How To Finish Drywall? (A Step By Step Guide)

The method of smoothening the joints between the installed drywall panels and making them ready for painting or a textured finish is referred to as drywall finishing. This simple process involves applying fiberglass or paper tape over the joints, embedding joint compounds to cover the taped seams and fill the nail or screw holes, and finally sanding the drywall compound down to get a fresh surface. In the building trade, this procedure is known as tapping and mudding.

If you can do the drywall finishing job correctly, the wall’s surface will be smooth, and the joints will be invisible to bare eyes. Otherwise, an unpleasant finish of the wall can make you frustrated. However, achieving a sound output in drywall finishing requires a high level of patience. By performing the job carefully, you can achieve a smooth drywall finish, whether you are a novice.

What is drywall?

Drywall is also known as wallboard, sheetrock, buster board, custard board, plasterboard, or gypsum board. It is a panel used in the interior wall and ceiling construction and made of gypsum (calcium sulfate dihydrate) with additives, sometimes without additives.

The gypsum core is wrapped in several layers of recycled paper. However, both finished and unfinished gypsum drywalls are available in the market. So, if you do not want to do any additional treatment to enhance your interior wall surface’s beauty, you can go for finished drywalls with permanent textures and colors.

Drywall construction has become prevalent in the mid 20th century in North America as toil and time-saving alternative to the conventional lath and plaster method.

There are different types of drywall for specific uses.

Regular drywall: It is the kind that we have discussed so far. Regular drywall comes in different thicknesses and sizes. To prepare it, gypsum is crushed and mined to make a slurry. Then cellulose paper is used to cover the front and backside.

Mold-resistant drywall: Manufacturers use fiberglass to cover this type of drywall instead of paper to make it resistant to mold and mildew. It is becoming more popular, especially among builders, than standard drywall. Due to fiberglass, more precautions needed while installing this kind of drywall.

Moisture-resistant drywall: This type of drywall has a green coating to make it water-resistant, not waterproof. Installing this drywall in kitchen areas, laundry rooms, and bathrooms is a wise idea. However, it is more expensive than regular and mold-resistant drywall, but the price worth it.

Fire-resistant drywall: For different types of construction where you need fire-resistant panels, drywall manufacturers use non-combustible fibers with the gypsum base. This type of drywall needs to pass tests to get a Type X rating.

Types of drywall tape and mud

There are two types of drywall tapes; one is paper tape, and another is fiberglass mesh tape. As a rule of thumb, use paper tape on the inside corner. But for flat surfaces, both will work.

Joint compound is available in the market in powdered and premixed forms.

Powdered mud shrinks less than premixed mud when it dries, and the drying time of powered mud is also lower. We recommend powdered joints for experienced users. You can use it if you have a tight timeline to fill large gaps or mend crumbled corners before starting the finishing process.

For DIYers, the best choice is the premixed all-purpose compounds. There are three types of premixed mud in the market.

Taping compound: You have to use it for the first coat to apply the tape on the seams and corners. You can apply it for the second coat also. To fill the significant gaps, you have to use the taping compound.

All-purpose compound: It is a general-purpose compound that can serve all purposes. For DIYers or newbies, this is perfect.

Topping compound: As the name implies, you can use it for the final coat on the drywall joints or a skim coat on the seams and fastener holes. But its adhesion power is not as high as taping compound. It becomes bright white when it dries, making it ideal if you plan to paint the walls with light color.

Lightweight compound: It also becomes bright white color when it dries. You can give the first coat with all-purpose mud and the second and third coat with this. As it is lightweight, it dries a little quicker than all-purpose. Some pros do not recommend this type, believing that it has less adhesion than the other types.

Tools needed to finish drywall

• Screw gun or hammer
• Sanding block
• Sanding pole
• Taping knives (6″, 10″, 12″)
• Utility knife
• Mud pan
• Dust mask
• Eye protection

Required materials

• Drywall taping compound
• 120 grit sandpaper
• Paper or fiberglass drywall tape

How to finish drywall? (12 easy steps)

Applying the first coat of drywall taping compound:

Step 1: Confirm that the drywall is ready to finish

  • After installing the drywall, you have to look for the screws sitting proudly on the wall. Then drive the screws in with the help of a Phillips screwdriver until those are recessed slightly. To detect the fasteners, you can drag a taping knife over the drywall surface.
  • Now tap the nails slightly below the drywall with a specially made drywall hammer. The curved hammerhead should set all the nail heads in a shoaly dimple so that the nail heads cannot break through the paper or grind the drywall core. You can do it with a regular hammer also but with proper care.
  • Using a sharp utility knife, trim away all the torn and loose paper where the stiff gypsum core is crushed. Do it carefully, as the torn or loose paper surface will cause bubbles or poke through the finished wall and spoil your entire hard work.
  • Now apply a stain-blocking primer on the torn and rough areas to corroborate loose fibers and seal in the chemicals. While using this primer, we recommend ventilating the room and wear a painter’s mask that absorbs vapor.

Step 2: Fill deep gaps at the joining of the drywall

  • Now take a setting compound that is not like a regular compound and hardens quickly and does not shrink. You can start taping just after it becomes hard. You will find this setting compound in any drywall material shops. It is available in 20, 45, or 90 minutes hardening time, but avoid the 20 min option as it will be hard in the mud pan. It is in powder form, and you need to mix water with it to use. Do not forget to buy a sandable type compound.
  • Apply this compound to areas that require deep fill.
  • Now with your taping knife, shave off the sags and lumps in the setting compound as soon as it firms up a little. Deeply filled spaces sometimes drift and swell before they become stiff. At this stage, it is not easy to sand down.
  • Fill the gaps larger than 1/8 inch around the electrical boxes. Do not forget to power off the main service panel before pulling out the electric switches to fill around the plaster ears.
  • Now clean up everything before the compound starts to be hard. Otherwise, the leftover portion will catalyze and stiffen the subsequent batch rapidly before you spread it. On warm days, mix the setting type compound with cold water as heat can also accelerate hardening the compound. And, of course, do not dump the excess mud in the sink to prevent the drain from clogging.

Step 3: Stir the mud or joint compound properly

  • You will find the drywall joint compound or mud in a large bucket in the market. Firstly, take the bucket’s lid aside, then check if there is any layer of water on the top of the compound. If you find water, stir the mud thoroughly with the drill fixed a mixing paddle. If there is no water, mixing is not mandatory.

Step 4: Apply the first coat with joint compound (Paper tape)

  • You have to embed the paper tape in a joint compound layer. So, working with paper tape takes slightly more time than with fiberglass tape. But as per many experts, paper tapes create joints that crack less and become less visible after painting.
  • Now take some compound into a mud pan and apply a thin and smooth layer over the joint with a 6-inch drywall knife.
  • Immediately press the paper tape into the compound, centering it over the joint. You have to use one hand to hold the paper tape when you pull the knife over the tape. Apply sufficient pressure so that a small amount of compound squeezes out from under the paper tape. Scrape off the excess mud into the mud box. Cover the joint continuously until you reach the wall end. Tear the tape with the drywall knife blade to get a clean edge.
  • Instantly apply another coat to cover the paper tape and fill the drywall joint.

Step 5: Apply the first coat with joint compound (Fiberglass tape)

  • Fiberglass tape has self-adhesive, and you can apply it directly to the drywall joints without applying a compound layer at first.
  • After that, as usual, apply another coat of mud to fill and cover the fiberglass tape surface. At this point, fiberglass tape remains visible.
  • Now smooth the surface as much as possible by pressing it down with the drywall knife.

Step 6: Finish inside corners

  • After applying the first coat, either with paper tape or fiberglass tape, finish the inside corners where the walls meet. For corner bead or paper tape, apply a thin mud layer, then apply a folded strip of corner bead or paper tape. Nail the corner beads every 10-inches. After that, cover these with a thin joint compound coat. You can use a specially made drywall corner knife for this purpose, but you can also do the compound application and tape covering task with a 6-inch standard wallboard knife.
  • In the case of fiberglass tape, you can fold it into a long angled strip, then press it into the corners to stick to the walls. You should do it carefully to ensure sharp corners.

Step 7: Finish outside corners and nail/screw heads

  • For outside corners, you do not need to apply drywall tape. Instead, you have to affix those with corner beads. Using a drywall knife, apply mud over every face of the corners.
  • Apply a tiny amount of compound over all taped and mudded joints and corners and over each screw or nailhead to smoothen the surface.
  • Corner beads, either metal or plastic, come in 10 feet segments, so you may require some tin snips to cut them into size. However, corner beads are good for saving outside corners against dins and other damage yearly.
  • Cut the bubbled tape out with a sharp utility knife. Then recoat that area with mud. It is wise not to hide the bubbles with heavy layers of mud as they show through most of the time.

Step 8: Allow the compounds to dry for 24 hours

  • Now allow the joint compound to dry overnight, or 24 hours if necessary. Clean all the tools and put the lid back on the compound bucket.
  • At this point, after doing above mentioned all job, you may find your drywall to look patchy. You may still find some drywall tape visible or different consistencies of mud on the surface. Do not be panic, as you are going to add at least one more coat of mud.

Step 9: Sand the first mud coat

  • Check that the joint compound is dry. If you find the compound uniformly white, that indicates the dryness. As wet areas look darker.
  • Now sand the inside corners using a corner sanding block.
  • Then sand other surfaces with the sanding pole with medium-grit sandpaper with even and gentle pressure. You can knock down the raised spaces with a wallboard knife.
  • Feel the rough areas and sand as you feel necessary. Do not sand down into the paper tape; only smoothen rough surfaces.
  • Wear a dust mask and eye protector while sanding.

Applying the second coat of drywall taping compound:

Step 10: Apply the second mud coat and sand

  • Now using the 10-inch or 12-inch drywall knife, scoop up 2-inch of the compound. After that, scrape off 2-inch at every end of the blade.
  • Apply the joint compounds to all screw heads and joints. Then instantly smooth these in separate passes. Let it dry overnight.
  • Sand with finer grit sandpaper the next day. We recommend not to sand too hard at this stage. You just need to smoothen off a bit of the coarse joint compound. The paper tape should be invisible now under the joint compound.

Applying the third coat of compound and sand:

Step 11: Apply the third compound coat

  • If you have applied and sanded the first and second coats carefully, then the third coat should be very light, just to create a more smooth surface. Now load the 12-inch drywall knife trowel with joint compounds and apply to the screw heads and joints like step 11. Some pros use even wider knives for this step. Smoothen to a delicate and feathered edge. Allow it to dry overnight.
  • Few pros add a tiny amount of water to the compound before the final coat. If you do this, do not add more water than the equivalent of one pint to a five-gallon compound bucket. And do not miss to mix the water thoroughly.

Step 12: Final sanding

  • Now sand the dried joint compound like in step 11. And do not be greedy to do over-sanding. If the drywall finish does not fulfill the smoothness requirement, apply another soft layer of the compound.
  • Now wipe all the wall or ceiling surfaces with a damp cloth to clean the dust to make them ready for priming.

So, now your drywall is prepared to accept wallpapers, paint, or texturing treatment.

How to finish drywall without sanding? (6 easy steps)

If you have installed drywall in your home, you have to fill the area between the seams. As sanding drywall is a bit messy job, you can finish drywall without sanding the surface. You can do it with a knife or rubber float and smoothen the wall like sanding though it will take a little more time. The steps of this process are as follows

Step 1:

Firstly you must prepare the drywall. Then mix and apply a small amount of mud to the seam. After that, apply paper tape to cover the seams on the drywall. We recommend starting from the top of the seam and continue until reaching the bottom of the seam. Press the tape carefully to avoid any puckering or air bubbles under the tape.

Step 2:

Prepare the joint compounds according to the direction of the manufacturers. Only prepare as much compound as you can apply within the next 20 to 25 minutes. Because once the mixture hardens, it is not possible to make it soft again. If you add extra water to make it flexible, you will impair the mixture; consequently, it will not stick to the drywall.

Step 3:

Now apply a light coat of compound over the paper tape with a drywall knife. Extend the mixture two inches beyond both sides of the paper tape. Now let the compound become hard on the wall. It may take 8 to 24 hours; it will depend on the humidity in the air.

Step 4:

Sponge a little amount of water onto the compound as it will need to be a little wet before you proceed to smoothen it.

Step 5:

Now take a 10-inch knife or a rubber float and slide its edge across the top of the mud. Make sure to hold the knife or the rubber float at a 90-degree angle. Apply pressure on the rubber float or the knife to pull it up or down in a single continuous stroke.

Step 6:

Now continue stroking the knife or the rubber float across the tape area until you reach your required smoothness level.

Drywall finishing tips

  • Keep the knives clean as clean tools help provide flawless finishing. Clean tools are necessary to ensure durability too.
  • Never mix the dried joint compound with a new compound ever, as it will result in an ugly and rough finished surface. Also, remove dried mud from the mud pan.
  • Mix the joint compound well before applying those on your wall. Even if you use ready-mix compounds, you should still do mixing. For comparatively better results, we recommend using a mixing paddle.
  • Once you start finishing your wall, you should lengthen your strokes.
  • Ensure that all the screws or nail heads are below the surface. To check their position, you can run a knife on all the screws. If the knife hits any screw head, then you have to reset that.
  • Try to use low shrinkage and fast-drying compounds.
  • Do not waste joint compound. For this, avoid taking too much compound in the drywall knife.
  • When you will start finishing the drywall, start with butt joints, then switch to tapered joints. The last areas for finishing are inside corners, then outside corners.
  • We recommend not to become tempted to do over-sanding.
  • There should be proper lighting while sanding your wall.

Frequently asked questions on drywall finishing technique

What sandpaper to use on drywall?

Generally, joint compound manufacturers mention specific sandpaper grit on the packaging. But sometimes, they say the info in an ambiguous term, like medium grit or light grit. However, you might feel tempted to purchase 80-grit sandpaper because it claims to quicken the drywall sanding job.

But the truth is that you do not need heavier grit papers to sand modern lightweight and soft compounds. Moreover, if you plan to paint the repair, there is no need to exceed 120-grit paper because painting hides most of the visual inconsistencies.

How long does it take for drywall mud to dry?

Manufacturers of drywall joint compounds prefer to provide a wide range of time for drying each coat of compound rather than providing target drying time. Few factors control the drywall finishing time: room temperature, humidity, product temperature, drywall mud application thickness, and type of drywall tape.

However, on average, it needs 24 hours to dry between every coat. Some experts can bring down the time to 12 hours by applying some techniques without affecting the final result.

How much to finish drywall?

If you do not have sufficient time to finish your drywall yourself, moreover, you want to bring a professional finish in your room; we advise hiring a team of professionals. The cost of drywall finishes depends on the number of rooms and level of finishing. However, the Drywall installation charge ranges from $1004 to $2877. So, it is usually $1 to $3 per square foot, including materials and labor. Most homeowners give $2 per square foot.

How to dry drywall mud faster?

• The initial coat takes more time to dry. You can thin out the balance coats a bit after the first coat. It will speed up the drywall process and reduce the chance of indentation or cracking.
• You can increase the room temperature by using a space heater. For small patches of the wall, use a hairdryer.
• Dehumidify the room’s air with a dehumidifier.
• Increase air circulation in the room by using a fan or opening the windows to speed up the drying time.
• Use hot mud for a time-sensitive job.

Final words

Finishing drywall seams will give a new and fresh look to your home. But for this, you must know how to finish drywall properly. Hopefully, this article will help you with all the necessary information.
If you have time, you can enjoy finishing your drywall yourself. Otherwise, you can proceed with professional workers that will cost more but will save your time.

However, we recommend using premixed joint compounds for DIYers and powdered options for experts. Again, if you want to save time, fiberglass tape is for you as it does not need the first coat of drywall mud. Finally, you can get a decent look if you complete drywall finishing steps with proper care and patience.

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