Tips on Hanging Drywall from a Pro

Hanging drywall or sheetrock doesn't take a whole lot of skill, although it takes a fair bit of strength and a helper if you are doing ceilings. All you need are some basic drywall hanging tools and the ability to measure and cut fairly straight lines.

Drywall Tools

  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • T-square or straight edge
  • Utility knife and extra blades
  • Drywall nails or screws
  • Drywall hammer or screw gun and drywall screw bit
  • Keyhole or saber saw
  • Safety glasses
  • Tin snips

Basic Rules for Installing Drywall
Drywall is very easy to cut with a T-square and a utility knife. Simply mark the area you want to cut, set your T-square in place and run the utility knife alongside it to cut through the paper surface. Always cut through the surface that will face the room; this ensures that you've got clean lines on the treated paper that will hold plaster or paint.

Once you've cut partway through the gypsum center, you can bend the piece of drywall to crack it through. Now you can simply run your utility knife down the crease in the paper backing. Always cut with a sharp blade, moving the knife away from your body. You may want to use a drywall plane to smooth out the edge.

To cut holes in the center of a drywall sheet, for an electrical outlet, for example, you first need to measure the location of the hole and transfer those measurements to the drywall. Using a drill and a wide bit, make pilot holes at each of the four corners. Now you can use a keyhole saw or saber saw to cut out the hole. A keyhole saw is recommended, as it can be difficult to control the path of a saber saw in soft material.

When you're hanging drywall, use a drywall gun or a specially designed drywall bit. This bit has a sheath around the screwdriver tip that disengages the tip when the sheath meets the surface of the drywall. You want to avoid driving the screws in too deep, as this can crack the drywall beneath the paper surface, leading to future cracks, or create a weak hold that allows the drywall to fall off.

Drywalling the Ceiling
Unless you have a big strong helper, you may need to rent a drywall lift to hold the sheet of drywall up to the ceiling while you attach it. Many people find it easier to use drywall nails, but screws are less likely to pop later on. There may even be local building codes mandating which fastener to use; check first.

Mark each ceiling joist with pencil or masking tape hanging down so you remember where they are as you nail your drywall. Using either your helper or the drywall lift, position your first sheet and make sure each edge is on the center of a joist. This may mean you have to cut some narrow pieces later to fill in short spaces. If you run into a situation where there is not enough room to nail both edges of the drywalll to the joist, nail up an extra piece of two by four along the side of the joist so you have something to fasten the edge of the drywall.

When fastening, set the nails or screws about 7" apart and stagger them along the seams. For both ceilings and walls, avoid butting four corners together; offset them so you don't have a continuous seam running the entire length of the room, which is more likely to crack.

Wearing safety glasses especially when working on the ceiling is a good idea. The risk of falling debris  is considerable, and the gypsum material can stick stubbornly to your eye.

Installing Drywall on the Walls
If you did the ceiling, the walls will be a piece of cake. Use whole sheets wherever possible, but plan your strategy so that seams get nailed to the framing at every edge. Start at the top. For a regular sized room, hang the drywall horizontally and set your fasteners 8" apart. If the room is vaulted, hanging the sheets vertically will give you fewer joints to float later.

Notice that the factory edges of the drywall are slightly beveled. Whenever possible, put beveled edge to beveled edge and do the same thing with edges you cut. This will give you more level joints to apply tape and joint compound to later.

Avoid lining up seams directly above the corners of door frames. This area gets a lot of stress from the door being opened and closed and may crack. Work it so trimmed edges of the drywall will be along the floor, since this will probably be covered with baseboard later. If you are fastening any smaller filler pieces, make sure that every edge is nailed or screwed along the framing.

When you are all done, run a broad drywall knife along each row of fasteners checking for any that have not been "dimpled." Set any that are flush with or above the surface

Finishing the Job
Corner bead needs to be installed along every outside corner of the room. The most common is metal corner bead, although plastic is available too. Trim it to size and nail about every 9" through the holes in the bead.
To get a smooth surface for finishing, you'll need to cover the screws and seams between pieces with joint compound. Seams also need joint tape, which is available with or without an adhesive backing. Adhesive tape can be filled with joint compound immediately. For nonadhesive tape, fill the seam with joint compound, press the tape into place, then scrape off the excess with a large putty knife. Allow this to dry for 24 hours, then add a second thin coat over the top, feathering (or smoothing) the edges to the surface of the drywall.

Thin coats of joint compound should also be used to seal every screw head and the edges of your corner bead. Once the joint compound dries, use a high-grit finishing sandpaper to smooth out any rough edges. This can be a dusty job, so it's a good idea to wear a face mask that can filter small particles.

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