Removing a Lath and Plaster Ceiling without Removing the Cornice or Coving

The following is a modified excerpt from the FAQ section at the end of my little book about working with lath and plaster ceilings….. (search for  lath and plaster on amazon or click on the image of the book… )

A question I’ve been asked a lot is…….

Can I remove the ceiling but leave the cornice in place?

And the answer is: yes, you can remove the ceiling and leave the cornice or coving in place with a little bit of skill and a good dollop of luck. You’ll just need to be especially careful on the two sides where the laths are at 90 degrees to the cornice, because the laths disappear underneath the cornice itself.

Where the laths run parallel to the cornice, the lath and plaster comes away much easier with a lot less risk to the cornice because you don’t need to disturb the laths actually underneath the cornice.

The best way to cut through the plaster/laths is to use a Fein multi tool (Thankfully Bosch make a cheaper version called the Multitool) which are useful for all sorts of other DIY things too! These tools cut really fine and don’t disturb the cornice at all if you work slowly and carefully.The main challenge being the high working height over your head.

Start by taking down the lath and plaster, going very carefully up to the cornice. Once close to the cornice, score the plaster at the front edge of the cornice a few times with a sturdy craft knife, Often the plaster breaks off cleanly and mostly flush with the cornice. If the plaster is tough use an abrasive blade in your cutting tool to cut through just the plaster, stop when you hit the laths. Once the plaster is out of the way, swap the blade for a wood cutting one, which will last much longer if they only have laths to cut through. Cut the laths off as close to the cornice as you can get.

Depending on your ceiling joist configuration (and the size of the cornice) you will then have two extra hurdles to overcome…

First, where the cornice is parallel to the joists it’s likely that there will be areas where there is nothing to screw the drywall boards to, because the first joist is behind the cornice. Usually you can add a little light framing and ‘nogging’ out between the first and second joists and then in between the new noggings to give you something to fasten to. I tend to use glue and thin gauge screws to fix the light framing in place as it’s gentle, whereas wielding a hammer and nails will likely disturb the cornice.

suupporting plasterboards with cornice in place

Various packing pieces are likely in between the new framing and the existing laths over the cornice as it is often a little uneven in nature (thin gaps can be filled using a tube adhesive). After filling in any gaps, try to get some fasteners through the front edge of the cornice into the new timberwork to help replace the lost support from the laths. Very carefully drill and countersink holes though the cornice and use drywall screws into the timbers. NB! you need to have a real gentle touch for this, you’re aiming to just hold the cornice in place, not pull it up tight (or at all actually) because that will break something and make matters worse. Once filled and sanded, you’ll never know….

Second, the new drywall boards are likely to be thinner than the old lath and plaster which shows up unsightly lath/plaster at the cornice edge. There are various ways to overcome this difference,

  • Some folks use 15mm drywall boards (after a plaster skimming coat and a little decorators caulk you’ll be good to go on an average ceiling).
  • Others pack down the joists with thin timber pieces or even strips of 9.5mm drywall if it’s an appropriate thickness when combined with the boards.
  • Some just patch up behind the edge of the cornice  and up to the new drywall boards with filler and caulk it (this depends on how clean the edges are and how thick the ceiling was).

One of my plasterer’s (a great one!) sometimes adds a 3″ (75mm) strip of 3/8” (9mm) drywall board around the edge of the ceiling boards (paper edge facing out) because the edge of the cornice was too thick (see pic at the top of this page for details) This had the effect (after painting) to make the cornice look much wider as the extra 3″ of drywall looked like a part of the cornice instead of the ceiling. It does depend on the style of the cornice for this tip though. Still, it’s very clever.

Another alternative is to install the drywall on top of the existing lath. This obviously retains the lath underneath the cornice (which is good), but this solution really depends on how good/flat the existing laths are. One advantage of leaving the existing lath in place is that you can use board adhesive to strengthen up the edges of the drywall in front of the cornice, as it will squeeze through the lath just like the original plaster and hold it firmly.

I hope this has given you something to think about if you are considering taking down a lath and plaster ceiling but leaving the cornice or coving in place. Let me know if you have specific questions.

Stay well



Need More Information or Help?

Urban legend has it that you only need to read six books on a subject to be classed as an ‘expert’. So, here are some books I found interesting which will be useful to get you started! Or drop me a comment and ask a question.

All available from, (or here at for the rest of the world), just follow the links to have a peek!

Old House Handbook:

A Practical Guide to Care and Repair, by Roger Hunt and Marianne Suhr. Hardback.

Don’t be deceived, this book may be at home on the coffee table, but it packs a lot of really useful information into its pages. Passed and approved by my favorite ‘Institute’, the guys at SPAB, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

The book teaches you to work with your house, not fight it. Repair not restore or renovate. If you are into minimalism, white flat surfaces and recessed downlights, this book may be a shock for you, as it educates us to live with a buildings character, not destroy it.

book about the maintenance of historic buildings

maintenance of historic buildings

Maintenance of Historic Buildings

A Practical Handbook, by Jurgen Klemisch.

A practical, hands-on guide to the maintenance of your older house. Based on many years of experience, this book teaches you the current best practices related to maintenance and is presented using a straightforward logical format.

In two sections the book deals with maintenance for use by owners and how to conduct condition surveys. The book makes extensive use of helpful checklists, work cards detailing routine cleaning, deep cleaning, inspection, servicing and redecoration; and even spreadsheets to help plan your maintenance.

Following the books recommendations would also (over time) build a useful record about your house, which will be helpful when deciding the timing of future repairs and allow you to assess costs accurately.

damp houses a guide to the causes and treatment of dampness

A damp house is a dying house……

The Damp House:

A Guide to the Causes and Treatment of Dampness, by Jonathan Hetreed. Hardback.

I thought that I would include this book because as the owner of an older property you will soon come to learn that water or damp is the mortal enemy of your house!

Managing the moisture and water, on, in and around your home is vital in the battle to preserve and protect it.

From the patio to the ridge, water is trying to get into your house and cause damage! Read Jonathan’s insights and learn how to keep it at bay.

haynes Victorian house book image

The Victorian House manual from Haynes

The Victorian House Manual By Haynes

A no nonsense book that even Conservation Officers like and use! This book covers some of the most common problems found in houses built in this era, along with some of the more common misconceptions about some of the repairs commonly touted as being able to “cure all ills”.

As you would expect from Haynes these books have great photos and easy to understand and follow instructions. A hard to beat primer for anyone owning or thinking of buying a Victorian (or Edwardian for that matter) house.


A step by step guide to using natural finishes in your old house

Guide to using natural finishes

Using Natural Finishes:

Lime and Clay Based Plasters, Renders and Paints – A Step-by-step Guide By Adam Weismann

Adam Weismann’s book is more specialized than those above and would suit the hard core enthusiast who wants to have a go at repairing their old walls and ceilings themselves.

Kevin McCloud from Grand Designs comments that it is “A splendid book. A real addition to what’s out there and very complementary to the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings’ new technical manual on Old Building Repairs”.

Disclaimer: The next three books are my own… forgive the plug 🙂

12 Ways to Fix Lath and Plaster Ceilings:

Complete Do-it-Yourself Guide for Homeowners, by Ian Anderson

Love them or hate them, I’ll show you what you can do with yours, based on over 30 years of on-site experience. I’ll show you how to evaluate the condition of your ceilings and quickly run through the options you have to repair and keep them.

Alternatively (and sadly); if needs must, I’ll show you how to safely remove them and install new ceilings, either with like for like traditional materials or more commonly, with modern drywall materials.

This  complete homeowners guide includes:

  • How to inspect and evaluate your lath and plaster ceiling.
  • 7 ways to repair and keep your lath and plaster ceilings.
  • 5 ways to replace your lath and plaster ceiling.
  • Step by step guide to removing your lath and plaster ceiling.
  • Levelling up your ceiling joists.
  • Installing drywall.
  • Further online resources.

Home Maintenance Checklist

Complete DIY Guide for Homeowners: 101 Ways to Properly Look After Your Home and Save Money, by Ian Anderson

Let’s be honest here, home maintenance has a huge image problem. It’s not cool, it’s not sexy and it definitely isn’t ever going to beat the thrill of building something new and shiny, not ever…
But guess what; you know that new and shiny thing you’re building instead of maintaining your home? Yup, it’s going to need maintaining to keep that new and shiny look you so desire.
So relax a little, surrender to it, and since you can’t truly escape it anyway, let a little maintenance creep into your life. Your stuff will love you for it; you will love your stuff for looking so good, and oh; the planet will quite like you for it too.

So, let me talk you into doing a little home maintenance…

How to be Handy [hairy bottom not required]

Build Money Saving DIY Skills, Create a Unique Home and Properly Look After Your Stuff, by Ian Anderson

Do you want to be handy and live a more practical life?

Then this book is for you. Because it’s a different kind of DIY book, one which will take you far beyond trying to blindly follow step-by-step instructions, to where you can stop faking it, and actually make it. To actually be practical; to be handy.

Using Ian’s simple R.E.L.E.A.R.N method you’ll ‘relearn’ how you look at DIY; to see the world through ‘practical eyes’. Relearn how you observe, listen, feel, and smell everything and what it all means. Plus, you’ll know how and where to find the information you need to fill any gaps and create workable solutions for your DIY projects.

You’ll learn how to use a few simple tools to easily transform your home, using your own head, hands, and heart to create something wonderful, fix something you treasure, maintain something you want to keep forever or build something just for fun.

There’s more than 30 years of experience from a professional builder and handyman, packed into this easy to follow method which explains how handy people like Ian tackle practical tasks, (especially the new and unknown), learning ‘just enough’ to get the job done.

Once you experience the physical world like a handy person does, you’ll think like a handy person and then you’ll be able to do anything. Seriously; anything you set your mind to…

Good luck with your own DIY endeavours and work safe.

Comments 4

  1. Thank you so much for this, it is exactly the information I was looking for and needed. The diagrams are also excellent. It took a while to find but great news when I did!

    1. Post

      Glad it helped Yvonne, and yes, *laughing*, I guess it is a bit of a ‘niche’ subject! Feel free to send me any pics you take during the job and then I can weave them into a ‘real life’ case study on here to help others.
      Good luck with your lath and plaster works, hope it goes well.
      Cheers and many thanks for your kind words.

  2. Ian:

    Great article and packed with lots of useful tips on doing it right!

    Thanks loads

    Marvin J. Rosser

    1. Post

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