Repairing, Hanging, and Finishing drywall (Sheetrock®) is not difficult.
Stuff Happens. Sooner or later you will have a deep scrape, crack, or hole to fix. If you are dealing with badly damaged walls, or an ugly textured finish you want made smooth, sometimes the easiest fix is to add a new layer of drywall on top. Some of our walls were finished with a texture. Sanding that texture smooth would make a horrible mess. Some of the texture can be filled by a skim-coat of joint compound to reduce the amount of sanding necessary. That is also messy and still a lot of work. Covering old walls with a new layer of drywall is often the easiest fix.
For all drywall repair and finishing ready-mix joint compound comes in various size containers. It isn't expensive, so make sure you buy enough to finish the job. There is a new light-weight product that I have tried, but don't like. The containers are certainly lighter, and easy to handle, but I do not like the way it goes on the wall.
Less is better. Joint Compound is applied in thin layers, with several hours drying time between layers. Regardless of the size job, it always takes three days to finish drywall. Don't use too much, and don't overwork it trying to get it perfectly smooth. One or two passes with the knife should apply the mud smooth enough to let it dry. Wait for the next step, scrape off high spots with a dry knife edge, and let the next layer of mud fill any voids.
The first layer, using a 3" taping knife, fills the holes in the tape, and mostly covers the tape. The second layer, using a 6" or 12" knife, completely covers the tape and tapers to the drywall at the edges. The third layer, using the 3" knife again, fills any low spots left by the wide knife. When that dries, one last pass scraping high spots with the 3" knife and my work is usually ready for primer and paint.
WHAT! NO SANDING! Yes, that is correct. Plenty of experts will disagree, but I have found that the few knife marks left are easily removed with a couple scrapes with the dry 3" knife. I can see no difference in the final finish that would justify the incredible mess sanding makes. Scraping with the knife makes a little dust, but much less than even a light sanding. It's your wall, sand it if you like.
TIP A discovery that made finishing drywall joints much easier for me is self-stick drywall tape. This is a roll of fiberglass mesh with a tacky side so it sticks to the drywall. Self-stick tape eliminates the messy process of getting conventional drywall paper tape to stay on the wall. The fiberglass mesh is also better reinforcement for joints, especially if you are repairing a crack.
TIP Drywall Joint Compound should always be allowed to dry well between coats. It can be very humid here, so I often allow joint compound to dry overnight. Most drywall repair or finishing work will span 3 days.
CRACKS are easy. Use a sharp knife to cut a "V" groove the entire length of the crack. Feather the edges of the paper making sure there is nothing sticking out. Fill the crack with joint compound, and let dry overnight. Place a strip of joint tape over the crack. The tape should extend a couple inches past each end of the repair. Cover tape with compound using a 3" knife and let dry overnight, then finish with a 12" knife. Let that dry overnight. Scrape high spots off by dragging over them with the edge of a 3" knife, then finish any low spots with the same 3" knife. Once that is dry, very little sanding should be necessary.
Holes are repaired in several ways depending on size. In most cases the broken sheetrock is simply removed and used to make the patch. For small holes, cut the edges of the loose material to form a "V" gap that will be filled with new mud. Three or four toothpicks can be inserted into the drywall on either side to support the patch piece. Make an "X" with two pieces of joint tape. Start with a 3" knife and simply stick the repair and tape to the wall. Structurally, the repair is done when this coat is dry. Finish for appearance using the same method described for cracks above.
Larger Holes require more substantial support for the repair piece. A strip of 2x4 several inches longer than the hole can be put through the hole, held in place, and secured with screws through the good wall on either side of the hole. Then a couple of screws will secure the patch piece to the 2x4. Work mud into the seams around the edge, cover seams with joint tape, then do the finish work.
Really Large Holes should be cut out to the studs on either side. Cut a new piece of sheetrock to fit. Screw the repair piece to the studs, then feather and finish all edges.
TEXTURED FINISHES Sorry if this is where you wanted to find my methods for applying textured finishes to walls. I prefer smooth walls. Textured finishes are like tattoos. I've never seen one I wanted to live with forever, and they are difficult to remove. It takes a lot of sanding to remove a textured finish or a skim-coat of joint compound can be applied to fill the texture. One method of applying a skim-coat is to thin the joint compound with water, so it can be applied with a paint tray and roller like thick paint. A wide rubber squeegee is then used to work the wet drywall compound as smooth as possible. It will likely take two or three coats and still require sanding to make the textured wall smooth.
I believe thinning the joint compound just adds more work and mess. I am covering a textured finish in our living room with regular joint compound. Starting about 9" from an edge, apply a strip of compound parallel to the edge, while holding the knife at a very shallow angle to the wall. The idea is to press the joint compound into the pattern while the edge of the knife makes minimum contact with the high spots. Once the first strip is done, leave another 9" gap and lay down the next strip. Continue across the wall in this manner. Let the strips dry for a day, then finish the space between the strips. This is much easier now that the drywall knife rides on the new smooth surfaces at a normal application angle.
Full size drywall panels are fairly heavy and awkward. I don't even try to use the 12-foot pieces. There are some tricks to handling the weight. Save your hands and back, get a panel carrier.
Panel Carriers are simple devices, basically a handle with a hook that catches on the bottom of the panel so you don't have to wrap your fingers around it. These devices don't look like much, but they are amazing! You can carry a lot more weight with the hook than your fingers can stand. The carriers even work on those crummy plastic bags the grocery store uses. There are several varieties of these carriers. Some even fold up and go in your pocket. These photos show a molded plastic and a deluxe version.
I use 5/8" drywall for just about everything. It's heavier and harder to work with than 1/2" but it has a better fire rating. The 1/2" or 3/8" thick drywall panels are good for a re-finishing job. Use a stud-finder, mark stud locations and use longer screws. Make absolutely sure you are securing the new panels to the structure or the heavy panels will come loose and crack you on the head. I use drywall SCREWS rather than nails. Screws take longer to install, but they hold much better, especially for ceilings. Our house is only 5 miles from the epicenter of the August 2011 5.6 earthquake near Mineral, VA. All our ceilings stayed up.
A good drywall job starts with good framing. If the framing isn't square straight and true, the drywall is a lot harder to fit and finish. Check framing while it is being built because it's often too late to fix it when you start hanging drywall.
Drywall panels are 8-feet by 4-feet or 12-feet by 4-feet. Try to plan wall/ceiling framing so the drywall will fit with minimal seams and cut panels. My preference is to install drywall panels standing on end so that the beveled side edges run vertically. Others prefer to hang drywall panels sideways so the beveled seam runs around the room. If that's the way your daddy trained you to do it, great, no problem. Either way works. Some rooms will dictate which way the panels will work best. All joints in flat walls should have the beveled edges. It is possible to make end joints appear flat, just like repairs described above, but it's much harder than finishing the beveled edges.
Drywall panels must not touch the floor. Scrap drywall pieces can be used for spacers. Throw a couple pieces at the base of the wall and set the edge of the panel on them. Make sure to allow for the spacers when measuring holes for outlets. Measure twice, cut once. I pre-cut holes for outlets with a sheetrock saw. Most contractors now use a Dremel type tool and side-cutting bit to cut the holes as the drywall is being nailed to the wall. You are welcome to try that, but I've seen what the saw does to wiring, no thanks.
When working alone, I find it best to do ceilings last, and plan the walls so the drywall stops about 3/4" from the ceiling. That allows one edge of the ceiling panels to sit on the top of the wall while they are being supported and screwed in place. Sometimes I need to leave a little more space at the floor, so the gap at the ceiling works out right. Wood spacers can be made to start all panels at the same height. Ceilings are MUCH easier if you make a "T" brace to hold panels in place while they are being fastened.
The "T" brace should be slightly longer than the floor to ceiling height. Set so the brace leans and pushes the ceiling panel towards the wall. One is all you need but sometimes a second one helps when working alone. Drywall contractors often have hydraulic panel jacks. If you can rent one of those, ceilings are a lot easier. Vaulted ceilings may require use of a jack or scaffolding.
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