Properly hung drywall can be a seamless affair

HOME WORK

November 06, 1993|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

It's a lovely stage in any rehab or remodeling project when the drywall goes up and the spaces start looking like real rooms.

Myriad problems and small uglinesses -- old pipes, awkward old framing, new beams and reinforcements -- disappear behind the plain, flat surface. In a way, it hides some of the most exacting work, the plumbing, heating and wiring, but it also covers the worst irregularities of old construction and makes everything fresh and new.

Preservationists sometimes insist that only plaster will do in an old house -- and that's fine, where there's plaster worth preserving. But when it's done well, drywall presents a smooth and beautiful surface that's easy to finish and easy to maintain. We're pretty certain that if drywall had existed in the 1890s, carpenters would have used it.

The key words, of course, are "done well." Drywall (like plaster) requires a solid support system and careful finishing to look its best, and to wear well. We've seen some pretty awful drywall jobs done by amateurs -- wavy, wobbly, with an uneven finish, peeling tape and popped-out nail heads. But it doesn't have to be that way.

Hanging drywall properly is not that hard. You need the right tools -- none of them expensive -- and you need to follow some simple rules.

The best way to install drywall is to glue it to the framing parts and then screw it. Many people simply nail the panels to the studs. That may be faster, but it doesn't provide the good solid bond that turns drywall panels into a solid wall surface. If there's any movement in the wall -- and that can come from people walking by, buses on the street outside -- the nails can pop out of the taped and finished seams.

The tools needed to install drywall can be assembled for a little more than $100. Here's what you'll need:

* A power screw gun with a tip that can be set so that every screw is driven to a precise depth without breaking through the drywall.

* A utility knife with extra blades.

* A drywall square -- a T square with a 48-inch tail.

* A drywall hand saw -- a coarse-cut saw with a pointed tip that can be driven into the drywall to cut out a hole for a fixture.

* A drywall rasp for smoothing drywall edges.

* A tape measure.

* A heavy-duty caulking gun (holds 10-ounce tubes of drywall adhesive).

Here's the procedure:

* Spend a little time planning the job. Drywall comes in 4-by-8-foot sheets or 4-by-12-foot sheets. Both long sides of each sheet are beveled; when two beveled edges are placed next to each other, they form a tiny valley for the joint compound and drywall tape.

You need to plan sheet placement so the beveled edges meet. Drywall is usually installed horizontally on walls, with the beveled edges parallel to the floor. However, bevels should

not end up on the bottom of a wall; they will make the baseboard difficult to install. This is not usually a problem in old houses, where the walls are taller than 8 feet.

If you've done the framing and know that the studs are uniformly 16 inches on center (that is, 16 inches from the center of one stud to the center of the next), you can hang the sheets vertically. That may be the best way to handle an 8-foot wall.

However you hang the panels, you need to keep beveled edges together and butt (non-beveled) edges together. It's also good to use as few joints as possible. That's why you have to plan ahead. Think of it as a giant interactive video game -- Tetra Vex with butts and bevels instead of letters or numbers.

* Measure panels with tape and mark with a pencil along the T square. Cut pieces with a utility knife by scoring the surface (back or front), then turning the sheet over and using your knee to snap the sheet at the score. Cut the other side of the paper with the utility knife.

* Apply drywall adhesive to the studs with the caulk gun, put the drywall in place and screw it to the stud with drywall screws every eight inches or so.

When sheets are installed this way, you will have a solid surface to finish -- and there won't be any problem with nail pops.

Other points to consider:

* Where outside corners join, use a metal corner bead, a thin L with holes in it that is nailed to the corner, then finished with joint compound. It gives a good, sharp corner.

* If there's a gap -- say, where inside corners meet -- that's too big to be easily covered in the finishing process, fill it with a fast-dry patching plaster, rather than joint compound.

* Buy replacement tips for the screw gun before you start the job. That way you won't have to stop working to run out and get them.

* It helps to have more than one person working on drywall -- even if the second person is no carpenter, he or she can help lift sheets, measure and hold panels in place, if necessary, while the screws go in. And the extra person is essential when you're drywalling ceilings.

Mr. Johnson is a Baltimore construction manager. Ms. Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St. Baltimore 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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