What are these walls?

princetonDecember 3, 2007

DW and I are preparing her mother's house for an estate sale. The house was built in 1929. The walls are not plaster and lathe - nor are they drywall. They seem to be a stiff thin material - something like masonite or homasote.

There are vertical cracks - where the panels butt up against each other. How do I fix these? Paper tape and spackle?

All replies welcomed.

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When I used to reno older homes, my inclination was to either strip it to the frame or patch it up as best I could, imperfections and all. Try a couple of the seams and see what it looks like. Rather than taping, I would secure the edges tight and fill. (If you're a taper by trade, it's a different story.) The cracks will reappear. But maybe you can sell by that time.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2007 at 9:51AM
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Wall paper might be an easier solution.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2007 at 10:33AM
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I'd also like to know what this type of wall material is called. It's common around here in older farmhouses and vacation homes and can be a peewilly to try to make attractive. My son just removed it in his farmhouse and hung drywall.

I've tried googling it to find out the proper name for this stuff, but haven't had any luck. Does anyone know?

    Bookmark   December 3, 2007 at 4:44PM
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Could it be beaverboard which was a compressed wood product that was used in the 1920's and 30's? That stuff was a cheaper wall solution than plaster. If it is this, it's pretty flamable and dents easily.

I'd rip it out and hang sheetrock.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2007 at 6:21AM
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Beaver board was used into the '50s, and has to be painted with Kilz to stop the glue(?) from seeping through when paint is applied. It's brown and kind of flaky with an outer paper layer. Mine, on an enclosed porch, has 3 grooves every 16" to make it look like paneling.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2007 at 10:09PM
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I think I had the same stuff on the ceilings of a couple of my bedrooms. It had been taped, but very poorly and it generally looked like he__ when you were lying there looking up at it.

I probably should have covered with drywall or torn out and replaced, but in my wisdom I re-taped (paper tape) and skim-coated the whole area. I turned out alright because I used durabond 90 on the tape joints (very strong) and finished off with a textured surface to hide any imperfections. From my recollection, however, it was too flimsy for proper finishing and was difficult to work with because of waviness.

The best solution for you may be the old reliable batten-stick cover-up: pieces of some kind of 1-2" wide molding every four feet to cover the cracks. It makes it obvious that it's a "budget" wall, but it will probably be less objectionable to buyers than open cracks. Pre-paint the molding pieces before you install, then just touch up the nail holes after you're done. As with any finish work, measure and cut carefully and use as small a nail as will do the job.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2007 at 1:06PM
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this is a cheat - but an effective one, that I've used on drywall, panelling of several sorts, and plaster.

paintable latex window caulk.

applied with a bit of force, to drive it into the crack itself, excess scraped clear with an old credit card, then the seam wiped down with a damp sponge or rag, to bring it level with the wall surface.

it survives seasonal contractions, uneven settling, minor earthquakes, and Rottweilers at play.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2007 at 12:54PM
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They used to call it wallboard. Here's a description from a 1921 book. I think it's the stuff you're describing.
"A substitute for paneling fast coming into popular favor is wall-board. Time and again have I heard this product maligned on the ground that it "looked cheap;" that it buckles and it bulges; and a score of other allegations, but the fact remains that more and more of it is being used in homes, and that it has invaded nearly every room in the house. With the use of discretion, some exceedingly attractive effects may be contrived.
Certainly it has its advantages. It is clean, it is easily installed, it is adaptable to any number of different finishes. Though nearly everyone in these days of general advertising is familiar with the product, let me say for the benefit of those who may not be cognizant of the fact, that wall board is a wood fiber product having the appearance of cardboard about a quarter-inch in thickness. It comes in panels about 32" or 48" wide and of varying lengths. These panels are nailed directly to the studding or rafters or over old plaster or any foundation material.
Then, after the wall-board has been nailed around the room, it may be tinted, painted or enameled any hue you desire. If grained, it might be stained or varnished, and with strips of wood nailed over the joinings to hide them, the panel effect is excellently carried out. As a matter of fact, the panel treatment is almost essential to cover the joinings, but there are panels and panels, so there is enough variety to suit every whim and fancy.
For the dining room, there is a grained board simulating wood, for kitchen and bathroom, a tiled board to be white enameled. The product may be conscienciously recommended for its resistance to the passage of heat, cold, sound, strains, fire and moisture."

Here is a link that might be useful: early 20th c homes

    Bookmark   December 7, 2007 at 5:25PM
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Maybe this will help.......

Here is a link that might be useful: The History of Homasote

    Bookmark   December 8, 2007 at 4:12PM
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Or you may have walls of Celotex, an early green building material developed back in the 192Os. It was fabricated from the waste products from sugar refining, chopped, washed, compressed & molded into a variety of surfaces and textures & profiles.

It was an excellent product, dense, strong & termite-proof, and it also had good insulating & sound-deadening properties, which is why it ended up in a ton of nightclubs & theaters & old-fashioned open-plan offices, and a few years ago, they restored a huge arched ceiling of the stuff at one of the historic convention halls in (I think) Atlantic City. To me, this is a product that's unique enough to show it off, rather than to try to disguise it as Sheetrock, but then, that's just me and everybody knows I'm weird.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2007 at 9:10PM
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I forgot to attach this 1930 shot of the Celotex President's handsome office atop Chicago's Palmolive Building, an Art Deco landmark by Holabird & Root.
Naturally, that's Celotex on the ceiling. And on the walls. A cheap, design-on-a-dime fix the stuff was not.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2012 at 12:45PM
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The effect may owe a teensy bit more to the craft of the decorative painter than to the underlying material, eh?
And did it survive? Celotex is not acid free, and could quickly discolor anything painted on top of it. You don't paint the last supper on newsprint, either.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2012 at 8:33PM
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Nothing like picking up a conversation after a five-year silence! (Like being in a marriage, wherein old disputes never die.)

Any relation of that Celotex to the asbestos laced Celotex?

    Bookmark   June 16, 2012 at 9:36AM
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