There are many reasons why contractors love drywall as a building material. It’s inexpensive, easy to use, and only requires a few hand tools to install. Since its debut in the 1940’s, it’s become the building material of choice and is a much simpler option than its predecessor's lath and plaster.
If you’re consider how to install drywall on your own, then you’ll be happy to learn that it’s a relatively simple do-it-yourself project if you follow the steps in order and avoid a few common mistakes.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through a step-by-step tutorial on how to install drywall. We’ll give you the basics about the material, a materials list, buying tips, and then guide you through the process of hanging “rock.”
When we’re done, you’ll have the knowledge to tackle your project and the confidence to know it will come out perfectly.
Drywall Basics: Sizes and Selection
The first step how to install drywall is going to be selecting the type and thickness of the material that you’ll use. Also referred to as sheetrock or rock, several options might work for your project.
Start by checking the building code at the site where you're working as they will have specifications and guidelines you need to follow. Here is a breakdown of the main options, and their most common uses.
Standard 1/4 Inch
Used to cover cracks in walls or ceilings.
Standard 1/2 Inch
Used to cover framing spans in walls or ceilings that stretch 16-inches or less.
Standard 5/8 Inch
Used to cover walls and ceilings with a span of up to 24-inches. Also referred to as Type X, this option is usually fire resistant and is often required by building codes in areas where you need a firewall. If you’re installing drywall between your attached garage and living space, for example, this will likely be the material you need to use.
Water Resistant 1/2 Inch and 5/8 Inch
In any areas that are hot, wet, or humid, like your bathroom walls, you’ll need to use a water-resistant material. However, this is not the right choice for ceilings in those areas.
It’s also worth mentioning that there are mold-resistant products available for areas of your home, like a damp basement, where you’ll need extra protection.
Other Drywall Considerations
There are additional drywall sizes available, like 3/8 and 1/4-inch options, and they can come in handy if you’re working on an older home.
Although they're not used as frequently, if you’re patching thinner rock, curved walls, or old plaster walls, you’ll need to find drywall that matches the depth of the plaster.
In general, edges around electrical outlets, doors, and windows are set up to accommodate 1/2-inch drywall, and you’ll want to keep that in mind during your installation.
Finally, experts recommend that you always use the largest length of drywall material that you can handle when you’re doing an installation. Larger sizes don’t cost more, and they leave you with fewer seams to tape and finish.
That said, one of the only drawbacks to working with sheetrock is that it’s heavy. A 4x8 sheet weights in at around 55 pounds, and if you try to work with a 12-foot piece you’ll need to move 82 pounds on the job. Be sure to purchase materials that have a weight that you and anyone helping you with the project can manage.
Tools You’ll Need
Another reason that it’s easy to learn how to install drywall is that it doesn’t require a ton of expensive equipment to get the job done.
Hanging rock that has neat seams and in a way that looks professional has more to do with your technique than it does with using costly tools.
Here’s a short list of tools you’ll need, and suggestions on a few additional items that might be helpful to get the job done.
- Drywall Nails
- Utility Knife
- Paper Drywall Tape
- 4-Foot T-Square
- Surform Tool
- Flat Bar
- Keyhole Drywall Saw
- Chalk Line
- Trim Hammer
- Safety Glasses
- Tape Measure
- Step Ladder
- Drywall Screw Gun
- Drywall Saw
- Drywall Hammer
- Foot Lift
- Drywall Lift
- Spiral Cutout Saw
Additional Material Considerations
Although the pros use heavy drywall trowels for their finishing work, novice do-it-yourselfers should instead use a lightweight, thin knife to get a smooth seam. They are both easier to work with and allow you to use the smooth pulling motion that will get the best results.
When it comes to tape, be sure that you use paper tape on your seams. It gives you a strong joint when combined with a high-quality all-purpose joint compound.
Some of the optional items, like a drywall lift, screw gun, or saw, can be rented from a local hardware store. If you don’t plan on doing dozens of projects, these materials may not be worth the cost of purchasing them. There are many things to consider in how to install drywall. However, it might make sense to rent one or all for the duration of your installation to make the job easier.
How to Install a Drywall
Once you have all of your materials and are ready to get started, follow this step-by-step guide on how to install drywall to get the job done.
Start At the Top
Start your project on the ceiling and then move to the walls for the best results.
Begin by using your 4-foot level and checking the ceiling to ensure that you don’t have any bowed joists. Anything off by 1/8-inch or less isn’t a problem, but if there are areas of the frame that are warped more than that you’ll need to install drywall shims before you move to the next step..
Shims are long strips of thick cardboard that measure either 1/8 or 1/16 of an inch thick that will smooth out irregularities in the structure.
If you’re ready to begin, grab your sheet of drywall and place it against the frame. Use the T-brace to keep it in place. Remember, work with the largest slab possible on your project to make it simple and give you the best results.
Once the sheet is in place, use your drywall hammer to place ring-shank drywall nails at every joist along the edge of the panel. Next, hammer in a nail at intervals of approximately 1/16 of an inch at the center of the panel.
Make sure you bang in each of the nails to the point that there is a slight dimpling above each of them in the drywall paper.
If you find that a sheet is too large and you need to cut it, you’ll need to grab your drywall square and utility knife to do the job.
Start by using the knife to score along the face of the panel to get it the right size. Next, snap it at the score line and then make a nick in the backing paper from the front.
Finally, score the panel all the way through the back of the sheet to complete the modification.
Once you’ve completed the ceiling, move down to the walls. As you go, apply a small dot of construction adhesive on top of each stud to ensure that nail heads won’t puncture your drywall finish.
Use the same process that you did on the ceiling by lifting and placing the sheet of drywall on the wall and then nailing it in place.
Make sure you select the right fastener to do the job. In general, 1-1/4-inch fasteners work well on 1/2 inch sheetrock, and 1-5/8-inch fasteners are best on 5/8-in drywall.
You don’t want to pick screws that are too long as they could cause nail pops in your finished project.
You’ll want to tack up each sheet with as few screws as possible and then go back to finish the job and keep it more securely in place.
Be sure when you’re placing screws near the end of the sheets that you handle them slightly so that they catch the wood. Take care not to get too close to the end or else you’ll risk the drywall core breaking and not securing a stable hold.
How to Work With Wiring and Outlets
One critical step is to ensure that any electrical cables that run through the framing in your ceiling and walls are protected so that you don’t end up with a fire hazard.
To do it, install self-gripping protection plates made of steel by hammering them directly into the studs before you hang the drywall.
You’ll also need to make cutouts for any electrical boxes that you need to access when you’re hanging the drywall.
Start by measuring the outside of the box, and use the edge of the nearest drywall sheet as your point of reference. Then, grab your drywall square and transfer those measurements onto the panel you’re about hang.
Use a pencil to mark the area, and then use a drywall saw to cut outside those lines to create the space.
Hang the sheet on the stud and check to make sure that the box cut out is the right size and positioned appropriately. If you need to adjust it, you can use a drywall rasp to enlarge the space.
How to Work Inside and Outside Corners
Corners can be tricky, so it’s important to follow these steps to make them look seamless.
Start by working on the outside corners. Cut a metal corner bead to the appropriate length using your utility snips and then use two fingers to hold it gently in position. You don’t need to wedge it into the space as that can distort it.
Once it’s aligned properly, secure it by nailing one face completely and then moving on to the second side. Place your nails between 12 and 16 inches apart.
Next, move to your inside corners. Start by spreading your tape adhesive compound on to both surfaces with your thin, lightweight drywall knife. Then fold the paper drywall tape length-wise down the center before placing it into the corner.
Remove the excess compound with a corner knife to create a smooth line.
Finish your Seams
The final step in your project is to finish off your drywall seams. Although it’s easy to do, this is where most do-it-yourselfers go wrong and end up with sub-par results. Remember, you want long, smooth strokes so that you have a seamless finish.
Start by laying down a thin layer of compound on each seam using your lightweight, four-inch knife. Next, press the paper tape into the joint and gently wipe away any excess adhesive. Allow this to dry completely.
Next, apply a second coat of compound, but this time use a six-inch knife. Let this second coat dry completely before you apply a final coat on top.
Once all three coats have cured, sand it lightly with a fine-grit sponge.
You’ll likely need to repeat this process with one to two more coats for each joint to get a perfect finish.