Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Spackle Debacle

I love spackle. I adore its creamy, frosting-like texture. I am enamored with its promise of blemish-free walls. It seems to be a lovely miracle worker.

On Sunday, I began preparing the attic walls for painting. I pulled nails and removed two blocks of wood that had been nailed above a window as a base for curtain rod brackets. I then spackled with abandon. I was quite generous with the compound, because I figured I could sand off any excess. The depressions left by the wood blocks were large (3” x 4”), but not deep, so I filled them up. I attempted, with dismal results, to cover corner cracks (at wall joints and wall-ceiling joints). I was more successful covering cracks on a flat wall surface. I also spackled right over hollow-wall anchors, thinking it would tear up the wall to remove them. I pasted over the usual nail holes and, in the full spackling spirit, tried to level out any divots. I left my work to cure until Tuesday night (although the package says that the spackle is cured after 45 minutes).

On Tuesday, I used a fine-grit (150 grain) sanding sponge to smooth out the spackle. I encountered two problems. First, if the spackling was not applied thinly at the edges of the patch, I could not sand a smooth transition between the wall and the patch. Instead, large chunks would break off, leaving me with a small spackle “cliff” between the patch and the wall, instead of a graded “hill”. Secondly, wherever I had applied spackle thickly, such as over the wall anchors, cracks, and the wood block depressions, the sanding process tended to cause large, thin chunks to fall out of the center of the patch. The spackle seemed to have dried in strata, and the sanding removed patchy layers. The end result reminded me of the surface of a jaw breaker, after you have sucked and gnawed on it awhile. The spackle did look great in the areas where I had applied it very thinly, over small nail holes. However, nail holes were among the minority of spackled wall defects. Overall, I was unhappy with the results.

Some lessons learned:
1. Apply spackle thinly. Sanding will not transform big humps into barely noticeable bumps.
2. Taper the edges of the patch. Again, sanding will not smooth “cliffs” between the patch and the wall surface. It only seemed to aggravate the problem.
3. Use the right tool. I used a 3” wall scraper. While the scraper was fine for smoothing a patch, it was not a good applicator. It was too large for most holes/cracks. Next time, I might apply with a plastic spoon of knife or even try a big syringe for nail holes.
4. Do not spoon the spackle directly out of the container. I think some of my strata problem may have been from inadvertently mixing half-cured spackle (on the edges of the container) and fresh spackle (from its depths). Next time, I will spoon a small amount onto a paper plate and replenish it as it is used up. I also had trouble getting the big scraper into the container without smearing spackle all over the blade, and then all over the wall.
5. Use another medium for large depressions/holes. One book suggested using plaster for large patches. Plaster is then smoothed with a wet sponge, instead of sandpaper.
6. Use tape on cracks. After my crack spackling attempt, I bought some wall tape at Home Depot. I am hesitant to apply it over the already spackled cracks, but I think I will use it before painting other walls in the house.
7. Reconsider spackling over wall anchors. It worked, but the end result was a big, smooth bump in the wall. Maybe I should have pounded the anchors further into the wall and created a depression before applying the spackle. Or is there some way to remove wall anchors without creating a very large hole?
8. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I was having so much fun with the spackle that I even applied it in places where a few layers of paint had come away. I don’t think it was worth the effort.

Perhaps I am making too big of a deal of a banality like spackle but I can’t help it – I’m a perfectionist. However, I am an optimist too. On the bright side, my experiment was on fairly unimportant walls and flat paint should minimize the lumps and bumps. But my love affair with spackle is over.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

So it goes with our first loves.

9:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, but you've trumped yourself, Kasmira. Now I'm certain who I'll be asking to help in any future kitchen renovation . . .

Yours. Snowflake

5:45 AM  
Blogger Scott in Washington said...

For spackling cracks, I like a relatively dry filler compound which I can push into the crack and wipe flat with my fingers... liquid wood I think it is...

10:34 AM  
Blogger Adi said...

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12:29 AM  
Blogger Adi said...

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7:02 AM  
Blogger slateberry said...

I chuckled as I read this because I can remember being a spackle newbie. Your line about being generous because you can just sand later was classic; as we both know, there is no "just" sanding. Like you, I started with a tub of mud and had the separation problems. Thanks to the power posters at gardenweb old house forum, I've moved on to plaster bonding agent (a watery substance you brush onto old lime plaster, otherwise the ph of the plaster will prevent a good bond with the new spackle-plasterweld is a brand name), durabond, and easysand, both powders you mix as you go. The things our old houses teach us--it's a far cry from the days when I was a renter and stuck toothpaste in nail holes to fill them. :-)
Came to your blog by way of Petch House, love your writing style, can't wait to see how the next 6 years go...

4:40 AM  

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