary styled home in the Montrose neighborhood of Houston were textured and covered with a semi-gloss paint. (top picture) It took me a day and a half to skim-coat the walls with smoothing compound, let dry, sand smooth, vacuum up the dust, wipe dust off the walls, prime, and let the primer dry. (second photo shows the smoothed and primed walls)

You would see this pattern better in a larger, less broken-up room, but here you can tell that it is a powerful depiction of roiling thunder clouds storming powerfully toward the west.

The product is unusual, in that it comes in a 2-pack set of “A” and “B” rolls. Each bolt is the same width and length as many Cole & Son papers. But the pattern is placed on those bolts very atypically, and the pattern match is equally unexpected.

Usually, wallpaper patterns match straight across from strip to strip. (straight across match) This means you see the same design element at the top of the wall on every strip. Or they drop down bit on every other strip, then pop back up to the top of the wall on the third strip. (drop match)

A much less common and much more complicated patter match is when the pattern motif repeats itself at the top of the wall only on every fourth (or more) strip. It can take a lot of mind-bending to figure out how to get the pattern placed correctly, and without wasting more paper than necessary.

Look at the upper left of the label, and it says that when placing the A strip to the right of the B strip, it’s a straight match. But when you position the B strip to the right of the A strip, it’s a drop match. This makes everything even wackier and more complicated!

What helped me here is that this home had plenty of room to roll out the bolts of paper, and plot out how the pattern would fall. (see photo) No one was home, so I had peace and quiet to concentrate and get my head around the intricacies of the pattern.

It turned out that the “straight match” indicated on the label was an error – no strips featured a straight match. Good thing I had all that floor space to roll the bolts out, so I could determine that.

Because the pattern match was so unpredictable, it was not possible to cut all of the “odd” and “even” strips ahead of time. And the very unlevel / unplumb qualities of the room also stepped in to make this impossible.

One thing that helped was that this was a non-woven material, which meant that the wallpaper did not need to be booked (left to sit and absorb paste and expand) before hanging. So as soon as I was able to figure out the pattern match for the upcoming strip, I was able to paste and hang the strip-in-hand.

If I had had to figure, measure, plot, paste, book, and then finally hang each strip individually, it would have taken a lot more than the eight hours it did take me to hang this 8-roll bathroom.

A big help on this pattern is that I belong to the Wallcovering Installers Association, and I check our Facebook page every day. (Sorry – it’s private … you can’t peek!) It was there that I learned about others’ experiences with this Nuvolette design, and how they tackled the pattern repeat and the install.

Sweetening an All-White Bathroom / Treating Trials

July 2, 2019



This homeowner was just trying to update her hall bathroom. She chose a new countertop, new tile, and new wallpaper. Unfortunately, some of the workmen who showed up for the job were less than stellar. I won’t say anything about the tile guys or the painters, but in the top photo, you can see how the “I can hang wallpaper” guy prepped the wall… which he proclaimed as “wallpaper-ready.”

I took down the light fixture, removed the remaining old wallpaper, and skim-floated the surface. Because the ridges in the original guy’s float job were so thick, I went there a few days early to get an initial layer of smoothing compound spread on the wall, so it would have time to dry. Then when I came back, I skim-floated the entire room. Because this second coat was thinner, it dried in a few hours (with fans, a space heater (to pull humidity from the air), and the home’s A/C unit cranking dry air through the room.)

I sanded smooth, vacuumed and wiped off the dust, and applied a coat of Gardz, which is my preferred primer for newly smoothed walls.

Mysterious tan dots worked their way through the smoothing compound and the Gardz. I didn’t know what they came from (mold, oil, tobacco, soft drink or food the workers splashed on the walls?), but I knew they would eventually bleed through the new wallpaper. So I rolled on BIN, a shellac-based stain-blocker made by Rust Oleum, to seal the wall.

This effectively sealed the stain, and the wall was nice and white after that.

A week later, I came back to hang the wallpaper. First I applied a coat of Roman’s Pro 977 Ultra Prime, a primer made specifically for wallpaper. For some reason, this product didn’t stick well to the BIN – which is surprising, because one reason I use this primer is because it sticks to anything, even glossy surfaces (the BIN was not particularly glossy). Look closely or enlarge the third photo, and you will see it sliding and dripping down the wall. Well, no fear. I brushed out the worst of the drips, and as the primer dried, it tightened up and clung flat and tight to the wall.

With the wall finally smooth and appropriately primed, I was ready to get that paper up on the wall. This was an old fashioned pulp paper, which the British companies were making before most of them switched to non-woven materials. I was looking forward to working with an authentic pulp paper, because it’s been a while since I’ve come across one.

But this one didn’t behave as most of them do… It was thicker and stiffer, which made trimming and intricate detail work difficult, and increased the potential for creasing (for instance, while fitting the paper into a corner at a ceiling line). And it sucked up paste and dried out way sooner than I could get a strip to the wall. So I ended up using a spray bottle to add extra moisture to the back of the paper while I was applying the paste. This did help a lot.

Some of the edges had been banged up during shipping, so some of the seams looked a little weathered. And the edges had not been cut perfectly straight at the factory, so we had a bit of what we call “gaps and overlaps.”

Still, the finished room looks great. With its sweet flowers and calming colors, the pattern reminds me of the Laura Ashley era. The blue really pops against the white woodwork and tile in the room, and the red roses are nothing short of romantic.

Such a happy turn-around, for a bathroom that started out full of trials and tribulations.

I’m not sure what the brand name is, but the label says “English Florals.” The homeowner found it on-line (free shipping!), and the cost was low – about $60 for a double roll bolt. The home is on the north side of Houston.

Getting Smoothing Compound To Dry

June 13, 2019


The walls in this powder room were textured. (see top photo) To ensure that the new wallpaper looks good, and that it has a solid surface to cling to, the walls need to be smoothed. This is called floating, or skim coating, and I do a lot of it here in Houston. To do that, I trowel on a plaster-like substance, let it dry, then sand it, vacuum up the dust, wipe residual dust off the walls with a damp sponge, and then prime.

What takes the most time is waiting for the smoothing compound (drywall joint compound, which we also call “mud”) to dry. If the texture is heavy, often it has to dry overnight. The downside of this is that it adds an extra day of labor and expense. But when the texture is lighter, the drying can be speeded along.

In the second photo, you see some of the ways I get mud to dry more quickly. On the counter* you see two box fans, and on the floor is a much stronger fan. On the counter is also a space heater. Hot air in the room absorbs moisture, sucking it out of the wet smoothing compound. I let the room heat up, and then I have to open the door and let the moist air out – over and over again.

The yellow objet on the floor is a heat gun. A heat gun acts like a hair dryer on steroids, and can get small stubborn areas to dry pretty quickly.

A few other things help speed drying … Walls coated with flat paint will dry more quickly than with glossy paint. And having the air conditioning and / or heat cranking away will help, because, while regulating the temperature, these climate-control systems also pull humidity out of the air. I also like to turn the HVAC system’s fan from “Auto” to “On,” so that air is circulating continuously, which also pulls humidity out of the air and helps the walls to dry.

*I normally keep a dropcloth on the vanity counter. But the vibrating fans can cause the dropcloths to slip, and you don’t want anything crashing down on the homeowner’s countertop. I do have lengths of self-grip shelf liner that help keep the fans from moving around too much.

What’s Missing?

March 29, 2019


Here’s a wall in an entry in a 1960’s ranch style home in the Briargrove neighborhood of Houston. See that brown line around the middle? Someone has removed the chair rail.

All that is fine and good – but no one told me that the chair rail would be removed, and that they wanted their wallpaper to go floor-to-ceiling.

So, unfortunately, when I measured this room (while the chair rail was in place), I did not figure for enough paper to do the full-length walls. In other words, they don’t have enough paper to do the job.

The other thing is, the walls have a light-to-medium texture, and I planned to skim-float them to smooth them before the paper goes up. That was to take the first half of the day, and I would hang the paper in the afternoon.

But removing the chair rail changes things … Because when the chair rail came off, it took many 50 years’ worth of paint with it – about 1/4″ worth – which means that the area of the brown horizontal stripe needs a thicker layer of smoothing compound than the rest of the walls. This means that it needs more time to dry. A LOT more time, like at least overnight, or even better, a second day. (Quick dry hot mud was not an option, for several reasons.)

This means that this one-day job now requires two, and it means that the homeowners will not get their room done as they expected, and will have to put up with me being there another day. It’s also disrupted my schedule.

Good communication at the beginning and when I first visited this site would have prevented this, kept us on-schedule, and kept everyone happy.