Category: Walls & Ceilings

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.

How To: Remove Plaster

In the process of removing plaster walls, these guidelines can help you complete the job safely and effectively.

Here’s how to remove old plaster when starting a remodeling project. Have professionals remove any old electrical connections and gas piping. Wear eye protection, mask, and gloves. First, remove the plaster using a flat bar, then remove the old lath with a hammer. Haul out the plaster and bundle up the lath for efficient disposal.

For more on plaster, consider:

Skim Coat Plastering
How To: Rebuild a Wall with Three-Coat Plaster
Blueboard and Veneer Plaster Offer Old-Style Look

Quick Tip: Drywall vs. Blueboard

Although these popular wallboard options are often discussed interchangeably, important differences exist between drywall and blueboard.

When choosing wallboard, remember the difference between drywall and blueboard. Drywall panels are covered with paper that will take paint directly, once they’ve been taped and the joints and fasteners have been covered with compound. Blueboard’s more absorbent paper layer is designed to bond with a veneer plaster coating before it’s painted.

For more on walls, consider:

Drywall 101
How To: Finish Seamless Drywall
Blueboard and Veneer Plaster Offer Old-Style Look

What Would Bob Do? Installing Beadboard

Bob Vila answers a reader's question about installing beadboard. To submit a question of your own, visit the Forum!

How to Install Beadboard


We are thinking about installing beadboard in our bathroom. How do I install it so that it looks at home in the room? Should I butt the beadboard directly up to the door frame? And should I use trim to ease the visual transition between the beadboard and the ceiling?

We’re all used to seeing beadboard in utility areas, such as the mudroom, but I’ve noticed this wall treatment appearing more and more in the important rooms of a house, the ones used every day by all members of the family—and, of course, that includes the bath.

You can install beadboard in a number of ways. One option is to install it as wainscoting, where the beadboard panel covers only a portion of the wall. Another approach—the one you’re considering—is to use beadboard as floor-to-ceiling paneling.

Your local home improvement retail chain store likely stocks beadboard made of solid wood, plywood, medium density fiberboard (MDF), and maybe even vinyl. Prices vary by material as well as by dimensions.

Related: The Well-Appointed Bath: 10 Touches for Style and Comfort

If you are installing beadboard over drywall, choose a panel with 3/8-inch or 1/4-inch thickness. That will ensure a reveal, albeit a narrow one, at the point where your beadboard meets the door molding.

Apply a thin bead of caulk to fill the narrow gap between the beadboard and the molding. Where the beadboard meets the ceiling, you have a couple of options: Either use the caulk gun again or add a trim transition.

If you’re attracted to the latter approach—and it sounds like you are—select a molding profile whose design is consistent with the proportions and style of your bathroom.

If you intend to install beadboard, whether in the bath or any other space, these are some tips to bear in mind:

• Prior to installation, leave the panels stacked (with spacers between each one) for 72 hours, so they can acclimate to your home’s moisture level.

• Remove baseboard and/or ceiling moldings before you begin work, and once you have completed the job, carefully reinstall them.

• If you plan to paint the beadboard, make sure to prime and apply the first coat of your chosen color before putting up the panels.

• Beadboard  installs over drywall with panel adhesive. While the adhesive cures, use brads or nails to hold the panels in place temporarily.

• Review scribing techniques: Because room corners are rarely plumb, it may be necessary to cut panels so that they conform to irregularities.

• Buy or rent a battery-powered brad nailer to make quicker work of the project and, at the same time, eliminate accidental and unsightly hammer dings.

To submit a question of your own, visit the Forum!

How To: Lay Brick

Although bricklaying is a skill that the average mason takes years to hone, these tips can help you master the basics.

Here are a few tips on laying your own bricks. Prepare a mortar mix that is neither too firm and nor too runny. Spread about a half-inch of mortar as a bed for each course. Cover the end of each brick with mortar and tap it firmly into place. Use a mason’s hammer to cut bricks in half, then stagger your joints and check that each course is level. Repeat this procedure for each row.

For more on masonry, consider:

Bob Vila Radio: Brick Repairs
How To: Build a Brick Patio
Top Tips for Weaving a Veneer Brick Wall

How To: Identify a Bearing Wall

Because the wrong decision can jeopardize the structural integrity of your home, knowing how to identify a load-bearing wall is critically important.

There are two kinds of walls: bearing walls and non-bearing walls. You can do anything you like to a non-bearing wall. But if you remove or even cut open a bearing wall, you can literally bring down the house. Check the joists or rafters in your basement or attic. If they run perpendicular to the wall in question, it’s almost certainly a bearing wall. If they run parallel, it’s probably not.

For more on walls, consider:

Rough Construction: Framing a New House
Bob Vila Radio: Load-Bearing Walls
Three Ways to Find a Wall Stud (Without Fancy Equipment)

Bob Vila Radio: Wallpaper Remnants DIY

Leftover pieces of wallpaper can be used for decorative purposes. So before you throw out those wallpaper scraps, try these creative alternative uses.

If you’ve ever wallpapered a room, you probably have some leftover pieces lying around. Don’t just throw them out! Wallpaper remnants can be great accents in your decor. Here are a few clever uses for those leftover pieces.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON WALLPAPER SCRAPS or read the text below:

Wallpaper Remnants DIY


Wallpaper remnants are handy for reinvigorating tired old furniture.For example, small scraps make lovely, heavy-duty drawer liners. Larger pieces are great for covering the back of a bookcase. This works best on a sparsely filled bookcase, where you can really see and appreciate the wallpaper background.

If you have a glass-top table, showcase a particularly beautiful wallpaper, cut to fit, under the glass. When you tire of the pattern, just switch it out for another one!

Related: 12 Off-the-Wall Ways to Repurpose Wallpaper

Another option is to use wallpaper as artwork. Cover a few panels of foam core or other lightweight material with wallpaper, and then mount them on a wall. For smaller accents, cut wallpaper—or even pieces of wallpaper border—to fit pretty frames of varying sizes.

Finally, covering accessories like lampshades and trash cans with leftover wallpaper can really pull together the look of a room. One caveat: Before covering a lampshade, make sure that you’re happy with the amount of light the lamp will give off once its shade has been covered.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.