March 29, 2012

Skim Coating a Ceiling

So even though we have walls back up in our Main Bath, we still had a pretty major problem.  Straight up... there.  That popcorn ceiling that we scraped down really left a hot mess on the ceiling.

Taken before my exhaust fan replacement.

So the next step was to skim coat it and make it look like new again.  Here were my tools, only one of which I had the first time I did this in the Downstairs Bath, but all seemed 100% necessary this time around.


1. 12" Drywall Tray with Metal Edges
2. 12" Drywall Knife
3. 9" Putty Knife
4. 12" Drywall Multi-Tool.  (This piece was originally my Dad's, and he used it to mud the drywall in the home that I grew up in that he built, 25 years ago, so I have no idea if they still sell these.)

The other mandatory tool I haven't mentioned yet is a good step stool.  The ideal height lets you stand comfortably, with your head just brushing the ceiling.  That way you have a good horizontal view of the mud as you apply, and you don't have to crank your neck up to see what you are doing.  

So step one you fill your tray with joint compound (mud), and use your 9" putty knife to scrape the mud onto the ceiling. This is a good tool because it is flexible and allows you to get a lot of mud on the ceiling. Start in the corner and pull the mud towards you.  It doesn't have to be even or clean yet, just get a nice thin coverage.  Place your step stool about 24" in front of the space you are working on, as it's much easier to pull the knife towards you than scrape above you head.  Plus you don't have to fight gravity.  Spoiler alert- gravity always wins.  You may have more mud on the floor than on the ceiling when you are done.

Don't mind the gap between the ceiling and wall here.  We'll go back and patch that later.

In the photo above I've pulled the mud from the edge of the wall towards me.  After you've done a big enough area and the mud starts to set a little, grab your 12" drywall knife, and starting at the wall edge, pull a nice clean stroke at about a 30 degree angle to the ceiling.  This will remove most of the lines and ridges in the mud.  It won't get everything, but don't worry, you're not even close to done.  Repeat this until you've covered the entire ceiling.  For our 5' x 10' bathroom it took me about an hour and fifteen minutes.

Looking better already.

 Let your first coat set up overnight and dry completely.  The next day, you get to do the whole thing all over again.  (Whoo-to-the-hoo.)  This time start by pulling your completely dry drywall knife over your dry ceiling, which will break down any big ridges that you have.  Then start again covering the ceiling with mud, but this time I used a slightly bigger, 12" tool, since the goal now is more even coverage, and not about thickness.  I found the multi-tool of my Dad's really helpful because the handle in the center allowed me to twist the edge almost artfully to smooth things out.  I was Michelangelo on my Sistine Chapel ceiling... right over my crapper. 

The metal edge on the drywall mud tray helped scrape the tool clean for a nice clean edge.  It saved me a ton of time and worked great.  Continue with the same method, (occasionally pulling the drywall knife over the space to smooth everything out.

 If it looks like I'm just taking photos of a boring white ceiling, well... that's the point.  After the ceiling dries, on day three you can go back and use a drywall sanding block to smooth down any remaining ridges or rough edges.  I recommend eyewear and a ventilation mask, as well as a hoodie as dust will be raining down on your head and face.   I didn't mess around with ventilation either, opting for this big guy that I also used up in the attic for the exhaust fan replacement.

Luke... I am your father...

Now all that's left is some ceiling paint.  I know it feels like this renovation is crawling along, (it's not just me, is it?), but this is the worst part of the reno, that seems to take forever.  Once the ceiling and walls are done I swear the fun stuff starts.  Tile!  Vanity!  Fixtures!  It's going to be a big weekend!

Here's a look back at the project so far:


  1. Oh, Erin. It's Sistine Chapel, however, it was painted in the 16th century, so maybe that's what you mean? :) Joint compound fumes can do that to a girl, right?

    1. How embarrassing... I wasn't 100% positive how to spell Sistine, so threw in the numbers (as a mental "sounds-like" reminder to myself) until I checked the web. And then I just went ahead and pressed publish. I guess that's what I get for typing blog posts at 12:30AM.

  2. So sorry, it looks fantastic, too!

  3. Hehe, I was smiling at the 16th (Sistene) chapel too, but it was tough to keep smiling when my jaw dropped at how smooth your ceilings are! Much better than the quick spackle-and-prime job I did on my master bath... Tempted to go back and redo mine the RIGHT way.

  4. what grit sandpaper did you use ?