Call it wallboard, plasterboard, Sheetrock, or just plain “rock,” like some pros do, drywall revolutionized the way walls and ceilings are covered. Before the 1950s, when these paper-wrapped gypsum panels came into widespread use, it took days for lathers and plasterers to create a firm, flat foundation for paint or wallpaper. With drywall, it takes a fraction of the time. Two pros can typically cover a 12-by-16-foot room in about an hour.
To work that fast takes practice and a few specialized tools. But hanging drywall is not just about speed. Doing the job right means using screws of the correct length, off-setting panels so seams don’t line up, and making sure wires and pipes aren’t vulnerable to puncture.
Installing drywall is easy enough for a homeowner, as long as there’s someone to help; the heavy sheets are difficult to lift, particularly when doing ceilings. Follow the drywalling tips below to learn how to hang drywall like a pro.
Hanging Drywall Diagram
Despite their drab, if-you’ve-seen-one-you’ve-seen-them-all appearance, these flat sandwiches of gypsum plaster and recycled newsprint come in a variety of types and sizes to suit the specific demands of a job.
There are 1⁄4-inch-thick flexible panels to cover a curved wall or ceiling and 5⁄8-inch-thick abuse-resistant panels that are less likely to develop holes or dents. “Greenboard” keeps its integrity in the face of high humidity, making it a good choice for bathrooms. “Type X” resists fire, making it well-suited to furnace rooms and between-floor chases.
Massachusetts contractor Paul Landry often installs “blueboard,” so-called because of its indigo paper. It bonds tenaciously with veneer plaster, a finish much in demand in Landry’s area. The light-gray product known as drywall is the type in widest use.
When butted end-to-end, its factory-beveled lengthwise edges form a shallow swale for a topping of joint compound and tape. Half-inch is the preferred thickness for walls and ceilings; 5⁄8-inch works best if studs or joists are 24 inches apart, where thinner drywall would sag. The sheets most commonly available in hardware stores measure 4 by 8 feet, but lengths can reach up to 16 feet and widths up to 54 inches, which speeds the installation and minimizes the number of seams.
Bigger panels have their downside, however: They’re heavy and unwieldy. A 12-foot sheet of ½-inch drywall weighs about 80 pounds, nearly 30 pounds more than a standard 8-foot panel. That’s why manufacturers have developed 3⁄8-inch thick gypsum panels that weighs 16 percent less than standard sheets. These, however, are used only to cover existing drywall.
- To estimate the number of 4-by-8-foot sheets needed, calculate the total square footage of walls and ceilings and divide by 32. Buy one or two extra per room to cover any cutting mistakes.
- Check that electrical cables are protected from screws or nails. Tuck wires behind receptacles as far as possible into the back of switch boxes and ceiling-fixture boxes. Uncover any electrical boxes concealed by insulation. Wires or plumbing pipes closer than 3⁄4 inches to the edge of a stud require a metal shield called a nail plate.
- Plan ceiling-panel layout so seams are at least 8 inches away from light-fixture boxes. (Ceiling fixtures highlight imperfect seams.)
- Stockpile sheets of drywall on edge in an adjacent room.
- Whenever possible, place cut edges against corners, where they will be covered by trim or another piece of drywall.
Steps on How to Hang Drywall
1. Measure and cut drywall for the ceiling
- To determine where the first panel’s end will land, measure out from a corner, perpendicular to the strapping, or the joists.
- If the panel doesn’t span the entire ceiling, its end must land on the center of a strapping piece or joist. If it doesn’t, measure to the center of the farthest support piece the panel will overlap. Transfer that measurement to the edge of the first panel and mark it.
- Hook a T-square on the panel and place it alongside the mark. Score through the paper on the front with a utility knife, using the T-square as a guide. Stand the panel on edge and snap the waste part of it away from the score line. Cut through the paper backing to remove the waste.
- To help locate where screws will go around the room, mark the top plate at all locations where strapping or joists intersect the wall.
2. Cover the ceiling
- With an assistant, hoist the first panel into one corner of the ceiling. The edges should be perpendicular to strapping or joists and one end should be tight to the wall.
- As the assistant holds the panel, drive five screws, evenly spaced, in a line across the panel’s width and into the joist or strapping closest to the middle of the panel.
- Use the marks on the top plate to help align the screws. Keep screws at least ½ inch from all edges. Drive the screwheads slightly below the surface of the paper but not so deeply that they break through.
- Repeat this five-screw line at each joist or piece of strapping.
- Continue the row in same fashion until reaching the opposite wall. Start the next row making sure all end joints offset the panels in the first row by at least 4 feet.
Tip: Add a screw next to any screw head that breaks the paper.
3. Using rotary cut-out tool
- Before installing a sheet of drywall over the electrical box of a ceiling fixture, measure from the center of the box to the near end of the last panel installed. Mark that panel end where the tape measure meets it and record the distance.
- Cover the box with another panel, and attach it as in Step 3; do not drive screws any closer to the box than 24 inches.
- From the mark on the last installed panel, measure out onto the new panel the same number of inches recorded previously, and mark the spot with an X.
- Plunge the bit of a rotary cut-out tool into the center of the X. Move the tool outward until the bit strikes the inside of the junction box, then withdraw it and plunge it back into the panel next to the outside of the box. Hold the bit against the box and move the tool counterclockwise around its perimeter. Once the cutout is finished, drive the remaining screws into the panel.
4. Cover the wall
- Mark all the stud locations on the adjoining ceiling panels.
- Use a tape measure to ensure the first panel’s end will land in the center of a stud; if it won’t, cut the panel as in Step 2.
- With a helper, hold the panel against the studs so that one edge butts against the ceiling panel and one end fits snugly against the abutting wall.
- Following the stud marks on the ceiling, drive a line of five screws through the drywall and into each stud. As in Step 3, start screwing into a stud close to the middle of the panel and work outward.
- Continue hanging panels along the top of the wall, right over any window and door openings. (The excess will be trimmed later.) Make sure no seams line up with a door or window corner. Don’t fasten panels to the framing around the openings yet.
5. Trim around doors and windows
- Install the next row of panels as in Step 4, butting the edges tightly together. (On the bottom row, use a drywall lifter to pry the panel ½ inch up from the floor to allow for shrinkage of the framing.) As on the ceiling, offset the end joints from those in the previous row by at least 4 feet.
- Hang panels right over the bottoms of the window openings, making sure the seams don’t line up with the corners. Don’t screw panels to the framing around the openings yet.
- Cut out the switch and outlet boxes following the same procedure as with the ceiling boxes in Step 3: Mark the box locations before covering them with drywall, taking care not to drive any screws closer to each box than 24 inches. Cut holes for the boxes with a rotary cut-off tool, then drive any remaining screws.
- With a cut-out tool or drywall saw, trim any ends and edges that project into window or doorway openings flush with the face of the innermost studs. Then screw the panel to the framing.
6. Make inside and outside corners
- At inside corners, simply butt the end of one panel against the face of the panel on the adjoining wall.
- For outside corners, install the first panel so its end is flush with the studs on the adjoining wall. Overlap this exposed end with the panel on the adjoining wall, so that the corner is completely encased in drywall. (With blueboard, the panel ends do not overlap at outside corners; their ends land flush with the corner of the stud. This void will be filled later with plaster.)
- Cover outside corners with a metal corner bead, cut to the height of the wall. Trim each end to a 45-degree point and place the bead’s legs over the adjoining panel. Fasten the bead with 1 ½-inch drywall nails, hammered every 10 inches through the perforations in each leg so that the legs are tight to the wall and the corner is not distorted in any way. Do the same on the adjoining wall.
7. How to keep studs in line
- Drywall contractor Paul Landry assumes that carpenters frame walls so they are flat and straight. But he knows from experience that in the six to eight weeks between the time the framers finish and the drywallers start, studs can move, twist, and bow. Drywall will camouflage small misalignments, but studs that bow in or out more than a ½ inch will create an unsightly hump or hollow in the wall surface. That’s why, before he starts his work, Landry always looks for errant studs, using a long straightedge (such as the factory edge of a drywall scrap), held horizontally against the midpoint of the framing.
- If he locates a wayward stud on an interior wall, Landry quickly brings it back into line with a saw and a shingle. First, he places his saw blade on the concave edge of the stud at the midpoint of the bow and makes a cut two-thirds of the way through the stud. A push on the stud’s opposite edge easily brings it into line with its neighbors.
- To hold the stud in its corrected position, Landry inserts the shingle into the open kerf to act as a shim. Then he takes a couple of scrap pieces of 3⁄4-inch strapping that are long enough to extend about 1 foot above and 1 foot below the cut and screws one to each side of the stud.
- On exterior walls, it’s unusual to find a stud that bows into the room, because the sheathing holds it in place. When Landry does, his only choice is to power-plane the edge of the stud back into alignment.
8. Finishing touches
- After all the drywall has been installed, check for protruding screw heads. If you find any, carefully drive them in slightly below the surface of the drywall panel.
- Also look for screws that were driven too deep and ripped into the paper face. Add a second screw next to any screw that has broken through the paper.
- Sweep the floor clean, remove any debris and the room is now ready for drywall finishing.