How to Repair Drywall

Oops! If you need to repair holes or other damage to your drywall, better read our complete guide on how to repair drywall.If there’s one thing most do-it-yourself homeowners seem to fear and try at almost any cost to avoid, it’s the dreaded ding or hole in the wall that spells certain drywall disaster!

Even when they have a professional contractor working in their home, many people are horrified when he rips a hole in the drywall to get at electrical wiring, plumbing or another component inside the wall.

But the fact is that drywall is a wonder of modern home construction; giving the appearance of solidity and permanence while in reality being a soft building material that is easily damaged.

Fortunately, drywall is also quite easy to repair when the need arises!

Whether your teenager loses his temper and punches a hole in his bedroom wall (this happened to a friend of mine once!) or you are removing that ugly old 1970s wallpaper, installing new in-wall speakers in your media center room, installing a new ceiling fan or one of hundreds of other projects, sheetrock damage is a common occurrence and knowing how to fix minor drywall damage is a requisite skill any do-it-yourselfer should master!

So read on to learn how to repair drywall and conquer your fear of cutting holes in your walls whenever you need to access something inside during the course of any home improvement or remodeling project.

We will outline several approaches you can use, depending on the nature and size of the drywall damage you need to repair, making it as simple as possible for you to complete everything from cutting out the damaged portion of drywall, cutting and fastening a new piece of sheetrock, taping, texturing and repainting your wall.

Tools and Materials Needed to Do Drywall Repair

  • Drywall Saw
  • Hammer
  • Screwdriver or Electric Drill and Driver
  • Utility Knife
  • Putty Knife
  • Spackle Knife
  • Long-nosed Pliers
  • Drywall Hawk or a Metal Bread Pan
  • Appropriate Size Piece of Replacement Drywall
  • Joint Tape and Paper or Fiberglass Drywall-reinforcing Tape
  • Premixed Joint Compound
  • Drywall Clips
  • Coarse Thread Drywall Screws and 1 1/4-inch (3-cm) Type W Drywall Screws
  • Caulk or Spackling Compound
  • Sandpaper
  • Primer, Touch-up Paint and Paintbrush

How to Repair Surface Damage to Your Drywall

Removing old wallpaper inevitably leaves some amount of surface damage to drywall, since wallpaper paste adheres to coarse and porous drywall and often the outer layer of the drywall comes off with the wallpaper during removal. But you don’t need to rip out the drywall to fix surface scratches, dings and rough spots in your drywall! Follow these steps to repair a wall surface that has been damaged while removing wallpaper:

  1. After you have removed all the wallpaper, use a pencil to mark any areas of damage where the drywall surface has been pulled away.
  2. Apply waterproof primer to seal the damaged areas and let dry. This will prevent bubbles from forming on the rough surface of the drywall when you apply the joint compound.
  3. Skim coat these areas lightly with a thin coat of drywall joint compound, using a broad knife or skip trowel to achieve the right texture. Make your passes horizontally.
  4. Once the joint compound is dry (turns from gray to bright white), sand it lightly to remove any high spots and brush off the dust. Apply a second coat, making the passes at a 45 degree angle relative to the passes made in your first coat. This second coat is intended to fill the low spots and you should not apply too much joint compound that will increase the thickness.
  5. Let the second coat of joint compound dry completely and then sand the repaired areas of the wall. This process may need to be repeated several times, depending upon how badly damaged the surface of your wall; applying multiple, thin coats of joint compound is a much better approach than trying to apply a thick coat!
  6. Now you are ready to apply primer, let it dry and then paint the wall with a fresh coat of paint to complete the repair!

How to Repair Small Holes in Your Drywall

The simplest type of drywall repair is filling holes left by nails, picture hangers, etc. The steps to repairing these types of small holes are very simple and can be accomplished with spackling compound or caulk and a putty knife:

  1. Use your fingertip or small putty knife to apply a dab of caulk or spackling compound to fill the hole, using care not to leave excess around the hole; use a wet rag to wipe around the hole to remove any residue left on the surrounding wall surface.
  2. In some cases the caulk or spackling compound may shrink and leave a dimple in the surface of the wall as it dries. In this case, just apply a second coat to fill the dimple.
  3. Once the compound is completely dry, use a small paintbrush to touch up the paint and you’re done!

Repairing a Small Gouge or Hole in Your Drywall

Larger holes such as those caused by a plastic drywall anchor, nylon wall driller, toggle bolt or other fasteners used to attach objects to the wall require a slightly different approach to repair and require the use of joint compound:

  1. If there is a fastener in the wall, use a screwdriver or hammer to drive the fastener into the empty wall space, using care to avoid causing additional damage. Remove any loose pieces of drywall but don’t tear off the paper facing.
  2. Use a spackle knife to take the amount of joint compound needed to fill the hole you are repairing from the container (generally a 1 or 6 gallon size) and place it onto a drywall hawk or into a metal bread pan if you don’t have a hawk.
  3. Gather a small amount of joint compound on the corner of your spackle knife and spread it onto the damaged area of the wall, holding the knife at a low angle and drawing it across in a horizontal motion. Wipe the spackle knife clean on the edge of your hawk or bread pan and then make a second, vertical pass.
  4. Let the first coat dry; you’ll know its dry when it turns from gray to bright white. Now, apply a second coat of joint compound, using enough to make your passes extend slightly further than the first coat. If necessary, let dry and apply a third coat to smooth and blend the area you are repairing into the surrounding wall surface.
  5. Once the joint compound is completely dry, sand the area you have repaired lightly, apply primer and let dry. Then, paint the area to complete your repair.

Drywall repair is not as hard as it seems; any homeowner with basic do it yourself skills can learn to make repairs to drywall damage!

Repairing Larger Damaged Drywall Areas

When the wall area you need to repair is larger, you’ll need to take a different approach to repairing damaged drywall, involving the use of a piece of replacement drywall, drywall clips and drywall tape to patch the damaged area:

  1. First, cut a replacement piece of drywall that is slightly larger than the damaged area. The edges should be straight and the “patch” should be either square or rectangular in shape. Hold the replacement patch up to the wall in order to mark around the damaged area, tracing around the patch with a pencil to outline the area you will need to cut away.
  2. Cut around the damaged drywall area using a drywall saw to remove the damaged pieces. Clean up the rough edges with a utility knife.
  3. Install drywall clips close to the four corners of the area you have cut away. Depending upon the type of clips you have purchased, you will need to secure them with the appropriate sized drywall screws; typically 1 1/4-inch (3-cm) Type W drywall screws are specified, but check the directions that came with your clips.
  4. Hold your replacement drywall patch in place and fasten it to the clips with screws.
  5. Break off the tabs on the drywall clips using long-nosed pliers, twisting them below the surface to break them off.
  6. Apply joint tape to the seams around your replacement patch, embedding it with a thin layer of joint compound. Use a clean spackle knife to press the paper into the compound and smooth it by applying pressure firmly. Alternatively, you can use fiberglass tape with adhesive backing, which is easier to apply since you simply press it onto the drywall!
  7. Follow the steps above in the section on “How to Repair Surface Damage to Your Drywall” to skim coat, sand, apply primer and paint to complete your drywall repair.

Drywall Repair Tips

  • You can purchase a drywall repair kit online; this gives you all the materials needed to make smaller drywall repairs without having to purchase large quantities of everything needed!
  • When you embed joint tape, apply firm pressure but not so firm that the joint compound is squeezed out or the joint may fail.
  • Driving drywall screws requires a bit of practice; you want the heads to dimple the surface of the drywall without breaking the paper facing or they won’t hold properly.
  • Ask to purchase smaller pieces of drywall at Home Depot or another home improvement center in order to avoid having to bring an entire piece home!
  • If you don’t have drywall clips available, an alternative is to use small pieces of plywood you can fasten around the edges of the area you have cut away to “bridge” the replacement patch into place using drywall screws (see photos).
  • You want to be careful when cutting holes in drywall; there may be plumbing pipes or electrical wire in the wall cavity. Cut or hammer a small hole in the drywall first and explore the cavity before ripping away in the wall with your saw!
  • While it might be tempting to save a bit of time by gathering joint compound from the container instead of using a drywall hawk or metal pan, this will contaminate the compound and ruin the entire container; always use a clean knife to take compound from the container and place it on the hawk to work from when applying it!
  • If you are repairing or replacing very large drywall areas or installing drywall to a new wall, you might want to consider hiring a drywall contractor to tape and texture the wall surfaces; it is time consuming and requires a bit of skill to skip trowel or skim coat an entire wall.

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