How to Install Drywall and Hang Sheetrock

Detailed Instructions for Hanging Drywall and Sheetrock Installation

By Mark J. Donovan

Over the course of owning several homes, and tackling many major renovation projects on them, I have had to install drywall on a number of occasions.

In addition, besides just installing the drywall, I have also done the associated drywall taping and mudding tasks.

The paragraphs that follow in this article provide detailed instructions on how to install drywall, as well as how to tape and mud like the pros. 

However, I must warn you in advance. Installing drywall, or as the professional drywall contractors prefer to say it, hanging drywall, is not an easy DIY project. But this said, it can be professionally done by DIY homeowners, with the right upfront knowledge, some brawn, an a little artistic patience.

Measuring for Drywall

The first step in installing drywall is to measure the area that needs to be drywalled, a.k.a. sheetrocked. So grab a tape measure, a pad of pair and a pencil and measure the surface area of all the walls and ceilings you plan to install drywall. Measure the length and height of all walls and ceiling surfaces that are to be drywalled. Then calculate the square area for each and sum them up. In the end you should have one large number that represents the entire amount of square feet area that you need to drywall.

Next, multiply this number by 10% to account for waste and inefficiencies that inevitably occurs when hanging drywall.

Then divide this area by the size of the drywall panels you plan to use. For example, if you plan to use 4’x8’ sheets of drywall, divide your area measurement (with the 10% adder) by 32 square feet.

The resulting answer will give you the number of drywall sheets you’ll need to complete the project.

Also, keep in mind that for bathrooms and finished basements you should really use greenboard, versus regular drywall.

Greenboard is moisture resistant where as regular drywall is not. As a result, when estimating your drywall material needs make sure to do separate calculations for bathrooms and finished basements.

Also, for actual wet areas where you plan to install tile, such as in shower and tub areas make sure to use cement backerboard as it is impervious to water damage. Cement backerboard typically is referred to as Durock, Wonderboard, and Hardibacker cement board.

In addition to drywall panels you will also need to order joint compound, a.k.a. mud. Joint compound comes in ready to use 5 gallon buckets. Plan on needing 1.5 five gallon buckets of joint compound for every 500 square feet of drywall panels.

You will also need drywall tape. You can buy paper or fiberglass mesh tape. Fiberglass tape works great on straight seems as it has a slightly sticky surface that makes it adhere to the drywall panels. However, for corners I would suggest using paper tape as it is has a center crease that makes it ideal for installing into corners. I would suggest picking up 2 or 3 rolls of each if you plan to do a large project, such as finishing a basement or upper level of a home.

Lastly you will need to order drywall screws or nails. My preference is drywall screws. If you elect to use drywall screws you’ll need to buy a drywall screw gun. In my opinion it is well worth the money. It will save you time and you’ll get a more professional finish. I would suggest using 1-1/2 or 1-5/8 inch drywall screws or nails.

Once you’ve determined your drywall installation material needs go down to your local home improvement center and order the material to be delivered to your home.

Required Drywall Tools

You’ll also need to purchase the right tools for hanging drywall. At a minimum you will need a T-square, a utility knife, hammer, measuring tape, drywall saw, keyhole saw, screw gun, and several taping knives.

I suggest for taping knives you buy a 6 inch wide blade and a 12 inch wide blade. A corner knife is also good to have, however the 6 inch blade knife also works well in corners. The keyhole saw is used for cutting around electrical boxes.

You will also need to get a pole sander, and drywall mesh sand paper that attaches to the pole sander. A mud easel and pan are also required.

If you are installing drywall on ceilings you may also want to invest in renting a drywall life for holding the sheetrock in place while you screw or nail it to the ceiling joists. You can typically rent them from home improvement centers.

If you are on a low budget you can also make your own Jacks (or Ts) to hold up the ceiling panels while fastening them to the ceiling joists, albeit you need one or two people to use and hold the Jacks in place when fastening the drywall. You make the Jacks out of 2”x4”s. To construct one, attach a 3 foot length of 2×4 perpendicular to the end of a longer length of 2×4. The longer length should be about 2 inches longer than the height of the ceiling. You will also want to attach a couple of 45o angle braces between the 3 foot length and the longer length.

Preparing the Area for Installing Drywall

Prior to the installation of the drywall inspect all of the framing carefully. Make sure that nailers, made from 2x4s or 2x6s are in place at each corner and header. Also make sure that the framing is straight and that all wall and ceiling surface planes are smooth.

Also, for the ceilings to be drywalled, make sure that strapping (1”x3” cross boards) has been attached perpendicular to the ceiling joists.

How To Install Corner Bead

In addition, make sure metal protection plates have been installed to studding where drywall screws or nails could accidentally penetrate electrical wires or plumbing pipes.

Before installing drywall make sure that the building inspector has approved of all the rough framing, electrical, plumbing and insulation work.

Once you have the inspector’s approval on the other work, make sure a polyethylene plastic vapor barrier has been installed over the insulated exterior walls that are to be drywalled, if the insulation installed was unfaced (meaning did not have a paper on its surface as you look at it in the room to be sheetrocked). The plastic should hang uninterrupted from the ceiling to the floor and stapled to the walls studs.

Drywall Installation Safety

The installation of drywall installation is heavy hard work. It is also a dirty job and can be dangerous to the eyes.

Drywall is manufactured with Gypsum which is an eye, lung, and sinus irritant. So make sure to wear safety goggles and a mask to avoid breathing in the material when installing it.

I also suggest wearing gloves when installing it since you will be constantly working with a utility knife.

Drywall Installation

If you have a ceiling that needs to be drywalled, start with it. The drywall panels should be installed perpendicular to the ceiling joists, or 1”x3” strapping if installed. This way the sheets on the walls will also help to hold up the edges of the drywall ceiling when the project is complete.

Use the drywall life or Jacks to hold the drywall panels in place while nailing or screwing them to the ceiling joists. The screws or nails should be installed such that they are slightly recessed and create a slight dimple in the drywall panel, without actually breaking the cover paper.

Install drywall screws or nails every 8 to 12 inches over each ceiling joist / wall stud. Since drywall screws are stronger you can place them a bit further apart, e.g. 12 inches. When fastening ceiling drywall panels to the ceiling joists it’s best to start at the outer edges of the panel and then fill in the center void afterwards.

Note that when hanging drywall on ceilings, rows of drywall should be installed in a staggered interlocking pattern. This will create a stronger drywalled ceiling.

Once the ceiling drywall is up you can then move on to the walls. When installing drywall on walls it is a top downs effort. Meaning, always start from the top of the wall and work your way downwards attaching drywall panels. In addition, the drywall panels should be installed perpendicular to the wall studs. Like the ceiling panels, the rows should be staggered in an interlocking pattern. Also, the bottom piece should be off the subfloor by about a half an inch.

To speed the drywall installation effort, it is best to apply the large drywall sheets over the doors and window openings and cut out the excess material later. Though it creates some waste, it will create stronger and cleaner looking walls. And most importantly it will save time.

You will also have to cut out for electrical outlets where required.

Installing Corner bead

Once the drywall is all installed its time to start prepping the drywall for taping and mudding. First start by installing corner bead to all outside edges. Corner bead should be nailed or screwed, using drywall screws or nails, every 6 to 8 inches and penetrate into the framing.

Taping and Mudding Drywall

Like hanging drywall start with the ceiling. Using your 6 inch taping knife apply a skim coat of joint compound over the surface of a seam. While the mud is still wet, immediately lay into it the paper drywall tape using your taping knife. If you are using mesh tape for the seams you can apply it first to the seam. Just make sure the tape is centered over the seam. If a seam is wide, apply a copious amount of joint compound to the seam to fill it prior to installing the paper tape, if you are using paper tape.

After placing the tape into the mud, apply additional mud over the tape using your 6” wide knife. Repeat this process for all seams. Bear in mind that the drywall tape will still be visible after this first coat of taping and mudding. Later mud coats will eventually hide it.

Inside corners are usually the most difficult to do and require practice. Patience is of virtue with inside corners. Do your best and remember you will be applying additional layers of joint compound that will hide imperfections.

After taping the seams use your 6” wide taping knife and apply a skim coat of joint compound to all of the screw and nail dimples.

Make sure when applying the joint compound over the tape and dimples, to wipe away any excess mud material. Also, make uneven patches are smoothed down flat with the taping knife. This will reduce the amount of sanding required later.

Once you’ve completed the ceiling repeat the same process on the walls. For the outside corners, however, just apply a liberal coat of joint compound to the valley that is created by the corner bead. This valley typically is the first several inches from the outside edge of the corner.

After completing the first coat of taping and mudding let it sit until it is completely dry. Once dry you can apply the second coat of joint compound to the seams and nail / screw dimple areas. Make sure to clean your tools thoroughly before finishing up your day.

Applying Second Coat of Joint Compound

This layer of mud will hide the tape.

Again, you will want to start with mudding the ceilings. Use your wider 12 inch taping knife for this coat. Make sure to apply a generous amount of mud over the taped seams so that you can build up the mud level over the tape itself. When applying the mud use large smooth strokes over the tape, and apply more pressure to the side of the taping knife further away from the tape. This will leave more joint compound over the tape itself and less on the fringes of the seams. When you are complete, the joint compound should cover an area that extends 2 to 3 inches beyond the width of the tape itself.

Once you’ve mudded all the seams for a second time apply another layer of mud over the nail/screw dimples. With this second coat over the dimples, flare out the joint compound over the dimples such that the diameter of the mudded dimple area is several inches in diameter.

For the inside corners you may want to now use a corner knife. Inside corners involve some artistry so plan to go slow and methodically. Also, make sure to apply a copious amount of mud into these corners. Use your corner knife and take long strokes downward to make smooth seams. Always start from the top with your strokes. Also, make long, smooth, and even strokes. You may also find your six inch taping knife helpful in doing the inside corners.

For the outside corners, again be generous on the mud and use a broad taping knife to flare out the mud such that it extends out approximately 6 inches from the outside corner. As before, apply more pressure to the taping knife blade side that is further away from the corner so that you leave more mud nearer the corner itself.

After completing the second coat of mud let it sit to it is fully dry. Again, make sure to clean all of your tools before wrapping up for the day.

Applying Final Coat of Joint Compound

Once the second coat is thoroughly dried, you can move on and apply the final coat of joint compound. It is this final coat of mud that really requires some finesse. How well you apply this final coat will dictate how much sanding you’ll need to do and how the finished walls will look. It is important to note with this round of mud application you are simply applying a final skim coat over the mudded areas.

Before applying this final skim coat of joint compound knock down any rough spots over the mudded areas with your six inch taping knife. 

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To do this, lightly rub the edge of the taping knife blade over the mudded surfaces. This action will scrape off and remove any bumps or ridges.

To apply the final coat of mud, like before, start with the ceiling seams and apply a small amount of joint compound using your 12 inch taping knife. Again, make sure to flare out the joint seam by extending the mudded area outwards such that approximately six inches of mud is applied to each side of the center line of the taped seam. Remember that a skim coat means you use very little mud when applying it to the seams. The goal of this final coat of mud is to fill in any scratches, thin lines and/or recessed areas.

Once you’ve completed the seams apply a skim coat of joint compound to the dimpled nail/screw areas. You should flare out the seam such that the finished dimpled area is about 6 to 8 inches in diameter.

In regards to the inside and outside corners, use the broad 12 inch wide taping knife and apply just enough mud such that you can flare out the mudded seam to approximately 12 inches, while taking care to fill in any lines or dimples.

Once the final coat of mudding is done let it dry fully.

Sanding Taped and Mudded Drywall

Sanding mudded drywall walls is a very dusty job so make sure to use a mask and goggles.

The pole sander will help immensely in speeding up this dusty job. Make sure to use an open screened sand paper material specifically designed for sanding drywalls.

Use the pole sander to lightly sand all of the taped seams and nail/screw dimple areas. When sanding, however, make sure to concentrate your efforts on the outer edges of the mudded seams and dimples and go very lightly directly over the taped areas and nail/screw locations. This way the taped seams and dimples are blend into the main surface areas nicely.

Once you’ve completed the sanding, wipe down the walls with a dry rag and vacuum the area thoroughly. You can then move on to priming and painting your newly installed drywall.

For information on repairing a large drywall hole, see the “How to Repair a Large Drywall Hole” Ebook from  The “How to Repair a Large Drywall Hole” Ebook provides step-by-step instructions on how to repair your damaged wall so that it looks as good as new.

How to Repair a Large Drywall Hole EBook

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