Working with plaster and lathe walls and ceilings

Working with plaster and lathe walls and ceilings


Have you gotten yourself an old house, but don’t know much about plaster and lathe? Or maybe you want to work on your house that has plaster walls with a wooden lathe behind them.

What ever the case is, I’ll try to open up this topic up so you will get more knowledge about the subject.

Types of walls in old houses

Naturally, plaster and lathe is a quite old way to do walls. It’s a method still used today, only a wood lathe is not used sometimes as there are special boards that can be used instead.

There aren’t that many old drywall types, it started to become common after WWII. Its form has gone through updates with fire safety and such, but it’s pretty much the same material overall.

Other than that, concrete walls can be there as supporting walls and the same goes for brick walls. There are also plywood and different kinds of wooden boards that you see now and then.

If you’re interested in wooden lath and plaster removal, there is a guide on the link. There is also guide for removing plaster from brick, concrete and drywall.

Lath and plaster wall

When it comes to wooden lath and plaster vs drywall, the last one was originally created to offer a cheaper option for plaster walls.

Plaster walls need the lath or special board behind them and there is also galvanized mesh used in modern plastering to help to fight against cracks as the wood behind lives its own life. So to cover it all and finish you need multiple layers of plaster so it will naturally cost the material and the labor.

Now there is drywall. A board with fire-resistant attributes that can be screwed to the wall with a single man and all that needs to be done is a joint compound and some joint tape. You would place the money straight to this one for being the cheaper option.

Lath and plaster repair is also something that needs some work to be done. I wouldn’t say that it’s necessary harder than fixing holes in drywall, but it all depends on how well the wall is set in place. If there is mesh supporting it and how it all is adhering to the lath.

The best way to remove lath and plaster ceiling is not working directly under it

Lath and plaster ceiling

Ceilings are done in the same fashion as the walls. The galvanized mesh is most probably used and in older houses, it can be some sort of old chicken wire mesh. It was used a lot inside and outside.

Lath and plaster ceiling removal can be a bit more work because of that or the wire mesh can help a little. It holds the plaster together so big unexpected pieces are unlikely to fall uncontrollably.

When removing lath and plaster ceiling, it’s good to make a start somewhere. Personally, I start from the middle and work my way to another edge and after that to another. I don’t have to stand under the falling plaster this way and I can use the tools and leverage to drop the old plaster and mesh down.

Lath and plaster ceiling collapse can be something that happens quite naturally. Imagine the plaster getting older and crumbling bit by bit. It doesn’t adhere so well to the lathe anymore or it might have broken off already due to wood moving its natural life.

After some time, the mesh attachments might also be set a bit loose and suddenly, more weight is added to the points it is still attached to. At some point, it will just be too much and it will give in.

To remove it, I’d refer to removing plaster walls guide and also how to prepare room for plaster removal.

Lath and plaster exterior wall

Now exteriors are different from indoors. The mesh can’t be installed straight to the wood as the plaster would only let moisture through and the building systems are different.

Usually, some building paper is used on top of the wood (if there is a wood wall behind) and metal lath and plaster walls are build on top of it. Metal lath or galvanized meth serves the same purpose, to give something for the plaster to adhere to.

Also, there is also stucco being used outdoors for rendering. There are little differences with plaster and stucco, mostly stucco being rougher and plaster being able to be used indoors and outdoors.

Lath and plaster asbestos

Now sometimes you hear asked is lath and plaster dangerous. The answer is, it can be, and when it comes to old buildings before the 1990s lath and plaster health risks have to be taken seriously.

I’ve read about asbestos in plaster and from 1890 onward it became more common with machine technology developing. It was still used quite a lot until the mid-1980s and today you need special equipment just to remove asbestos structures.

So lath and plaster ceiling asbestos can be a thing as it was an effective way to make plaster more fire-resistant and better insulation. So if you have something like a room build for heating, it’s quite possible there is asbestos in the plaster.

It’s also good to note that it might not be the case in other rooms so to be sure, it would be good to take a test sample and have it examined. It shouldn’t cost too much when it comes to staying healthy.

Lath and plaster wall anchors

The last portion, and my favorite when it comes to plaster and drywall, is how to hang heavy things on plaster walls and other weaker building materials. I’m probably not the only one who has struggled to mount a television on a wall, especially with old plaster.

There is no working lath and plaster stud finder, at least I think so, so the next best thing would be finding the metal in the wall. The wooden lathe is attached to the studs as there is nothing else behind them.

So to find the nails, you can use metal finder. Wall scanner for electricity will work as well as most often the wires to the sockets go near studs.

How to hang shelves on plaster walls without studs

So to know how to screw into lath and plaster walls would be to know how to find the wood lathe or studs. The best screws for plaster walls would be ones that go deep enough to attach to the wood behind them.

The plastic wall plugs don’t work well if they’re attached to plaster only. The next thing to use would be lath and plaster wall anchor like molly bolt.

What is a molly bolt you ask? It is a bolt designed to attach heavy objects to hollow plaster walls. It resembles the screw and wall plug, but it’s made out of metal.

So how to use a molly bolt and how does it work? When you rotate the screw inside the metal anchor, it will cause the anchor to expand like the wall plug but also bend so that it will stick behind the plaster, anchoring into it.


Working with plaster and lathe walls and ceilings can be tricky, but with proper research and equipment removing them and building new ones can be handled quite easily.

It’s good to note that it’s work that takes some patience and skill so sometimes it would be good to hire a professional for the best results. If you want things like Venetian plaster, check the link for more information and also this guide for doing Venetian plaster walls.