Ok so you want to know how to finish drywall. Anyone can do it if you just take it one step at a time and have patients. Then with practice and experience you will become very good at it, but you will not be an expert, that is something that could take months to years to become, if you did it every day, and you will not be able to learn that from reading about it. Actually there are not very many different steps to doing a good job. Very simply put, you add tape to the seams then you add joint compound over the tape and corner beads to make the walls look flat. But flat they are not and never will be flat. So lets just keep it simple. Let us start with the basic terminology, the more you know about the materials you will be using, the better you will understand the whole process.
1. Drywall: also known as wall board, sheets of drywall, sheetrock or just plain “boards.” It comes in various sizes, thicknesses, and applications. The most common size for houses is ½” x 4′ x 12′ another size that is popular with homeowners is the ½” x 4′ x 8′. This size is not quiet as heavy and is just plain easier to use for people that don’t do it every day. The applications it is used for include: exterior, fire rated, green board or wet board and then just the regular which will be used more than any of the others. Their names pretty well describe where they are used. And of course there are other types for specialty uses, for example around an x-ray room, lead board would be used.
2. A seam: also known as a flat or a joint. This is where tape is applied, to make the seam strong and to help keep them from cracking. The most common drywall has a beveled edge on both sides, and then the ends are cut with a very sharp straight edge. The beveled edges of two boards are joined together, creating a seam. This bevel allows joint compound the be added over the tape in an effort to make the wall seem flat. Seams on the walls of a house are usually horizontal and a lot of times on commercial jobs they are vertical, or the drywall is stood up on edge. Where two boards butt up to one another (if you have a wall longer than 12′ or the size of drywall you are using) is call a “Butt Joint.” And lets not forget the angles or inside corners. They have to be taped and finished just like the rest of the joints, but here you will be better off using the paper tape, instead of the mesh.
3. Tape: joint tape, (both paper and mesh tapes), reinforcing tape.
It is added to joints and inside corners to strengthen them and help keep them from cracking. Notice I said “help keep” them from cracking. One unfortunate thing about drywall is that joints are subject to cracking, with time and movement, and if the seams are not nailed/screwed properly, which is a common mistake, it is even more often there will be cracks. You cannot stop a house from moving/settling. Changes in temperature from night and day can really effect how a house moves.
One way to help keep this from happening is to use the mesh tape on all the flats. By using it you have a stronger bond between the two sheets of drywall and there is less (almost impossible) chance of blisters and the tape not being properly wiped down when taping. It is a lot more expensive though, but well worth the extra $ or a novice finisher.
4. Joint compound: mudd, ready mix, or spackle. Used on all seams, butt joints, nails/screws, and corner beads, to fill-in and make walls seem to be flat. Here again there are many different kinds of mudd and some of them are specialty types, like setfast/quick set/setting compound. These are all used when you need to have something finished in a hurry or it needs to be a lot stronger than regular mudd: example would be if you have very large spaces in between the boards. They come with different setting times, from just a few minutes to as much as a couple of hours.
5. Corner bead: sometimes referred to as metal. And here again there are different sizes, types, and uses of corner bead; there is even a plastic type and some of this is used especially for arches. Metal tape would fall in this category, it is used for odd angled corners. All of these are used on outside corners, to give the corners a sharp, neat appearance and there again to make the wall look flat.
6. Sandpaper: mesh and paper types and different coarsenesses. 8o,100,120 grits are the most common grits used, with the 100 grit being the most popular of these three. And depending on what you are trying to accomplish, would tell you what grit to use. Most people hate sanding, so try to get all your mudd as smooth as you can when applying it. Sometimes you might even need to sand between coats. You will also need a sanding pole or a hand sander for ease of use. Get the size sandpaper that fits and is especially made for the sanding pole.
7. Pan or hawk: these are used to hold a large amount of mudd to be applied to the joints or corner beads. A pan is preferred by most finishers, but I always used a hawk, which is much more difficult to learn to use, so stick with the pan. And depending on how much finishing you plan to do over your life time would let you know which type of pan to use. They come in plastic all the way to stainless steel and is welded.
8. Paddle/ mixer: used to stir the mudd to mix everything to a consistent thickness and a ½” heavy duty low RPM drill: used to turn the paddle or mixer. These drills can be very expensive, but if you shop around you can find them for around $40.00, at discount tool stores. They are well worth the money when mixing the joint compound, since they will help you have a smoother (less lumps), more consistent compound. And when you get to the final coats, this is where it really pays off (less sanding time required). Love those four words.
Ok now on to the hand tools that actually help you spread the mudd and give a smooth almost flat looking surface. Most of these hand tools you will need are called knives. Knives have a handle, a very sharp blade, and with the 6″ knife it has a metal head for pounding in nails. The 6 “taping knife is the most commonly used, and has a variety of uses. Dipping the mudd out of the bucket, spreading the mudd for the tape to be applied then cutting the tape as needed, in some cases wiping down the tape to remove the excess mudd, especially used in your inside corners and of courses used where you cant get a larger knife. It is also used largely for spotting the nails or screws, and if there is a nail sticking out of the wall (very common), the 6” knife has a metal head on the end of the handle that can be used for pounding the nail into the wall (be sure to get this type when buying your tools). And at this point I wish to give you a very important tip: keep the “back edge” of your knives clean!!!!! If you watch a finisher using the knives you will see and hear him taking his knife back to the pan very frequently, this is not just to get more mudd, but to clean off the knife and especially the “BACK EDGE” of the knife. “Keep it clean.”
The 8″ knife has two main purposes. Since you used a 6″ knife to spread the mudd for the taping process, it makes sense to use one a little larger to remove the excess mudd from behind the tape (wiping the tape down), this saves a lot of time. The other main use is to spread and wipe down the first coat of mudd on the corner beads (sometimes referred to as “running the bead” and also “bed coat” or “first coat”). When using this knife and the other large knives I haven’t discussed yet, it is best to have two finger on the back of the knife for control. With the 6″ knife it is most common to have just one finger on the back of that knife. I think as you use the knives you will understand why we do it this way.
The 10″ knife is the next size, but is not used as often as it use to be; a lot of finishers have started using the 12″ knife in it’s place. It has one primary purpose and that is to spread the mudd over the tape (bed coat or second coat) and sometimes it is used for another coat over the corner bead. It is not a real good idea to try to run butt joints with this knife as most times the butt joints need to be spread out to help the wall appear to be flat. There is a lot of optical illusion in drywall finishing.
Now we get to the big boy, the 12″ knife, although there are larger knives made, the 12 does, I feel, a better job because of control, than the larger ones. The 12 is going to make or break a good job. The way it is held, the amount of pressure put on it, the angel at which it is held to the wall are all variables in the outcome of the finish coat (skim coat). It is used to apply mudd over the tape as well as over the second coat of mudd and also to bust out the butt joints to help them look flatter than they really are.
You will most likely need a way to reach the ceilings. Stilts are what most professionals use for ceilings up to about 10′ high, but is a waste of money unless you are going to become a pro. Scaffolding or even benches are probably your best bet. They are a lot safer than trying to use a ladder and will save a lot of time. And you can go very high with the scaffolding, I have been as high as 60 ‘ and that is way too high. Churches, whew!!
This is part one of how to finish drywall. Next time I will get into actually using the tools.