Intro to drywall
Photo 1: Fasten backers at corners
Fasten wood backing wherever drywall ends have no support within 4 in. Make sure to check corners and ceiling/wall joints.
Photo 2: Measure carefully
Measure from the end of the ceiling to the middle of a joist and cut the sheet to length. End cuts should split framing members. Gaps at ends and splices should be less than 1/4 in. Mark fastening guidelines every 16 in. from end of sheet with a drywall square. Cut overall lengths 1/4 in. shorter for easier fitting.
Be bold! You don’t need a truckload of tools, the mind of a rocket scientist or an Arnold Schwarzenegger-like physique to hang drywall. You just need to get familiar with the fundamentals to gain the confidence to tackle the job yourself.
Drywall is one of the easiest-to-use and cheapest construction materials in the world. Even a serious mistake will make you chuckle, knowing you’ve wasted little time and probably less than five bucks. And the money you save handling the task yourself will come in handy for furnishing that new room.
Hanging “rock” (short for “Sheetrock”) doesn’t require a lot of finesse, but it is heavy work. But if you have a strong back and you can climb four steps without wheezing, don’t be afraid to tackle one, two or even three rooms on your own. It’s sometimes hard to interest a pro in hanging just a room or two, or even get on the schedule. And you’ll pay hundreds of dollars for the privilege. Besides, defining and covering the walls with a finished material can be satisfying.
This article will demonstrate the basics of hanging drywall. If you do a good job of hanging it, the drywall can be taped and finished smoothly and easily. “Taping” refers to the process of filling fastener holes, applying joint tape and three layers of taping compound to seams and corners, and then sanding. Poor hanging techniques make it difficult for even a seasoned taper to deliver a flat, uncracked surface that’s free of nail pops and ready for paint. We’ll show you the techniques and tools the pros use to get the job done fast and in a way that makes taping as painless as possible.
Follow these relatively simple steps and enjoy that new bedroom, family room or, if you’re really lucky, billiard room!
The pros never secure drywall with nails anymore, and neither should you. Screws anchor the rock solidly to the framing, do less damage to the paper face, and are less likely to cause fastener pops down the road. Nail pops are a nuisance to fix and generally won’t appear until after you’ve applied the final coat of paint.
A drywall screw gun is a high-speed, low-torque drill specifically adapted for installing drywall (Photo 11). With an adjustable nosing, it sets screws very quickly at precisely the correct depth. It may be worth buying if you’re planning to hang a lot of drywall. If you decide to rent, plan to tack up all the drywall with as few nails as possible, then screw off all the rock at the same time to save rental fees. There are various styles of adapters and attachments for converting conventional drills into screw guns, but the results aren’t as good. There is no substitute for a drywall screw gun.
Most drywalling calls for three basic types and thicknesses of material:
- Half-inch for framing spans of 16 in. or less.
- Five-eighths-inch for spans up to 24 in. on ceilings. The 5/8-in. drywall is also called Type X or fire resistant. It is used in areas where a fire wall is required, such as between a house and attached garage. Consult your local building official for installation specifics.
- Half-inch water-resistant for humid areas such as baths (humid, not wet). This material is not acceptable for ceilings or areas such as tiled shower enclosures. Mold-resistant drywall is also sold for areas like basements where mold might be a concern.
Door and window jambs and electrical outlets are usually set up for 1/2-in. drywall, so check to confirm. Three-eighths-inch and 1/4-in. are available as well but are rarely used except on curved wall surfaces or areas where thinner rock is required. For example, if you’re patching old plaster walls, 3/8-in. may be the only thickness that will match the depth of the plaster.
Drywall usually comes in either 4×8 or 4×12 sizes. If you live in an area large enough to support a commercial supplier, it’ll offer more variety than an average lumberyard. It may have 9-, 10- and 14-ft. lengths, 54-in. widths for 9-ft. ceilings and odd things like flexible drywall for curved surfaces. Drywall lengths don’t radically affect overall material cost. If you think you can handle 12-ft. sheets (and if they’ll fit through the stairwells), they’re the way to go. You’ll have far less waste and fewer seams to tape. Keep in mind that a 4×8 sheet weighs 55 lbs. and a 12-footer about 82 lbs.
Preparation and ordering
Measure the length needed and score the paper face with a utility knife, using a drywall square as a straightedge.
Snap the sheet, fold it open and cut through the paper on the backside.
Smooth the edges
Smooth rough edges on cut ends with a
Surform tool to ensure tight joints.
This is your last chance to fix any problems that will soon be hidden behind finished walls. Have leaky plumbing repaired and install (or have installed) any additional electrical outlets or switches, dedicated computer modem lines or outlets, and phone jacks. This is also the time to add any missing drywall backers (Photo 1). You’ll need to support any ends that are unsupported for more than 4 in.
Estimate materials by adding up total surface areas and dividing by square feet per sheet. A 4×8 sheet will cover 32 sq. ft. and a 4×12 sheet will cover 48 sq. ft. Don’t deduct for doors and windows unless they’re very large. I usually order just enough to do the job. I’d rather go out for a few more sheets than get stuck with extra rock. It doesn’t store well and the garbologists aren’t fond of finding 4×8 sheets on the curb next to your trash can.
While small quantities are easily carried in a pickup, large quantities (12-ft. sheets, or more than 10 sheets of any size) are best delivered. A good-sized room’s worth of rock can weigh as much as a small beluga whale!
Discount lumberyards and home centers will usually deliver for a fee, but they’ll only send out one person, and you’ll have to help unload the truck. The driver will probably help you carry sheets into the garage, but that’s about it. Contractor-oriented full-service lumberyards and commercial drywall suppliers will charge more per sheet, but they’ll unload the truck and haul the rock into the rooms you’re going to hang. A boom truck (a truck with a small crane for lifting) may even be available for second-floor deliveries if there is a door or window opening large enough to feed sheets through. Coordinate this with your lumberyard, making sure you both understand site specifics, manpower requirements and available equipment.
Set down the drywall with the finished sides facing you. This is the side you’ll want to lay out on and cut from. It should be stacked on edge and evenly supported. Drywall warps quickly and isn’t easily straightened.
Using a Drywall Lift
Save your back and rent a drywall lift for a day. A lift is fantastic if you’re shorthanded or installing 12-ft. sheets. It disassembles easily, weighs about 75 lbs. and will fit in a minivan or small pickup. A lift makes it possible to hang rock solo, but it’s still nice to have a helper for loading the rock onto the lift. A lift tilts from vertical to horizontal. Wheels allow you to roll it up to the drywall stack, load a sheet onto the rack, roll it back into position and crank the sheet up into place. Although a lift can also be used for wall placement, its strong suit is ceilings.
Tools of the Trade
- 4-ft. T-square
- Drywall screw gun
- Keyhole drywall saw
- Surform tool
- Flat bar
- Utility knife
- Chalk line
- Trim hammer (16 or 20 oz.)
- Drywall saw
- Drywall hammer. It’s superior to a conventional hammer because its convex waffled
head sets nails without breaking paper.
- Foot lift
- Drywall lift (usually rented), or substitute a muscular partner who owes you big time.
- Spiral cutout saw
Photo 3: Tack the sheet in place
Hoist the ceiling sheets overhead and tack them into place using a “crutch” made of 2x2s to support the lion’s share of the weight. Prenail and position the sheet, tacking it to the joists.
Photo 4: Measure the upper sheet
Measure the distance from a wall corner to the center of a framing member, also recording distances for cutouts and door and window openings. Avoid placing joints over doors and window corners, where they may crack.
Photo 5: Cut the openings
Cut window and door notches from a single sheet by sawing sides with a drywall saw. A keyhole saw is slower, but it is an acceptable substitute for long cuts.
Photo 6: Finish the cut
Score the third side of the notch with a utility knife, snap the section loose and complete the cut from the backside.
For quick rip cuts, drag your utility knife behind the T-square as you slide it along the top (nestle the blade of the knife against the ruler part of the square).
Photo 7: Hang the sheet of drywall
Lift the top wall sheet, holding it tight against the ceiling, and tack it into place with nails. Don’t forget to mark fastener guidelines before lifting.
Photo 8: Measure cutouts
Measure electrical box cutouts from all four sides. Check all layout measurements twice before cutting!
Photo 9: Mark and cut the drywall
Transfer measurements to the drywall and cut the outlet box openings with a keyhole saw.
Here’s where you’ll appreciate the ease of working with drywall. After scoring the front side with your utility knife, simply snap it open like a dime novel. One last cut along the back edge of the sheet and you’re in business.
Professionals always do the lids (ceilings) first. That way, the wall pieces support the ceiling pieces. Now a word for you rookies: Hanging drywall over your head is no fun. Drywall is heavy, awkward and hard to get into position. To make the job somewhat easier, make a “crutch” (Photo 3). To make it a lot easier, pony up for a drywall lift.
Next, hang the top wall row. This should be pushed tight against the ceiling before fastening (Photo 7). Never break joints at the edge of a window or door. These seams will eventually crack, and the buildup of taping materials will make installing casing difficult.
After installing the top layer, lift in the bottom sheets. Foot lifts work great for prying that bottom row tight against the top row (Photo 10). That all-purpose flat bar will do the job nearly as well.
Whenever I hang drywall, I’m always surprised at just how small those doggone switchplate covers are (although larger ones are available if you need them). Take special care in planning and sawing cutouts for electrical boxes (Photos 8 and 9) because if you miss, that oversized outlet hole is a bear to fix. Fixing a poorly cut or overcut hole is tricky, and the repair will never look quite right.
Spiral Cutout Saw
Although we don’t show one in use here, pros now use spiral saws to cut openings for outlets, lights and even doors and windows. The basic idea is easy: Just mark the approximate center of the outlet or light, hang the sheet of drywall, and then poke the thin spiral bit through the center mark and follow the edge of the fixture all the way around. For door and window openings, hang the sheet across the opening and then follow the framing with the spiral bit—no measuring required, and you get a perfect cut every time. Of course it takes a little practice to get the hang of the tool, it kicks up a lot of dust, and the basic tool costs $70 to $100, but if you’re doing more than one room it may be worth the investment. For more information, see How to Use a Spiral Saw on Drywall
Photo 10: Lever drywall into place
Hoist bottom row with a foot lift or flat bar and tack into place. If an opening needs small adjustments, shave the edges with your utility knife.
Foot lift alternative
If you don’t have a foot lift handy, just use a flat bar. You may need to use a piece of wood under the flat bar for more leverage.
Photo 11: Finish fastening with screws
Screw ceiling and walls with a screw gun. Set screws and nails slightly below the surface of the paper, being careful not to break through into the gypsum core. To hide the fasteners, position them close to openings around windows and doors so trim will cover them.
Selecting fasteners is simple. Use 1-1/4 in. fasteners for 1/2-in. rock and 1-5/8 in. fasteners for 5/8-in. rock. Longer is not better. This might be hard to believe, but longer screws and nails are more prone to nail pops. Use as few nails as possible and only to tack up the sheets until you can get the screws in.
Use five fasteners per framing member, one in each tapered edge and three more spaced evenly every 12 in. (Photo 11). Slightly angle screws on the ends of sheets, where there is only 3/4 in. of wood left to catch screws. If you run them in too close to the end, the drywall core will break and they won’t hold well.
Using the framing guidelines you’ve drawn (Photo 3), prestart a few tack nails in the sheet before raising it into position. In other words, start a few nails into the rock about 1/4 in. deep or so. They’ll stick there, ready to be driven home when the sheet’s in place. You’ll then be able to dedicate one hand to hammering and the other to supporting the sheet.
Any room that is subject to high humidity deserves galvanized fasteners. Conventional drywall screws in these areas may eventually corrode and bleed through the finish.
After installing all the drywall, drag a putty knife over every single fastener. If you hear a click (Photo 12), you’ve found a rogue fastener that needs to be set. Do NOT use your hammer to set a proud (protruding) screwhead! Blasting it in with a hammer may break the screw, creating a bigger hole to patch, and will cause a nail pop down the road. Just screw it in a tad more with a screwdriver or, better yet, a cordless drill. Also, be sure to remove any fasteners that missed the framing member.
Drive screws correctly! The paper on the outside of the drywall is what holds the sheet tight to the wall. An overset screw has little holding power and may pop in the future. If you do overdrive a screw, first install a properly set screw about an inch away from it and then remove the improperly set screw.
Finish setting underdriven screws with a screwdriver or cordless drill. If setting a fastener results in broken paper, replace the fastener with a properly driven one.
Final don’ts and do’s
Photo 12: Check for protruding screws
Check screwheads and nails for proper depth by dragging a putty knife over each head and listening for clicks.
- Don’t try to save a couple of bucks by using scraps of drywall when you should be using a full sheet. The time and effort spent taping extra joints is rarely worth the money saved.
- Always join tapered edges to tapered edges.
- Stagger seams with each row of rock.
- Think ahead to make taping as easy as possible. Remove broken corners and loose chunks of rock, and cut out any blisters. These will all be filled in later with a fast-setting joint compound.
- Never use tapered edges for outside corners where corner bead goes. The thinner edge of the drywall makes it hard to properly fill the beaded edge with taping compound.
- As your last task, run a putty knife over all screwheads (Photo 12) and set all fasteners below the surface. Since you put them in, it’s your job (not the taper’s) to make sure they’re properly set. Tapers get very upset when they have to spend half of their first day on the job repairing improperly set fasteners. And the taper might be you.
Required Tools for this Project
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
- 4-in-1 screwdriver
- Chalk line
- Cordless drill
- Drywall saw
- Pry bar
- Safety glasses
- Screw gun
- Tape measure
- Taping knife
- Utility knife
You’ll also need a Surform tool, a drywall hammer, a foot lift and a drywall lift.
Required Materials for this Project
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.
- 1 1/4-in drywall screws
- 1 5/8-in. drywall screws
- 2 x 2 (for optional crutch)
- Drywall nails