Tricks for drywall make the puzzle easier to master


When you spend a couple of weeks hanging and finishing dozens and dozens of sheets of drywall by yourself, you begin to recognize it for what it is: an art form. Tedious, but an art form. At least that's Randy's conclusion.

It seems simple: nail a few big rectangles to a lot of big sticks. But the truth is, there are a lot of ways to do it wrong. If it's installed wrong, the finishing will be wrong. And if the finishing is wrong, the wall or ceiling will never look right.

Drywall, which is also called wallboard or known by the brand name Sheetrock, comes in two sizes: 4 feet by 8 feet or 4 feet by 12 feet. The long edges have a bevel; that is, the edges taper off on the "finish" side.

The secret of installing a good-looking, easy-to-finish wall or ceiling is to put as many of the beveled edges together as you can. Putting the bevels together leaves a shallow uniform depression about 4 inches wide that can be taped, filled in (the "block" coat of spackle), and finished to about 12 inches wide to make a smooth, level surface.

It's a little like putting together a jigsaw puzzle to figure out how to use the pieces properly. People sometimes ignore the bevel rule in order to use every scrap of drywall and try to save some money. In fact, if you hang it right, it will be used efficiently and you'll probably have very few scraps. The difference when it's finished will be the look of a professional, as opposed to an amateur, job.

Here are some of the procedures for getting a properly installed and easy-to-finish drywall surface:

* Keep beveled edges together and reduce butt joints -- the unbeveled 4-foot-long side of the sheet. When there are no bevels in a joint, or only one side is beveled, you have to tape on the surface, and finishing becomes more difficult. Butt joints are harder to conceal, especially if you are not an expert finisher. If you can't visualize how to fit the "puzzle" pieces on the surface with the bevels and butts in the right places, do a diagram on graph paper. (Keep in mind that the room will never be as square as the paper, so you'll have to trim some pieces.)

* If you're drywalling an entire room, do the ceiling first, so the wall pieces will provide added support to the edges of the ceiling pieces.

* Whether you're doing a wall or a ceiling, start in the middle, not at one edge, and run sheets continuously the long way -- in other words, do one row at a time. Then go back and do the row next that one. It's unlikely that you can do the surface entirely with full sheets, and it will be easier to cut pieces to fit at the edges if you're working with smaller pieces. The sheets should run horizontally on the walls -- with the long edges parallel to the floor.

* When you are working with full sheets, you will have butt joints at the ends. Stagger the butt joints, like bricks in a wall, so there's no "seam" running all the way down a wall or across a ceiling. The shorter butt joints will be easier to conceal.

* Cut drywall by scoring it on the finish side with a utility knife and snapping the pieces apart; then cut through the paper on the back side. Since cuts made on the job are likely not to be as smooth as ones made at the factory, use the edges you cut at corners or at the floor or ceiling. The "factory" ends will fit (P together more tightly and be easier to finish. You can turn sheets around to put the bevel at the joint and the cut end at the top or bottom.

* If there's a stud that sticks out a bit too far, plan the drywall so you get bevels on both sides. Joining butt ends on that stud would make the bad joint impossible to conceal.

* Screw the drywall to the studs with drywall screws -- 1 5/8 -inch screws for 1/2 -inch-thick drywall. If you don't have one, this is the time to think about buying a screw gun. A screw gun adjusts to drive the screws to the perfect depth, just dimpling the surface. If the screws are driven too deep, they will break the surface of the drywall; if they're not driven in deeply enough, the joints will be impossible to finish, because the finishing tools will catch on the screws. A drill fitted with a screwdriver bit will not drive the screws properly. A good screw gun can be used for a lot of jobs, including building cabinets and shelving. Consider buying one that's rated for decks, with enough power to drive screws into pressure-treated wood. You should be able to find a good one for $100 or less.

* By all means rent a drywall lift to hang ceilings. This clever device looks a little like something that might have been left on the moon. It's a shaft with three wide, splayed legs at the bottom and a sort of tray on top. The tray swivels, so you can place a sheet of drywall on it virtually at the floor, then lock it in place and tilt the tray so it's parallel to the ceiling. There's a hand crank that raises the tray to the ceiling. All you have to do is go up there and screw the drywall in. The legs have wheels, so you can roll the device wherever it needs to go -- except in a hallway, of course. You will be saved a great deal of back-breaking lifting, and the job will go a lot faster.

* Work gingerly around the drywall you've installed. If it has holes or gouges, it won't be easy to finish.

Mr. Johnson is a Baltimore construction manager. Ms. Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

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