Bathroom Blowout

By: Mark Clement , Contributing Writer
In: Old Houses

We begin our bathroom’s anti-transmogrification by gutting it. The birch paneling (ack!), plaster, lath, strapping–all of it has to go leaving us with the tabula rasa of the home’s structural terra cotta block walls so we can frame new walls against it.

The Wrong Tool for the Job

And what’s the tool many people think of when they hear “demolition?” Right. Sledgehammer.

I know why.

On nearly every home renovation TV show I’ve ever seen, TV contractors and homeowners start the camera-friendly demolition by pounding mercilessly through drywall, plaster, lath, corner-bead, etc., with blunt-force trauma.

I guess it makes good reality TV, but it doesn’t make good reality. There’s almost no tool I can think of that’s less appropriate than a sledgehammer–especially if you’re backed up against a wall that isn’t supposed to be damaged. Note: A sledgehammer does have a specialized place in old-house bathroom remodeling, which I’ll get to in a future post.

The Right Tools for the Job

Complaints, however, are useless without solutions, so without further adieu here are some of my favorite appetite-for-destruction, rip-’em-and-strip’em, take-no-prisoners demolitions tools and techniques.

The first thing to realize about plaster and wood lath (or 1-by floor sheathing, corner bead, board-and-bead paneling, etc.) is that it is way easier to remove it in the opposite direction the nails are pointed. If you have access to only one side of the wall that means pulling it free rather than pounding through it.

Stanley’s FatMax FUBAR III is a professional grade tool made with solid steel construction and no-mercy design. I use its duck-billed jaw to plunge through the wall cladding, and then I’ll hook the lath behind it. One good yank and heaps of plaster crack free. Keep going, you’ll see the path to the lath.

I’ve also used the DemoDawg tools with excellent success. Again, plunge the flat-bar-like nose of the tool behind the cladding and lever or pull everything else off.

Next demo tool on the list is a unique one called the Gutster. This is a universal demo tool that appears equally at home stripping shingles (which I’m doing with it now) as it does ripping up deck boards or taking down plaster–which I have not done yet with it. Stay tuned on that one. We have some interior demo coming up that I’m looking forward to.

Lesson Learned?

The take-away here: When it comes to wall claddings, to trash it, don’t smash it. Get a rugged tool behind it and pull. Or, if you’re stripping both sides of the wall, pull off one side then push off the other from the back-side.

Smart beats brutal almost every time.

Want to know more about this project? Check out how we planned to tackle our bathroom remodel.