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How to Apply Knock-Down Ceiling Texture

Use this simple technique to add character to walls and ceilings, and to help blend the old with the new while remodeling. Textures give smooth, flat walls and ceilings a new dimension that enhances a room. This is a great project for problem walls—the texture hides minor imperfections.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Choosing your materials

Textures add an entirely new dimension to flat, smooth walls. Instead of a blank slate, you'll have a surface that will attract attention, add visual interest and warm the room with an earthy, organic feel. This technique also helps hide minor imperfections, making it a great way to meld remodeled walls with existing ones—no small bonus to those of us still perfecting our drywall-taping skills!

Applying a knockdown texture is an easy, low-cost, low-tech project that can dramatically change a room's appearance and simplify wall repairs. The name comes from one of the final steps in the project when you use a wide knife to knock down and flatten the peaks of the texture applied to the walls. This step gives the texture its stucco-like appearance. To texture the walls and ceiling of an average room, the rental sprayer, the joint compound and knockdown knife will set you back only about $70 to $80, and you'll be finished in one day. These are the three components you'll use:

Joint compound
To make this project as easy as possible, use premixed all-purpose joint compound. These buckets contain about 60 lbs. of “mud” and are available at most home centers for $9 to $10 each. Don't use the lightweight premixed compounds—you'll be paying for a lot of air and the mix won't be as “sticky” as the all-purpose. It generally takes 1-1/2 to two full buckets of mud to texture the walls and ceiling of an average size (12 x 12-ft.) room.

Knockdown knives
Traditionally, knockdown textures were done with flat trowels or wide steel taping knives. However, the trowel technique is hard to master. A much better choice is to use one of the flexible Lexan knockdown knives now available at drywall supply stores (see Photo 5). These knives are 18 to 24 in. wide and cost $15 to $18.

Acoustical sprayer and gun.
You'll need to rent an acoustical spray gun, hopper and compressor from a rental center or paint store for this project. Although home compressors work fine for the initial orange peel coat, they won't produce the volume of air you need for the heavier topcoat.

Expect to pay $25 to $30 for a one-day rental. While you're still at the rental store, be sure to put the machine through a dry run to be certain it works. Also, remove the hopper from the gun and make sure the inside of the gun is clean. Look for a trigger adjustment on the gun It allows you to control the fluid flow. The recipes in this article will give you the just-right mixes for your project.

Tips:

File any sharp edges off the blade mixer. Sharp edges will scrape little plastic curlicues off the side of the bucket, bits that can clog the gun or wind up on the wall.

You will get mud in places you didn't want it. Don't worry! It cleans up easily with a wet sponge.

Caution!
If you have ceiling texture applied before 1980, it may contain asbestos. Before you remove any ceiling texture, contact your state's department of environmental protection, department of health, or a regional asbestos coordinator for information on asbestos testing and removal. For a list of regional contacts, click here. For general information on asbestos, click here.

Apply the texture

Photos 1 to 5 show how to apply the knockdown texture.

Tip:

Don't let the hopper run dry. Keeping at least 4 in. of mix in the hopper helps maintain a consistent flow.

Tip:

Always make sure you start with a clean edge on the knockdown knife for each stroke. Keep a damp sponge and a bucket of water handy for this task.

Dealing with textured ceilings

If you have acoustical or popcorn ceiling texture, remove it by spraying it with water, letting it soak in for a minute, and then carefully scraping it off with a drywall knife. Wear goggles and a cap. To minimize accidental gouging of the drywall, round off the corners of the knife with metal snips and remove burrs with a smooth-face file. If your ceiling texture has been painted, you won't be able to scrape it clean. You may need to skim-coat the surface.

Painting a textured surface

Paint a textured surface the way you would new drywall. Let the “mud” dry completely. As it dries, it will release tremendous amounts of moisture. You'll feel as if you're standing in an Iowa cornfield in July. If it's warm enough outside, cut through the masking on your windows and open them, but leave the masking tape in place until the surface dries. If you have some box fans, use them to help speed the drying.

After the walls and ceiling dry, check the surface for any spots you missed knocking down or any ridges you raised with the corner of the knife. With 120-grit sandpaper and a sanding block, sand these high spots down. Begin painting with a high-quality primer applied with a 3/8-in. nap paint roller. On the first coat, avoid going over surfaces before they're completely dry. The mud is water soluble and painting too soon can cause you to peel up a thin layer of mud with the paint.

For the final paint coat, use a high quality latex paint and a 3/8-in. nap roller. An “eggshell” or “satin” finish emphasizes the depth of the texture.

Use a plastic loop roller for roll-on textures.

Use a plastic loop roller for roll-on textures.

Other Knockdown Textures

If you want to texture just a small area or a single wall or don't want to mess with a sprayer, you have an endless supply of options. One of the simplest and most attractive is done with a plastic loop roller, which fits on an ordinary paint roller. To do this texture, use the same methods as described in this article except skip the spraying steps and roll on a single coat of mud. You can also apply a knockdown texture using texture paints.

Recipes for Textures

Recipe for orange peel coat:

  • Half a bucket (30 lbs.) of all-purpose joint compound
  • 5 pints of water
  • Spray gun orifice—second or third smallest
  • Compressor setting—high (25 to 30 psi)
  • Trigger—half open
  • Mix consistency—thin pancake batter
  • Splat size—pencil eraser

Recipe for topping coat:

  • Half a bucket (30 lbs.) of all-purpose joint compound
  • 3 pints of water
  • Spray gun orifice—second largest
  • Compressor setting—10 to 15 psi
  • Trigger—fully open
  • Mix consistency—thick cake batter
  • Splat size—nickel to silver dollar

Recipe for rolled-on texture:

  • Half a bucket (30 lbs.) of all-purpose joint compound
  • 1 pint water
  • Mix consistency—thick oatmeal/barely pourable
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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

    • Air compressor
    • Air hose
    • Corded drill
    • Dust mask
    • Hearing protection
    • Safety glasses

Mixing paddle, acoustical sprayer and gun (rental), Lexan knockdown knife.

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

    • Canvas drop cloth
    • Masking tape
    • Plastic sheeting
    • All-purpose joint compound

Comments from DIY Community Members

Share what's on your mind and see what other DIYers are thinking about.

1 - 4 of 4 comments
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June 27, 11:56 PM [GMT -5]

A few years ago, instead of removing a popcorn ceiling, I sanded it. It turned out to be one of the most beautiful knock downs I've ever seen. Others notice it and asked how they'd get one too.

I believe key to sanding a popcorn ceiling is that it has several dried coats of paint in it. The paint soaked into the foam allows you to sand it.

Don't try to finish one spot. Instead, lightly sand the whole ceiling. Then come back and touch up spots. A 20x20 ceiling can be done in a couple hours using a sanding pole and sixty grit mesh screen.

Needless to say, this is labor intensive. However, I was about fifty-five (I did three large rooms) when I did it and it was SO worth the effort.

As they say, be mindful of that some popcorn ceilings have asbestos.

June 27, 11:51 PM [GMT -5]

I've done this a couple times now. The last time, I used the balance of the drywall mud I have left. It dried much quicker and I had to do the knock down in about twenty minutes after it was on.

Spending the couple dollars on the two foot long knock down knife is a must.

I sued a hopper, so I didn't have to hold a two gallon hopper over my head. Much nicer, to be sure.

June 27, 4:59 PM [GMT -5]

I'd really like to hear from someone who did this as to what their first-time experience was like. I'd like to try it, but I'd be really worried that my technique at the beginning would be different than at the end. I have about 1000sq feet of contiguous ceiling. Any differences would be noticable.

October 14, 11:24 AM [GMT -5]

Has anyone seen or used the spounge to do knockdown patches .would love to hear feed back on this.there is a guy on youtube using one .its the bald guy in the big truck dont reall know how to post a link or i would

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