Decorating? The Ultimate Preparation Guide

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Decorating Preparation Guide : Filling holes and cracks

Prior to painting, decorating or tiling a wall it is necessary to gain a clean and flat workable surface.

Small cracks and holes are often caused by accidental damage or slight structural movement in the building. If there are larger cracks or holes, these may be a result of structural damage. It is advisable to seek professional advice for suitable solutions.

Dislodge any larger pieces of damaged plaster from around the crack or hole, then brush or vacuum all of the plaster dust from around the area.

Mix the interior filler in a suitable container with water. Stir the solution into a smooth thick paste, following the manufacturers recommendations for quantities of powder and water.

Apply the filler to the hole or crack using the filling knife or an old wallpaper scraper. Spread the filler on evenly and allow to dry. Smooth the surface afterwards using glass paper held in a sanding block.

Fill holes around skirting, window and door frames with a suitable silicone sealant applied using a mastic gun.

Holes in walls allowing for pipework can often be difficult to fill. Use a manufactured foam which expands into the gap on application and hardens within several hours. File away any excess foam afterwards and smooth the surface flat using glass paper held in a sanding block.


Every medium reacts differently to temperature and therefore expands and contracts at different speeds. It is therefore wise to use the correct fillers and apply them properly as instructed for the best results.

Always slightly enlarge cracks in walls and dust out all loose particles before applying the filler. Make sure that the edges around dents and holes do not have any loose edges before filling them. All large holes and cracks should be cut back to a firm edge. These holes or cracks should then have a coat of dilute Uni-Bond or similar applied.

Apply Carlite bonding coat to manufacturers instructions making sure that the plaster is not proud of the existing plasterwork. For finishing off any fine cracks in plasterwork or after patch plastering apply filler such as Toutpres, Polyfilla or Tetrian.

This should be mixed with water to the manufacturer’s instructions and applied accordingly. For fine filling to woodwork the correct fine filler should be used. This is normally ready mixed and is very easy to apply but does go off very hard.

Therefore do not overfill and make the final sanding so much easier. Always ensure that bare wood is primed before filling.

When filling decorative plasterwork i.e. cornices, corbels or ceiling roses etc Plaster of Paris is the preferred filler.

When mixed it goes off very quickly so do not mix too much. When applied it is carved to match the surrounding areas before it has properly set but can be lightly rubbed when dry. Practice makes perfect with this job.

When filling outdoors the same principles apply. Use the correct fillers, primers and paints for the job. Any good decorators’ merchant will advise you on the correct materials to use.


All walls and ceiling must be sound and smooth. If you cannot achieve absolute smoothness then it is advisable to line the walls or ceilings with lining paper. Lining paper is sold according to GRADE 1200 Grade is far thicker than 800 Grade.

It is generally easier to hang a higher grade lining paper but a slightly longer soaking time is needed. When the paper is soft is when it is ready to hang. Lining paper should be crosshung. Which means that instead of hanging the paper from ceiling to floor vertically, it is hung horizontally. Before hanging paper of any sort it is advisable to ‘size’ the walls or ceiling. Size is a dilute wallpaper paste and should be applied when the walls are new plaster or in a very dry or friable condition.


If you wish to paint over existing varnished woodwork then you should prepare the surfaces as you would if they were painted. If you wish to re-varnish the woodwork then lighly key the surfaces with a fine wet and dry paper and wash off before it dries. Sometimes doors are waxed. This should be removed completely with white spirit.

Metal Surfaces

As with all painted surfaces, prepare the metal properly and similarly to wooden surfaces. Iron, steel and aluminum are the most common metals you will come across and should all have their surfaces smooth before any paint is applied. This can be done with a wire brush, either hand held or an attachment to a power drill, the metal must then be smoothed with sandpaper and cleaned off with white spirit.


Always remove all door, wall and window furniture etc. and store safely. Unless the paintwork is absolutely shot, ie blistered all over, flaking terribly or damaged beyond repair it is unnecessary to burn it off. Not only is it time consuming, but it is really hard work but unless all the old paint is removed the result will be bad.

If you feel you wish to strip the doors then it is much easier to send them away for stripping. The only trouble with this method is that all the natural oils in the wood are removed and the joints will invariably spring open and will have to be filled. When the doors are returned they must be allowed to dry thoroughly before rubbing down and either primed, waxed or varnished. All painted woodwork must be clean before any painting can commence.

Washing doors, frames, skirtings and windows etc with a sugar soap solution (mixed to manufacturers instructions) is a good way to prepare paintwork, but do not forget to wear rubber gloves, and rinse off thoroughly with fresh water afterwards.

This will also take the shine off gloss paint making it easier to paint over. Scrape or rub back all loose or flaking paint and rub down all surfaces with 120 grade sandpaper.

Wherever bare wood is observed it should be knotted and primed before continuing. All blemishes, holes and cracks should be filled with the correct filler for the job (your local decorators merchant will advise you).

Do not overfill! It is better to fill twice and leave a nearly smooth finish, which can be easily sanded, than have great blobs of filler everywhere which takes ages to sand down and leaves mounds of dust all over the place.

Walls & Ceilings

If the walls or ceilings have been plastered and painted over then it is advisable to wash them down with a sugar soap solution and rinse with clean water. Scrape off all loose and flaking paintwork and rub back all edges. If you have scraped or sanded back to the plaster then it is a good idea to touch it up with a slightly watered down emulsion paint mixture of the colour you will eventually paint the walls with.

If the walls have been papered and then painted you must decide whether or not to leave the paper on. If there is any bubbling or loose paper it is generally considered better to strip the walls and start from scratch. This can be pretty demoralizing, but with a steam stripper (which can be hired for the day quite cheaply) the job can be completely finished relatively quickly.

And remember the walls can then be prepared for either painting or papering in the knowledge that the finish will be perfect and can often save time, especially if the old wallpaper starts bubbling and lifting when you are decorating it.

Fill all cracks, dents, holes and blemishes with a proprietary filler. Once again, do not over fill. Touch-up all filler with a diluted emulsion mixture as before.

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