Category: Walls & Ceilings

Quick Tip: Using Reclaimed Brick

With reclaimed brick, remodelers can match new repair work to the original portions of an existing installation.

In a restoration project, reusing the original brick is a great idea. Water damage and neglect can destroy the mortar in a brick wall. For repairs, reuse your original bricks with new mortar to strengthen and rebuild the wall. Use tinted mortar to match the original foundation. Recycled bricks create a new wall without sacrificing a historic look.

For more on walls, consider:

How To: Lay Brick
Repointing Brick Walls
Brick Basics: Maintenance, Care, and Cleaning

Add Visual Interest with Board and Batten

Historically associated with Arts and Crafts architecture, the three-dimensional appeal of board and batten is finding renewed popularity in both exterior and interior applications.

Board and Batten


A striking dimensional finishing treatment, board and batten, is enjoying renewed popularity, with homeowners installing it both on the exterior and indoors. Historically a staple of Arts and Crafts architecture, board and batten originated as a form of house siding. The term “batten” refers to the strip of molding placed across the joint between boards. The resulting look boasts an attractive geometry: strong vertical lines balanced by a sense of texture across the horizontal.

As an exterior cladding, board and batten manages to impart a rustic, handmade quality even to new homes built in unmistakably contemporary styles. Within the home, board and batten commonly appears in mudrooms and hallways, bedrooms and dining areas, adding charm to otherwise bland expanses of drywall or plaster. Many traditional designs for non-permanent elements of the home—shutters, for example, or cabinet doors—also feature board-and-batten construction.

Board and Batten - Exterior


For the average do-it-yourselfer, installing board and batten lies well within reach, especially since home centers and hardware stores often sell pre-measured kits that make it a breeze. If you are planning a project either on the exterior or interior, here are a few hard-earned tips to help you achieve a professional-level result:

Exterior Installation Tips:

• Before you begin the work of installation, paint or stain the boards and battens, and don’t forget to apply a sealer, protecting the wood from the weather.

• Start by cutting the boards, typically to width between one and four feet. Leave a 1/4- or 1/2-inch gap between the boards to allow for seasonal expansion.

• Center the one- or two-inch-wide battens over the joints between the boards. Nail through the battens so that the fasteners drive into the expansion gaps.

• Buy or build enough battens to use as trim pieces that finish off the top and bottom edges of your installation, as well as its sides or corners.

Board and Batten - Staircase


Interior Installation Tips:

• Depending on height, interior installations typically run between baseboard and chair or plate railing.

• Paint or stain the board and battens prior to installation just as you would do on the home exterior.

• A simple approach is to use plywood panel boards, roughly four feet wide by four- or six-feet tall.

• In the course of installing the boards, always retain a 1/4- or 1/2-inch expansion gap between them.

• Position one-by-two-inch or one-by-one-inch battens over the expansion gap between the boards.

• Nail through the center of the battens, so the fasteners drive between the boards and into the wall.

• Remember that any extra pieces of batten may be reused as molding around windows or door frames.

• If you prefer not to work with plywood, other cost-friendly materials include MDF and composite.

Board-and-batten styling imparts depth and texture to both exteriors and interiors, lending a sophisticated yet unpretentious air to virtually any home, whether it’s a recent construction or has been around 100 years.

How To: Bend Drywall

In curvilinear rooms, or in situations like an arched doorway, you can bend drywall using this tried-and-true technique of the pros.

Here’s a tip on how to throw a curve with drywall. The trick is to use two sheets of quarter-inch drywall instead of one standard half-inch sheet. Hose down both sides of each panel and form it to the curve, fastening with nails or drywall screws. Do the same with the second sheet, then tape and finish.

For more on walls, consider:

Drywall 101
Bob Vila Radio: Drywall Costs
What Would Bob Do? Cutting Drywall

Quick Tip: Installing Beadboard Wainscoting

Beadboard wainscoting is as attractive today as it was in the 19th century, and it still does a great job of protecting walls from dings and dents.

To achieve a Victorian look on an interior wall, try a beadboard wainscot. You can buy beadboard at your local lumber yard. Here are some things to keep in mind when installing it yourself. Run your baseboard first to avoid creating a dust collector. Use a drill and a jigsaw to cut holes for outlets. Fit each board together snugly, then nail with 2-1/2-inch finish nails. Angle the bottom nail into the tongue of each board. Base nail the top and cap it with the molding.

For more on trim and molding, consider:

5 Things to Do with… Beadboard
5 DIY Wood Wall Treatment Ideas
What Would Bob Do? Installing Beadboard

Quick Tip: Custom Moldings

Give character to dull bland spaces through the use of custom moldings, whether baseboards, chair rails, or any other type.

Dress up the rooms in your house with a variety of custom moldings. These moldings are available in many historic profiles. You can add a one-piece baseboard molding for a 19th-century look, while popular cherry rails and picture moldings add detail and take paint well. And for a more elegant look, add a multi-piece crown molding to the ceiling.

For more on trim and molding, consider:

Adding Custom Moldings
Character Building: A Case for Moldings
Know Your Moldings: 10 Popular Trim Styles to Spiff Up Any Space

What Would Bob Do? Cutting Drywall

With the right tools and technique, you can cut drywall cleanly and keep the dust level under control.

How to Cut Drywall


I’ve got to remove some drywall in a room so I can nail studs behind the wall for anchoring purposes. What is the best tool for cutting the drywall?

If for any reason you want to cut drywall that has already been installed—for a nailer (blocking), say, or recessed lighting—the name of the game is minimizing dust. The jab saw is often the tool I recommend, because not only does it generate less dust than a power saw, but it allows you to closely control the cut so as not to disturb electrical work and plumbing behind the wall. As you work, use your free hand to follow the cut line with the nozzle of a shop vac. Further minimize dust by fitting the jab saw with a metal-cutting blade, which has fine teeth that won’t remove as much material as a comparatively coarse standard blade. Let the inside face of the stud be a guide for your cut; once the cut has been made, follow up with a utility knife, using the precision tool to smooth out any irregular edges.

Related: 9 New Uses for Old Tools

When you’re cutting a drywall panel prior to installation—or when patching a damaged section—your best bet is to use a utility knife in combination with a 48-inch drywall square. With the square, mark your cut lines, then score them with the utility knife, going deep enough to slightly pierce the gypsum core. Next, snap the panel along the scores you’ve made. What remains now is the drywall face paper on the side that you didn’t score, but at this point in the process, you should have no trouble cutting it away, once more using your trusty utility knife. Avoid tearing the paper, particularly if your project is going to involve taping drywall seams. To make any minor, final-stage adjustments to the panel or patch you have cut, use a rasp to grind the drywall down to the dimensions desired.

How To: Build a Cement Block Wall

Cinder block wall building is a project that can be managed easily even by the beginning do-it-yourself.

Here’s how to lay out a cement block wall yourself. Mix two parts masonry cement with one part sand, and add just enough water for a firm mortar mix. Then butter all webs and the sides of each block, using the top part of your trowel. Stagger your joints and place the open end of one block to the flush end of the next, allowing three-eighths of an inch for your mortar joint. Finally, check for level.

For more on masonry, consider:

5 Things to Do with… Cinder Blocks
9 Easy DIY Concrete Projects
Concrete and Cement: A Case of Mistaken Identities

Quick Tip: Installing Crown Molding

Often the most challenging aspect of installation is to cut the crown molding so that it fits snugly between the walls and ceiling. For professional-looking results, follow these guidelines.

You can dress up a room by installing crown molding along the ceiling. Here are some tips to keep in mind. Always place the molding in your miter box upside down. Think of the box as if it were the ceiling. Then trim the back of the miter at a 45-degree angle with a coping saw. This way, you should have a perfect fit. Add a coat of trim paint, and you’ll end up with a much more elegant room.

For more on trim and molding, consider:

Moldings 101
5 Ways to Give a New House Architectural Charm
Know Your Moldings: 10 Popular Trim Styles to Spruce Up Any Space

How To: Remove Crayon Stains

Though it's never easy to remove crayon stains, here's how you can return your walls to pristine condition.

If you have kids, you know that crayons can cause some serious damage to any paint job. Here’s how to tackle tough crayon stains. Scrub vigorously first with detergent and rinse. Next, try rubbing with an art gum eraser. Sand with a fine-grit paper and prime to seal the area before you repaint.

For more on cleaning, consider:

How To: Clean Painted Walls
To the Rescue: 10 Ingenious Home Uses for Baking Soda

Concrete and Cement: A Case of Mistaken Identities

Let's review the "concrete" evidence and clear up the confusion once and for all.

Concrete vs. Cement


It’s an old cliché of the Mafia: A fellow gets on the wrong side of La Cosa Nostra only to wind up wearing cement shoes at the bottom of a river. Well, those shoes may be made of cement, but little else in the world is composed of cement and cement only. Concrete, however, is everywhere. It’s even in the large, rotating drums of those ubiquitous vehicles we inaccurately refer to as cement trucks. It’s not surprising that people are always mixing up these sedimentary mixes, but while they look alike and behave similarly, solid differences exist between the two.

Cement vs. Concrete
Here’s one of the main reasons cement and concrete are so often confused: There is cement in concrete. That’s right, when cement is blended with water, it creates a paste. And when that paste is combined with aggregates like gravel and sand, the result is what we know and love as concrete. Cement itself is made from calcium and silica-rich materials, such as limestone and clay. Its unique adhesive properties make it an excellent binding agent, but on its own, cement is prone to cracking. Compared with concrete, which can last hundreds of years, cement is much less durable. To use an analogy, cement is to concrete as milk is to ice cream. Sure, ice cream has milk in it, but it isn’t milk. It’s actually much better.

Cement vs. Concrete - Tools


Using Concrete and Cement
One of the strongest and longest-lasting materials known to man, concrete is used to build schools, bridges, sidewalks, and countless other structures. But you don’t need a hard hat to have success with concrete. Amateur handymen use it for DIY projects of all kinds, among them landscape edging, kitchen countertops, and front walkways. Cement, by comparison, is used mainly in smaller jobs (for example, grouting and specialized masonry) and in the repair of cracked or crumbling concrete.

Concrete and Beyond
Complicating matters further is the fact that you can buy dozens of different kinds of concrete. Each type responds to the demands of specific applications. For example, fiber-reinforced concrete, which resists cracking even under immense loads, ranks as a common choice for driveways. There’s also fast-track concrete, employed when time is of the essence. Before purchasing any concrete, be sure to consult with an expert or do a bit of research so that you understand the pros and cons of all the options available.