Preparing for the Job
Always take the time to prepare properly for the job at hand. You may think it will only take a few minutes and doesn’t involve much, but drywall is messy, and repairing it is messier yet. Taking the time now will save you much more time later.
Clear the room, if the repair is extensive, or the immediate area for smaller repairs. Remove wall hangings, nearby curtains, furnishings and other impediments. Turn off any ceiling fans or heating and cooling vents – fresh air is good, so an open window is fine, but blowing air will encourage any drywall dust to spread.
A length of plastic sheeting, or even an old sheet, protects your floors from damage or spills. Anchor the sheeting with your tools and supplies. Gathering them now prevents you from tracking a mess in and out of the room later.
Cleaning the repair area – if not the entire wall – is always a good idea. Use either a weak solution of trisodium phosphate and hot water (about 3 teaspoons of TSP per gallon of water) or sand the area thoroughly. Either method removes grease, nicotine, dirt and other contaminants as well as slightly etching the paint to help the repair compounds to stick.
Drywall Repair Tools and Materials
You’re not likely to need every drywall tool and material listed, but some of the most common tools and supplies include the following:
- Carpenter’s square – creates straight edges while cutting drywall or wood.
- Tape measure – a DIY essential. Use a metal tape instead of cloth.
- Plastic sheeting or other drop cloth, to protect floors and furnishings.
- Painter’s or masking tape to cover nearby electrical outlets and HVAC registers.
- Joint and putty knives of various sizes. Larger areas require bigger knives.
- Utility knife to slice through drywall readily, especially when cutting patches.
- Drywall saw to cut out drywall during removal.
- Drywall that is as thick as the drywall on the wall or ceiling, for use as a patch.
- Drywall tape – either self-adhesive or regular drywall tape.
- Drywall screws to attach a drywall patch.
- Drill to drive the screws.
- Peel-and-stick drywall patch material or wire screen product for drywall.
- Wood for blocking, as needed, underneath large patch edges.
- Sandpaper, from coarse to very fine grit.
- Sanding block – a flat block will help you ensure the repair is level.
- Dust masks to protect from breathing drywall dust.
- Drywall “mud” or other compound for use as a filler and seam finisher in all repairs.
Types of Drywall Mud and Compounds
No matter which repair you attempt, you’re going to need either drywall mud or spackling compound. Topping the drywall and its seams like frosting on a cake, these repair compounds make it possible to hide any joint or blemish for a smooth, flawless finish. During installation, it’s this finish work that determines how the entire drywall job looks.
Not all drywall repair compounds are the same, however. First, the term “mud” refers to joint compounds, of which there are three types. Spackling is something just a little different, although many people are not aware of the distinction and may try to use them interchangeably. For the best repair you can perform, choose the formula fitted to your needs and the job at hand.
- All-purpose joint compound comes ready-mixed in large boxes or pails. A heavier product than the other joint compound formulas, it’s best for drywall joints or adding texture. Its main weakness is it tends to shrink and crack due to the formula weight.
- Quick-set joint compound does what its name implies – it dries very rapidly. Available in large bags, the powder must be mixed to use. Known as a “hot” mud due to the speed at which it dries or hardens – a time listed boldly on the product – it’s typically difficult for beginners to use and best left to professionals.
- Lightweight joint compound comes ready-mixed and is the easiest mud formula to work with. It sands easily, shrinks less than all-purpose mud and spreads fairly well. Many drywall professionals use this mud exclusively for all their drywall needs. Before using any premixed mud, attach a paddle attachment to a drill or brace your muscles to mix it by hand to ensure a smooth mud that feels much like a thick pancake batter.
- Spackle is more expensive than most muds, but comes in a much smaller container than mud. Technically, “spackle” is a registered trademark, but other companies manufacture “spackling compounds.” Although often used interchangeably with mud, spackle is made of different things and has distinct advantages. Not only does it dry quickly, in spite of its paste-like consistency, but once it’s dry you can immediately paint it, without a primer. It also works better in moist environments like the bathroom since it doesn’t react to moisture. It does have its limits, and shouldn’t be used for joints or wherever you use tape or mesh.
DIY Drywall Repair Techniques
Small holes: For the smallest of holes, such as a nail or screw hole where a picture was hanging, the repair literally takes less than a few minutes. Normally, any time you drive something through drywall, it exerts enough compression force on drywall surrounding the little hole to create a slight mound, like a miniature volcano. Tapping the hole very lightly with a countersink tool and hammer will generally flatten it. A slight scrape across the surface removes any crumbling and any loose paint. Work carefully to avoid a larger repair!
To fill the hole, a dab of either lightweight joint compound or spackle works best. In all drywall finishing, hold the putty or drywall knife at a 30 to 45 degree angle to the surface for best results. Press some compound into the hole, then scrape across the surface to level the hole. A quick swipe with a damp cloth or sponge, in a circular motion around the hole, will remove excess compound and possibly eliminate sanding. Dry and assess before deciding.
Dents and depressions: As long as the drywall isn’t completely broken or missing, filling a dent or depression of any size is basically the same process. Simply spread a “skim coat” – a very thin layer – of mud or spackle across the area. After it dries, it will probably require at least one more layer. The deeper it is, of course, the more filling it requires. In most cases, as you near the surface depth, try spreading the compound further out from the depression with each layer. Called “feathering,” this allows you to gradually transition to the surrounding surface with less of a visible line.
Cracks: Most cracks aren’t difficult to fix, although they may reappear eventually. Either apply a skim coat of spackling compound or mud across a hairline crack, after preparing the area, or dig out a deeper or wider crack. Take the tip of a flat-head screwdriver, putty knife or even a utility knife and chip away at the edges slightly to create a V-shaped groove. Then, use a toothbrush or similar tool to brush the loose, crumbling drywall away. This helps the patch to hold better.
Patching it requires layers of spackle or mud. Sand between each coat and feather each layer. As you spread the compound and feather it, make V-like strokes with your applicator so you are sweeping the compound from one side of the repair, across the crack, to be feathered on the opposite side. Once the dried repair blends with the surrounding drywall, the repair is finished.
Slightly larger holes (fist-sized or smaller): With holes up to about 5 inches in diameter, you have several repair options. After flattening any bulge around the hole, then cleaning the edges to remove loose pieces of drywall and paint, you can apply either a peel-and-stick wire patch, a piece of fine wire mesh, or even two strips of mesh drywall tape, crossed across the hole. In any case, the patch material should be at least two inches larger than the hole.
Large holes: If the damage is extensive, you may simply want to cut it out of your wall and place a new piece of drywall in its place. Again, you have more than one option. You can use a straightedge to create level, horizontal cut lines and end over the middle of a stud (ending in the center of a stud provides a place to anchor both sheets of drywall and provides support to the drywall ends). Cutting back enough to span three studs is actually even better. Alternatively, create false wood framing to attach a new piece of drywall.
Seams: And then there are seams – the most difficult part of finishing or repairing drywall. Every seam must be finished – and finished well – to ensure a beautiful wall. Much of seam finishing requires simply patience, determination and perhaps a little practice. The general process requires spreading a thin layer of mud across the joint (unless self-adhering tape is used) before taping the joint. Keep one end of the tape in place as you slowly spread the tape along the joint length, running a knife across the surface to force out excess air. Never allow a wrinkle, bulge or blemish to remain – it won’t ever turn out well. As with other repairs, apply skim coats, feathering each and drying thoroughly between, until the seam vanishes.
If you have bubbled, botched seams from someone else’s work, you may be able to fix them as well. Try making a slice over the bubbled area and pulling the edges back. Spread a dab of mud over the back of the tape and stick it back in place. If this fails to fix the job, at least you can strip the tape off and refinish the seam like a pro with your newfound knowledge!