There are a lot -- and we mean a lot -- of drywall repair tutorials available on the Internet, and we know you’ll find your favorites.
Here, we’ll offer you what most of them won’t: a whole lot of time and frustration-saving tips that’ll get you through your first project(s) with...minimal salty language.
Note: Some of the tips below will make a lot more sense once you’ve watched a few tutorials and get up to your elbows in a project, so be sure to bookmark this page for reference!
The Things: What, Why, How, How Not
Let’s start with those drywall repair tutorials
Just so you don’t miss it, let’s be clear: we strongly recommend consuming several tutorials in both written and video format, instead of watching just one and then running at your wall armed with nothing but a putty knife and a crazed look in your eye.
Some tutorials are better--especially for your specific project type--than others. The more you watch, the more you can tease out the good stuff they have in common, and the more you’ll remember.
For the record, you’ll see that most of the video tutorials out there are 2/10 on production quality and entertainment value, but if they know what they’re doing… well, keep your eyes on the prize.
Putty knives are a great tool to have around for their sheer versatility, but they’re extra handy for drywall projects. They’re the key to smoothing over all that picture hanging gone awry, or the small dings walls just collect over time.
What to know:
To get the spackle right where you want it and avoid scraping your walls, look for a flexible metal knife with a thin edge and the narrowest width that’ll get the job done. We prefer metal because plastic putty knives are thicker, inflexible, and the edges get chewed up fast.
Drywall Taping Knife
A taping knife may feel like overkill for your job, but for holes larger than a couple of inches, it’s time to trade in your putty knife for one of these bad boys. A decent taping knife will be even more flexible than most putty knives, which makes it much easier to spread a smooth, even layer of compound.
When the project involves added material like fiberglass patches (see below), your repair will extend at least an inch or two beyond the boundaries of the original damage. When you make that final pass, you’ll quickly see why you wanted a 10” knife for a 6” hole.
Drywall Joint Compound
This is the stuff you’ll need to repair holes over half an inch in diameter; spackle will do the trick for anything smaller than that.
Spackle is better suited for smaller repairs because it dries much more quickly than joint compound, and doesn’t shrink the way compound does. The trouble with spackle is that it won’t adhere to your wall as well, and if you fill a gaping wall wound with it, that little spackle puck might eventually separate from your wall. (Sad face.) Also, compound is the stuff already covering your walls, so it’s the perfect material for an invisible repair.
What to know:
An open bucket of premixed joining compound (“mud”) will look like fun to you...and your four-leggers and young two-leggers. If you have pets and/or children, keep the lid on this stuff when you aren’t actively using it.
Joint compound comes in several types; for repairs, lightweight or all-purpose will work. You’ll also find one called “low dust” and though some prefer it, we aren’t fans. It comes through in the dust department, sure, but because it’s made of larger particles, it’s much more difficult to sand to a nice, smooth finish.
For damage caused by hard impact such as wayward blows from a hammer, a head, or a doorknob, expect more than meets the eye. Often, the drywall around the edges of these craters will be cracked from behind. So, rather than just cleaning up what you can see, you’ll need to cut around* the damaged area/hole by 2 or 3 inches on all sides (depending on the magnitude of impact) to get rid of any cracked drywall you can’t see.
*With a utility knife.
Thick isn’t better, and falling prey to the urge to sand prematurely will end badly. Laying mud on too thick will not only increase drying time, but if the repair is big enough, you’ll spend a lot more time sanding later on and you’ll multiply the mess.
If you sand too early because the top feels dry, you’ll pull up damp clumps and destroy your pristine patch. Generally speaking, if the patch surface feels cold, it’s still damp underneath; unfortunately, the opposite is not necessarily true. Apply in a thin coat to cover, summon your inner Thich Nhat Hanh, and wait it out. Then apply another thin layer and repeat.
For small repairs using spackle you’ll do little, if any, sanding, but the same advice applies: fill the hole (in this case, you can wipe away the excess with a damp rag) and wait for the spackle to dry before adding another layer.
To prevent your drywall compound from drying out between applications, scrape mud down off the insides of the bucket (use something without sharp edges unless you’d like to bedazzle your wall patch with chunks of plastic) and pour a bit of water on top.
Premixed drywall compound has a shelf life; if it doesn’t dry out first, after several months or more depending on conditions, it will mold. (Ew.) The dry bagged type can mold as well, so be sure to store it where moisture can’t get to it.
Fiberglass Drywall Joint Mesh Tape
When dealing with a bigger hole, you’ll need some structure to support the joint compound. While it isn’t your only option, fiberglass tape is perfect for holes around ½ to 1 ½ inches in size. The tape should be wide enough to cover the hole and extend at least a half inch on all sides.
For larger repairs up to about 6”-8”, self-adhesive aluminum and steel mesh patches are available. Same principle, stronger material.
If you’ve read our blog recently, you knew this was coming. A dust mask and eye protection aren’t the fun stuff, but the fact is Mom was right: an ounce of prevention trumps a pound of microscopic dust in your trachea any day. (OK, maybe that was just our mom.)
Drywall sanding produces dust that will coat your respiratory passages, your eyeballs, and your neighbor’s eyeballs. And this stuff WILL sneak up on you, so none of that squint-and-hold-your-breath business. (Yeah, we see you.)
A Bright Light Source
You don’t know what you don’t know, and what you don’t know is if your 6” hole repair is as great as you think -- until you shine some light on it from the side. You can do this with a bright flashlight, but it’s much easier to use a work light you can position nearby for constant illumination while sanding.
Note: Doing this check will reveal every. little. thing. Try not to get too obsessive. You’ll apply texture over the patch later, which will hide the smallest imperfections. Just focus on that fade and make sure there aren’t any bumps, slopes, or grooves you can’t live with.
For patch jobs larger than 6 inches, you’ll want a piece of scrap drywall or small drywall panel made just for repairs. If you don’t have access to either, or your repair requires something bigger, you can pick up a regular (8’) sheet. That is not an easy or particularly fun task, as Cindy, a Sparetoolz user, can attest:
“My adorable mini SUV can’t pack an 8’ sheet of drywall. On a recent trip to our local home improvement store, which shall remain nameless (initials HD…cough), our (my and my husband’s) dreams of excellent customer service were quickly thwarted when we asked if they’d cut a piece of drywall down to mini SUV-size. Undeterred, the hubs whipped out a utility knife and DIY’d it--under the long, disapproving side-eye from Man in Orange Vest. I’m not recommending this… I’m just saying.
(We did what we had to, Mr. Grumpypants. And, in our defense, we did ask.)”
Avoiding a Cleanup Nightmare
The less dust you’ve created and the better you’ve managed its spread, the easier cleanup will be. With repairs that require drywall compound and lots of sanding, prep is everything.
BEFORE + DURING
Turn off all circulating air in your house when doing any but the smallest repairs, to avoid dust finding its way to your ducts and beyond.
When doing more than a quick patch, cover anything you want to keep clean, especially dust magnets like blinds and light fixtures. Protect floors with strong cardboard or a canvas tarp.
Occasionally give the surface a quick wipe with a slightly damp cloth while sanding, to find any imperfections hiding in the dust.
When finished, wipe away any remaining dust with a damp cloth to prepare for texture, priming, and painting! (We’re so proud already.)
If vacuuming the floor and other surfaces, unless you just want to play Fun With Microscopic Gypsum Dust Plumes, use a vacuum cleaner with a good HEPA filter. If you own a shop vac, pick up a filter bag rated to stop these small particles.
Stuff walls are made of -- in your plumbing. (Enough said.) Although not officially considered hazardous, these materials can contain chemicals best left out of our waterways and drinking water. While it’ll be tough to avoid washing any down the drain, do your best to avoid it.
Wash your tools in a bucket of water, filter the water through something (a piece of screen will do) to catch solids, scoop and wipe out any remaining glop from the bucket, and set it aside somewhere safe to dry--then toss the dry mud in the trash.
If you need to dispose of a lot of compound, best check with your garbage company for local guidelines.
Tool Shortage Got You Down?
Depending on the size of your repair, you may need the tools mentioned here and more. Butter knives still pinch-hitting for a screwdriver at your place? Sparetoolz has you covered! Sign up, find a neighbor with the tools you need, and rent them for a small fee. Your walls will approve.