When people say they don't like drywall, they usually mean they don't like the problems that come from a bad finishing job -- bubbles, cracks and obvious seam lines.
Drywall finishing requires a bit of a "touch." Too light a hand with the joint compound will leave the tape too thinly covered; too heavy a hand will mean hours and hours of sanding. Anyone with a little manual dexterity can learn to do it well; it just takes practice. The inside of a closet is a good place to start.
Here are the tools you need.
The finishing materials:
*Two-inch wide prefolded paper drywall tape.
*Metal corner bead.
You can buy a tiny bit of joint compound, sometimes called spackling, or a whole lot of it. Buying a whole lot, a 5-gallon bucket, for instance -- makes economic sense if you're doing a large area -- a room, or several rooms -- but you have to take care of it in between finishing sessions, making sure it's not "contaminated" with sawdust or other construction debris, making sure the container is tightly sealed so it doesn't dry out. (Another advantage to buying in 5-gallon quantities is that the plastic buckets, when empty, are wonderfully useful. You can use them to haul tools, carry water, store scraps, or even to grow vegetables.)
The tape comes in rolls and several styles -- flat, perforated, prefolded. (We use the prefolded type for everything.) There is also fiberglass tape, in rolls for finishing and in sheets for patching. It's self-sticking, and some people like it because they don't have to embed it in joint compound to get it to stick to the joint, but it's not prefolded, so it's hard to bend it into a good sharp corner. It has a rougher surface than paper, so it may also be harder, depending on how much skill you develop, to smoothe over it with the compound.
Metal corner bead, which creates good, crisp outside corners, ,, comes in strips 8 and 10 feet long. It has perforations, some for nails and some to make it flexible and help the compound stick.
The finishing tools:
*Four-inch taping knife.
*Six-inch blocking knife.
*Ten-inch finish knife.
*Twelve-inch finish knife.
*A "hawk" or a pan to hold the joint compound.
*A drywall mixing device.
*Drywall nails and a hammer to nail metal corner bead in place.
Drywall "knives" aren't knives in the traditional sense; they're more like trowels or big putty knives. It helps to have a selection. At each step of the finishing process, you are spreading the joint compound over a wider area. A knife that's too narrow will leave ridges or grooves in the compound.
There are two-sided knives designed for finishing corners, but they require a skilled hand to use success fully. We use the 10-inch knife and finish one side at a time.
It's too awkward to use the joint compound right out of the bucket; you need a flat surface to spread it out and scoop it evenly onto the knife. A "hawk" is a flat piece of wood or metal with a handle on the bottom side. You can buy one, complete with cushioned undersides to make it easier on your hand, or you can make one by screwing a piece of dowel to the underside of a piece of plywood. If you make one, be sure the edges are long enough to scrape the 12-inch knife.
You can also buy a compound pan, in metal or plastic. It looks somewhat like a baking pan and has a bladed edge to scrape the knife on.
The mixing device, which looks like a giant potato masher, isn't essential, but it's an efficient device for stirring the joint compound in a 5-gallon bucket.
There are other specialized drywall tools -- a tool belt with a tape roller and a bracket to hold the pan, for instance, but there's no need for the average do-it-yourselfer to get so fancy.
The sanding tools:
*Drywall hand sander.
*Pole sander with a universal joint that allows the pad to tilt in all directions.
*100-grit drywall sandpaper.
Both of the sanding devices use special, precut, 100-grit sandpaper. Some people don't like the pole because it's hard on your shoulders; you can get by with a hand sander and a ladder or scaffolding. (Professional drywall finishers use stilts to get to the high places, but that's another skill.) You can rent scaffolding that rolls, saving you many trips up and down the ladder.
All this may seem like a lot of equipment, but none of it is expensive. If you can master the techniques, you may be able to save a lot of money by finishing drywall yourself.
.` Next: Step-by-step techniques.
Mr. Johnson is construction manager for Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore. Ms. Menzie is Home Editor of The Sun.
If you have questions, comments, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.