Ceilings are notorious for showing
flaws. Light shining across that
large, uninterrupted surface
accentuates every pockmark in the dry-
wall mud, every little ridge left by the
The usual way to mask these troubles
is to spray on acoustical “popcorn” texture. But I go with a “knockdown” texture on most ceilings, whether they're new drywall, old plaster or a repaired ceiling of any type. The beauty of knockdown texture is that it not only hides imperfections but also creates a more subtle look than heavier textures. A typical ceiling takes less than an hour to texture and costs less than $20 in materials. Best of all, it's almost impossible to get wrong—as long as you follow a few simple steps. To spray on the texture, I use a small electric texture gun. But gun powered by an air compressor will work just as well.
Prep the room
You can wipe up a texture mess with a wet rag, but preventing
a mess is a lot faster. Remove all furniture from the room, as well as floor coverings, light fixtures and wall hangings. I
like to cover the floor with rosin paper
instead of drop cloths because I can roll
up the entire mess at the end of the job
and drop it straight into the trash. I over-
lap each course of rosin paper about 6 in.
and tape the seams.
Next, mask the top edges of the walls
with 1-1/2-in. masking tape. Press the top half of the tape in a straight
line along the top of the walls, just under
the ceiling line. To the bottom half of the
tape, adhere inexpensive 0.8 mil plastic
drop cloths, “bagging” the entire room.
Paint now, or later
You can apply knockdown texture to
bare drywall and paint over it later. But I
prime and paint the ceiling first, then
texture it and leave the texture unpainted. The slight color contrast between flat
white ceiling paint and the off-white texture gives ceilings a nice dimensional
depth. As a bonus, I don't have to sweat
lap marks or flash marks when painting.
The texture will hide those imperfections. Depending on the humidity, the
ceiling can be ready to texture in as little
as three hours after painting.
Mix up the mud
I add about 2 in. of water to a clean
2-gallon pail (an ice cream pail is ideal)
and mix unaggregated texture powder
into it. For knockdown texture, never use
mix that contains aggregate. Continue to
add water and powder until you have a
bit more mix than you think you'll need.
Approximately 1-1/2 gallons of mix is
adequate for a 10 x 14-ft. room.
Here's a crucial step: Set the mix aside
for about 15 minutes to allow for complete water absorption. Otherwise, the
mix will thicken in the hopper. It won't
spray and you'll have to clean it out and
start over. After this “slaking” period,
add a bit more water and remix. The final
consistency should resemble pancake
batter. A mix that's too thick won't spray
well, so it's better to error toward a slightly
Practice, then spray
After filling the hopper, I spray a test pat-
tern on the wall plastic. Since months
may pass between my knockdown projects, I have to relearn the feel of the spray
gun. My goal is to achieve roughly 40
percent coverage. A knockdown finish
depends on leaving about 60 percent
open space so that the splatters can be
“knocked down” to create the desired
effect. I use a coarse or medium tip for
my splatter application.
After my test run, I spray the ceiling.
Spraying an average-size room takes less
than 10 minutes. Hold the gun about 18
in. from the ceiling and work in blocks
about 3 ft. square. Try to avoid overlap
where these blocks meet, but don't worry
about a little overlap.
Do worry about too much coverage:
Keep the gun in motion to avoid spraying
any area too heavily. Knocking down
the splatters later will greatly increase
the area that the mix covers. So it's better to go with lighter coverage than
If a room is larger than 225 sq. ft., I
only spray and knock down half the
ceiling at one time. That prevents the
mix from drying before it can be
Too much, too little, just right
Test-Fire Your Weapon
Since the walls are covered
with plastic anyway, they're
perfect for spray practice.
Light, even coverage is your
goal. Move the gun faster for
less coverage, slower for more.
“Just right” should look some-
thing like this, but you don't
have to be as fussy as
Back to Top
Knock down the splatters
There are really only two ways to spoil
a knockdown texture: too much splatter coverage and waiting too long
before knocking down the splatters.
When the splatters become too dry, you
just can't knock them down smoothly.
So keep a careful eye on the sheen of
the splatters. As soon as the wet shine
disappears from the first area you
sprayed—usually after 10 to 15 minutes—get moving.
To knock down the splatters, I use an
18-in. rubber squeegee-style knock-
down knife ($14). There are metal versions, but I find the rubber blade easier
to use. If you don't find one at a home
center, search online for “knockdown
knife” to browse a huge selection.
Screw an extension pole to the knife
and you're ready to go. Here's how to
- Work across the ceiling in courses,
overlapping each course by about
- Complete each course in two passes.
Start at one edge of the ceiling and
stop a few feet from the wall. Then
drag inward from the opposite edge
to finish the course.
- Work across the ceiling joists. If you
drag parallel to the joists, the knife
might bridge troughs between joists,
leaving some splatters untouched.
- Steer the knife in a straight line. Any
swerves or curves in the line of travel will be noticeable on the finished
ceiling. Run right over electrical
boxes and recessed lights. Don't veer
- Keep a damp rag in your hand, and
wipe the mud buildup off the knife
after every pass.
- That's it. By the time you're done
washing up your tools, the texture will
be dry enough so that you can tear the
masking tape and plastic off the walls.