Finishing Drywall for Beginners

Loryn: For the past few weeks, I’ve been working on fixing the plaster in my upstairs hallway. You can see more about the project in my previous post. In the past three years, since I started remodeling my house, I’ve gone from a complete beginner at finishing drywall and skimcoating old plaster walls to being pretty proficient. I’ve been w I made a lot of mistakes, and here are a few to avoid!

  • To place paper tape: The trick to applying paper tape without any bubbling is to lay a fairly thick bed of mud under the tape. Then, place the tape and run your knife along it, pressing the tape very firmly into the mud. You’ll remove most of the mud when you do this.
  • Keep your knife at a very sharp angle most of the time when you’re working.
  • When putting topcoats on your seams, it’s much better to use too little mud than too much. You can always put more on, but it’s a pain in the neck to sand away too much.
  • After your first top coat, put on just enough to fill in the dips and voids of the first coat. To get a smooth finish, pull very firmly on the surface, with your knife at the sharp angle.
  • Don’t keep working and working the mud, you’ll just make it even worse and increase the chance that you’ll get some debris in it. It’s better to fill in on the next coat than to botch a passable coat.

  • If you have a wide area that you can’t get smooth, leave narrow ridges, like that pictured above, between knife passes. These are really easy to knock down when dry—just run your knife over them.
  • Expect the process to take more than two topping coats while you’re learning. Continue to fill in small dips until you have the surface fairly flat, and don’t worry about the number of coats you’re putting on. This isn’t the type of job you’ll finish in one day. Instead, work a little bit over several days.
  • If you have bubbles in your drywall, mixing can help. The best way to do this is to mix it with a half inch drill and a mixing paddle, if you have them handy or can borrow them. This can get messy, so do it somewhere like an old back porch. A pro recommended that I mix a little dish soap in, too. I don’t know if it is the mixing or the soap or both, but I have far fewer bubbles now! And speaking of pros:
  • If you have any chance to watch pros at work, take it. I learned more from watching a pro for twenty minutes than I did from many hours of website searching. If you know one who will demonstrate technique for you, all the better!
  • Use specialty cornerbead to help you get good corners. Bead for outside corners is an absolute must for beginners, as it will make your corners look perfect. If you are doing cathedral ceiling, buy special tape for odd angles. I use Strait-Flex tape. It’s pricey, but worth it, as even experienced finishers can have trouble with odd-angled corners. It’s also great for 90 degree inside corners with wide gaps (great if you, like me, are not very good at drywall hanging).
  • Finally, the very best way for a beginner to get good results is to use flat paint. Really! In old houses, with unsquare corners, rough plasterwork, and layers of wallpaper, flat paint is a necessity. It absorbs light instead of bouncing off every dip and flaw. It is not washable like satin or semi-gloss (though it is more washable than people think), but it more than makes it for that in touch-up-ability. You can touch up small areas of flat paint without leaving any sign of the touch up. Just use a mini roller, and you’re done in no time flat.
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