Drywall Repair

Drywall covers the walls in most homes built in the last 60 years. It’s relatively easy to repair. This Fix-It Guide on drywall tells how drywall works, what often goes wrong, how to identify a drywall problem, and what parts and tools you will need to fix it. It then gives simple step-by-step instructions for how to hide a popped nail, how to restore a wall corner, how to repair split drywall tape, and how to repair a dent, gouge, and hole. Then you will want to refer to paint repair to finish the job.

How Does Drywall Work?

Drywall is a manufactured panel made out of gypsum plaster and encased in heavy paper. Drywall is also known as gypsum wallboard (GWB), plaster board, or Sheetrock. A drywall panel typically is 4 x 8 feet or 4 x 12 feet in size and 1/4 to 5/8 inches thick. The panels are nailed or screwed onto the wall framing and the joints are covered with a special tape and joint compound. The wall or ceiling is then primed and painted. Sometimes texturing is added as a decorative element.

What Can Go Wrong with Drywall?

Drywall problems are relatively easy to spot. Nails sometimes pop out slightly from the drywall. Corners where walls meet get bumped and scraped and can be damaged. Tape can split. Dents, gouges, and holes appear. All are relatively easy drywall repairs.

Fix-It Tip

You can buy handy drywall patching kits at larger hardware stores and home centers. Use them to patch holes in drywall walls and ceilings; the instructions are included. Note that a wall kit doesn’t work on a ceiling because the ceiling requires a stiffer mesh to support the plaster patch material.

How Can I Identify a Drywall Problem?

  • If a nail shows, you can hide it (see below).
  • If a piece of drywall tape splits, you can repair it with joint compound (see below).
  • If a dent, gouge, or hole appears, you can fill or patch it (see below).
  • If a corner has been damaged, you can restore its appearance (see below).

Fix-It Tip

Drywall patch and joint compound serve two different purposes. Drywall patch is used to fill a hole, so it is thick. Joint compound is used to fill a small crack, therefore it’s thinner than drywall patch so it can seep in.

What Do I Need for Drywall Repair?

You can pick up the tools and materials needed to fix drywall at most hardware stores and home centers. Depending on the job, these are the tools you’ll need:

  • Screwdrivers
  • Hammer
  • Drywall screws or ring-shank nails
  • Drywall patch kit
  • Keyhole saw
  • Utility knife
  • Files
  • Drywall tape
  • Drywall taping knife
  • Sponge
  • Primer and paint

What Are the Steps to Drywall Repair?

Hide a popped drywall nail:

  1. Use a hammer or screwdriver to drive a ring-shank nail, or a screwdriver to fasten a drywall screw, about 2 inches above and below the popped nail. Make sure the heads are below the surface of the drywall without breaking the paper. This is called dimpling.
  2. Carefully dimple the popped nail.
  3. Cover dimples with plaster patch and allow them to dry as recommended by the manufacturer. Apply a second coat, if needed, and allow it to dry.
  4. Sand the area with fine-grit sandpaper; then wipe the surface clean.
  5. Prime and paint the area, blending in with the paint on the rest of the wall.

Restore a drywall corner:

  1. Use a hammer and drywall screws to reform and tightly fasten a damaged metal corner bead. If necessary, use a metal file to smooth the corner.
  2. Apply plaster patch to the corner as needed to fill in and smooth the corner edges.
  3. Remove excess patch and let the repair dry thoroughly before continuing.
  4. Sand the area with fine-grit sandpaper, then wipe the surface clean.
  5. Prime and paint the area, feathering it into the paint on the rest of the wall.
 Drywall Repair

Spread joint compound over the seam.

Repair split drywall tape:

  1. Cleanly cut the edges of the split tape and pull away loose tape.
  2. Use a drywall taping knife to spread joint compound over the seam.
  3. Cut and apply new drywall tape (don’t use masking or duct tape).
  4. Spread additional compound over the tape and allow it to dry. If necessary, add a second layer of compound.
  5. Sand, prime, and paint the area.
Drywall Repair

Place the tape along the joint.

Repair a dent or gouge in drywall:

  1. Trim away loose or frayed paper from the gouge with a utility knife.
  2. Roughen the inside edges of the gouge with sandpaper so the plaster patch will adhere. Clean away any plaster dust.
  3. Carefully dampen the damaged area with a wet sponge to prevent the plaster patch from shrinking.
  4. Spread plaster patch in the dent or gouge and smooth with a drywall knife. If the patch shrinks after drying, repeat the process.
  5. Sand, prime, and paint the area.
Drywall Repair

Spread joint compound over the tape.

Repair a small hole in drywall:

  1. Remove loose drywall plaster and cut away torn paper with a utility knife.
  2. Roughen the edges of the hole with coarse sandpaper, then wipe dust away from the hole.
  3. Cut a piece of wire screening slightly larger than the hole–or use a drywall patch screen–and cover the hole with it. You may need a coat of fresh compound or a string to keep the screen in place.
  4. Cover the screen with plaster patch, then let it dry before continuing.
  5. Once dry, sand, prime and paint.

Patch a larger drywall hole:

  1. Mark out a rectangle around the hole with a straightedge or carpenter’s rule.
  2. Cut through the paper surface on the marked lines using a utility knife or keyhole saw.
  3. Cut a piece of drywall 2 inches each direction larger than the hole. Remove the 2-inch perimeter, but leave the facing paper.
  4. Spread plaster patch around the outside edges of the hole and along its inside edges.
  5. Place the patch in position and hold it in place for several minutes while it begins to adhere. Spread more patch as needed with a drywall knife.
  6. Once dry, sand, prime and paint.

Repairing holes larger than about 8 inches square requires support from behind. Cut out the drywall to the centers of the adjoining studs, nail 2 x 2 inches supports to the top and bottom, nail or screw in the patch, tape it, and smooth it. Sand, prime, and paint.

Fix-It Tip

Filling a drywall hole may require two coats of patching material. For best results, apply the first coat and let it dry before finishing with a second coat. Always follow instructions on the patch container.