Nailing down facts on hanging and finishing drywall

Ask the Builder

July 20, 2008|By Tim Carter | Tim Carter,Tribune Media Services

I need to learn how to drywall in a hurry. A good friend needs me to show her how to hang and finish drywall. The trouble is, I have just seen it done on some home-improvement TV shows. Is it really that hard to install drywall? What are some of the secret tips you can share so that I will look like a pro?

I sure hope you did not tell this woman that you know how to drywall like a pro. It takes years of practice to finish drywall like a pro, and months of practice to learn how to hang drywall. The bad news is that you may not possess the needed hand-eye coordination required for this labor-intensive job.

There are many techniques that will get you to the same result when it comes to hanging and finishing drywall. You could interview 10 different drywall professionals and come away with 10 different methods. Some of the advice you would get is excellent, but you also might get some bogus information.

If you want the best advice as to the technical aspects of working with drywall, I feel the best place to start is a fantastic book called The Gypsum Construction Handbook, published by the USG Corp. This manual contains numerous specifications that tell you the accepted way to fasten drywall to metal or wood studs, the proper way to install accessory pieces of trim like corner bead, and the dos and don'ts of finishing drywall.

I will share some of the most important things I have discovered after hanging and finishing drywall for more than 35 years. The first thing to realize is that working with drywall is hard work.

Eliminating seams is the first tip. Some home centers carry drywall in only 8-foot lengths. If you visit a business that just sells drywall, you will discover that you can get drywall in various thicknesses, various lengths and sometimes even widths greater than 4 feet. If you can use 12-foot-long sheets to eliminate butt joints, do so whenever possible.

Hang drywall so that the long edge is perpendicular to the run of the studs. In a room that has typical 8-foot ceilings, this means you will have a seam on the walls all around the room 4 feet off the floor. Do the same for ceiling joists and roof trusses. Always hang ceilings first, and then butt the first pieces of wall drywall up tight to the ceiling.

When cutting drywall, do not use a circular saw. You would be shocked how many rookies do this. Use a sharp razor knife and score the paper face. Apply pressure on the backside of the cut line and the drywall should snap crisply. There will be a slightly ragged edge, so always cut the drywall 1/4 inch less than the actual length you need.

Finishing drywall is where the real test begins. Rookies end up with blisters in the taped seams because they remove too much mud from under the tape, or they apply the finishing compound so heavy the seams will look like a Hawaiian lava flow.

When applying the tape on seams, be sure to use the compound that says it is for taping. Do not use topping compound for taping. Topping compound is made for the second and final coats only. If you want to minimize dust from sanding, look for the newer finishing compounds that are formulated to create less dust. I have used them, and the claims made by the manufacturer are true.

You may discover it takes less sanding if you skim-coat the entire surface of all the sheets of drywall with a very thin coat of finishing compound. This coat can be applied with a paint roller and skimmed off with a large, flat blade. This skim coat also produces a uniform texture by filling in the paper face of the drywall sheets. If you skip this step, you will need to do a superb job of feathering all of the compound and sanding.

Expert home builder and remodeling contracator Tim Carter has 20 years of hands-on experience in the home industry. If you have a question, go to and click on "Ask Tim."

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