Tried-and-true methods for drywall repair

August 5, 2011

Q. I have several drywall defects in my home that must be repaired. A doorknob punched a hole in one spot, roughhousing children created another hole and my husband stepped through the ceiling while in the attic. Any tips you can share about repairing these holes? Is this really a do-it-yourself task, or should I call in a pro?

A. You and tens of thousands of others have drywall defects. Drywall is a great building material, but it’s not a durable substitute for plaster, as plaster is basically a thin coating of rock on your walls. This is why drywall was affectionately given the name sheetrock years ago. Too bad it’s an impostor, as drywall is more like stiff clay in hardness.

There are countless correct ways to make these repairs to your walls and ceilings. I’ve seen many inventions over the years at trade shows. Some are ingenious, such as the thin piece of aluminum that has holes in it and self-adhesive on one side. This would work perfectly for your doorknob hole.

You simply put the metal patch on the wall and then coat it with premixed drywall compound out of a bucket. The patching compound passes through the small holes and locks the repair material to the metal.

One method that has worked great for me is cutting a square or rectangular hole using a plunge saw and then removing the jagged drywall. Be sure you look behind and around the hole for any wires, pipes or cables. You don’t want to cut these with your saw and cause more problems.

Once you have the square hole cut, cut a slightly smaller piece of drywall. I suggest you make the repair piece 1/4 inch smaller in width and in height. This will give you a manageable gap of just 1/8 inch between the repair piece and the existing wallboard.

The trick is to fasten this repair piece, as there is rarely a wall stud where the hole was created. I like to take a piece of wood no thicker than 3/4 inch to use for the next step. I cut it so it’s 1 inch less in width than the hole and 6 inches longer than the height of the hole. Let’s say the hole to be repaired is 3 inches square. This means I’d cut a piece of wood 2 inches wide by 9 inches long. Plywood works great, as it’s not prone to splitting.

You’ll need a screw gun or a drill with a Phillips bit in it. You’ll also need about 10 11 / 4-inch coarse-thread drywall screws, assuming the drywall is 1/2-inch thick. The first thing is to screw one screw into the exact center of the wood so that about 7/8 inch of the screw is sticking out. You’ll use this as a finger hold.

The trick is to slide the piece of wood into the wall cavity through the hole making sure you don’t drop it in the cavity. You can tie a string to the screw as a safety device in case you do drop it. Step on the string until you have the wood secured.

Once the wood is in the cavity, center it in the hole using the screw as your guide. Pull on the screw so the wood is tight against the back of the drywall at the hole. Use the screw gun or drill to drive drywall screws through the drywall and into the strip of wood as if it were a wall stud. Pull tight against the screw as you do this so the wood pulls tight against the drywall. Use at least two screws on the top and the bottom of the hole to secure the wood strip.

Remove the center screw you were using to hold the wood in place and then screw the small repair piece to the wood. For a small piece of drywall similar to our example of 3-by-3 inches, you’ll need only two screws.

Now all you have to do is tape and finish the patch. The best way to become proficient at this is to practice on a piece of drywall in your garage. Once you get the hang of it, move indoors.

Tim Carter is a columnist for Tribune Media Services. He can be contacted through his Web site, askthebuilder.com.

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