Drywall 101: Learn the basics and develop your technique

By Tom Phelan - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Wed., Jul. 18, 2012
- Contributed Photo

Many who venture into the world of do-it-yourself limit themselves to minor projects that have little risk. Some will tackle things such as painting, wallpaper and staining without apprehension. Some will also try their hand at basic plumbing or carpentry. However, when it comes to large-scale renovation, too many DIYers freeze up and call in a professional.

Yet one of the easiest large-scale skills to develop is installing sheetrock (drywall) walls and ceilings. The components are large, though not too expensive, and even damaging a piece of wallboard is not always a total loss. Mistakes are easily fixed, even if you have to start over.
Here are the basics and some tips. You can learn more about the process just by picking up a good building DIY book.

Ceilings are installed first, then the walls. Sheetrock comes in 8- and 12-foot lengths. If you are doing the project alone, it will be easier to use 8-foot panels. With a helper, you can install the longer wallboards, and the finishing will be easier. Install them with the long edge parallel to the ceiling. You will notice that the long sides have tapered, finished edges. This enables you to easily create an invisible joint between them. The ends of the boards should fall in the middle of a ceiling joist or wall stud. They are fastened with wallboard screws using your variable-speed electric drill or driver. Screw heads should be slightly depressed in the surface paper, without breaking through.
Leaving a little space, perhaps 1/8 inch, between the panels and at the perimeter edges is advisable. You will cover these gaps later. Snap a level horizontal line slightly more than 4 feet from the floor. Set the first length of drywall up to the line and fasten it to the framing. Don’t try to cut out the rough openings for doors and windows in the room. Install an entire panel, and mark them on the panel. Then cut them out with a knife after the board is positioned. This technique is quicker and the outcome is always better.

For small cutouts, such as electrical boxes, measure and mark them on the drywall, and position the panel against the wall. When you are satisfied they match up with the boxes, cut them out as the board is being installed. Finish installing each sheet after all the openings and edges fit well.

Taping drywall is something of an art, but even if you are not artistic, you will develop technique along the way. The finishing steps let you cover for your lack of artistry. Vertical and horizontal joints are covered with a combination of joint compound and paper tape. Outside corners are finished with corner bead and joint compound.

To cover the joint where the tapered edges of two horizontal sheets of drywall meet, coat the seam with compound and lay a length of dry tape along the seam. Then set it in by running your wide taping knife, buttered with a little additional compound, over the tape. Try to get it as smooth and uniform as you can, but don’t get obsessed. It's best to start in the middle, and work toward the edges.

I like to finish the vertical seams first, except for the corners. Then I move to the horizontal joints, and finish by doing the inside and outside corners. If you goof on cutouts for the electrical boxes, you may have to close any gaping edges with compound and perhaps some tape. It is okay to overlap sections of tape as long as you do not create an obvious hump. Sections of tape do not have to stretch the entire length of a 12-foot panel. In fact, it’s had to work with very long pieces. Do not overlap intersecting lengths. Cover screw heads with a swipe of the knife.

Finishing will be as hard or as easy as the installation and taping process makes it. Hand-sand with fine grit paper on a sanding block for a nice finish. Be aware, though, that the dust created is all-pervasive. Wear a mask, and create a barrier that separates your project from other rooms. I know professionals who use sanding tools and some who use sanding sponges instead. The latter creates a different sort of mess, but can also get you to a finished surface quicker. After the compound has dried, use a hand-held light angled to highlight any imperfections. Mark them lightly with a pencil. Sand them, and cover with a light coat of compound again, until you have a uniform finish.

This description should make you feel fairly confident that you can handle drywall installation. Do a little more study about the topic, and you should be ready to conquer yet another DIY challenge.

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