Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Drywall Lessons

"I friggin' hate sanding drywall."

That's been the refrain from every drywaller and carpenter who's been down in the Man Cave the past few weeks. Of course, you have to sand drywall...or the mud at least...if you want a wall you can paint. But the solution is to do the best job you can getting it smoothed and the edges feathered from the outset. This will save you hours of nasty, messy sanding.

I myself have had to do a bit of mudding. At the back entrance there's an old milk service that, unbeknownst to me, was merely covered with a flattened cereal box before the wallpaper was pasted over it. Removing that box and the super construction adhesive that held it in place removed some of the plaster from around it (I was stupid and didn't get any pictures, sorry). When I asked for a solution, the drywaller said, "sheetrock is the new plaster."

So there you go. Some pre-mixed drywall compound and we're ready to roll. This is what I've learned in that process:

1. Drywall mud is not paint. Getting a nice smooth surface that you don't have to sand a lot is easier you use a LOT of mud and put on a thicker coat. If it's too thin, the surface dries at a faster rate, and you end up pulling stuff off and getting a really rough application. Spreading it on thick gives you the material you need to get it nice and smooth. The smoothing process will remove the excess to create a thinner coat anyway.

2. Drywall compound is not fond of water. I'm used to spackling, so you sand and clean the wall with a damp cloth. DON'T do this with compound...you'll wash it right off.

3. BUT...drywall compound can be corrected with a damp cloth or sponge. That makes cleanup easy, and it makes it really easy to flatten out any little bubbles or imperfections in the surface.

4. Plan on getting messy. Just give up on the idea that you can do this work and keep your hands clean. Some would suggest wearing gloves. I'm a purist. I'd rather scrape mud out from under my fingernails.

5. Sand your tools. Washing your putty knives and trowels will make them rust over time, and then they're useless for creating a clean finish (paint doesn't play well with rust spots on your wall). Just set them aside for 20 minutes or so, then take them outside and sand them clean. It's a few extra minutes vs. washing, but it's worth it for a nice clean set of tools that will last.

So there you have it. Five lessons in drywall mud application. Still not my favourite task, but with the right approach and a little patience it's not all that difficult to get a nice clean finish on your walls.

Follow Up:

Timothy Ferriss' Great Principle for Dealing with Haters #2: 10% of people will find a way to take anything personally. Expect it.

I received this response today from a reader and thought it was worth commenting on:
"Seriously.... why would you even write this? I should be thanking you because the more people that read stuff like this, the more work there is from mistakes by homeowners. Most drywall guys I know took 2-3 years to get good at the trade, sometimes longer. To suggest that someone just has to go to Home Depot and pick up a pail of mud is as absurd as it is insulting.
'Getting a nice smooth surface that you don't have to sand a lot is easier you use a LOT of mud and put on a thicker coat'; Bullshit Steve. Complete and utter bullshit. You want a surface you don't have to sand? Try 3 coats, with a properly filled joint and a very, very slight crown on the seam. Gobbing compound on and suggestion [sic.] people can somehow avoid sanding is rediculous [sic.]. I know guys that can do it, and it takes 2 coats, and they have 40 years in the trade. 
I do this for a living. I have for a long time. Don't present yourself as an expert when anybody who has done this for a living can see you know very little about what you are talking about."
Excellent input. Here's my simple response:
  1. I didn't say I was an expert. In fact, I said the exact opposite.
  2. I didn't say I was taping or making a joint. I said I was plastering; or, more specifically, repairing plaster.
  3. I didn't say you wouldn't have to sand. I said you wouldn't have to sand a lot.
  4. I did it in three coats, just like the reader suggests. It just takes a thicker coat than you might think.
  5. It worked.
So, to correct it for the sake of corrective editorialism, let me point out that what our friend here is talking about is layering relatively thin layers on a surface that is already flat (i.e. applying drywall compound to tape to make a clean joint). What I'm talking about is using the compound in place of a traditional plaster (on the advice, and following the instructions, of a drywaller with 20 years experience in the trade). When you have to use this stuff as plaster, starting out with a thin coat won't work because it won't be enough to fill the holes and texture in the damaged plaster. Once that application is set and level with the wall face, of course you go to thinner coats to smooth and feather the patch.


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