Drywall Repair for the Do It Yourselfer

Off the Top of My Head
Now that winter is approaching, if you have a ceiling fans(s), reverse the direction of the blade rotation so that it will be moving air above it instead of blowing air down below it. This will help take some of the warm air from the furnace that is accumulating near the ceiling and circulate to the lower parts of the room. Better you should heat your feet than heat the ceiling. There is usually a button on the side of the fan housing that you can slide to reverse blade direction. If you operate your fan by remote, there should be an option for reversing the blades on the remote.

I receive more calls about drywall repair than any other home repair job. Nearly every house will at some time have damage to the drywall – a hole, an indentation from a door handle, a stress crack, separation of joint tape, water damage, etc. In my experience this is the home repair homeowners have been most willing to attempt and the one where I have seen the most negative results. Repairing these problems is a task that any Do It Yourselfer can take on, but since your work is most likely to be “out there” for everyone to see, you don’t want to end up with it looking like it was done by an amateur DIYer.

As with most things, doing drywall repairs properly requires the right tools and deceptive degree of skill. If you have tried it you have probably discovered this for yourself. Hopefully, by sharing some of my 38 years worth of hard earned lessons, you will not be intimidated about attempting your own repairs and get results you can rightfully be proud of.

Since I decided to blog about this seemingly simple topic, I have quickly realized  it is anything but and will be the subject of many subsequent blogging sessions.

Let me start with the smallest and simplest drywall repair job – a small (1”-3”) hole:

Drywall Repairs to Small Holes

Tools and materials needed:

  • utility knife
  • 4” drywall knife
  • 12” drywall pan
  • patching compound or all purpose joint compound
  • can of foam insulation
  • 120 grit sandpaper

Note: If you only have one or a few holes to fix and don’t anticipate needing these tools ever again, you can improvise or substitute to avoid the expense of tools and materials you will, hopefully, never use again. For example, you can get a plastic 4” spatula applicator in the paint department instead of a drywall knife. You can find a small container of patching compound also in the paint department. A small plastic bucket or medium size plastic bowl will substitute for the drywall pan.

Repair Instructions:

1.  Use a utility knife to trim off any ragged edges around the outside of the hole.

2.  Fill the space behind the hole with the spray foam insulation. Only fill to about 1/2″ below the surface (the back of the drywall) to allow room for the patching compound filler. Note: Be careful with the foam insulation. It continues to expand for several minutes after you stop spraying. If you end up having the foam expand until it is coming out of the hole, wait until it dries (approx. 1 hr.) and then use the edge of your drywall knife or spatula to compress it back to ½” below the surface. Also, the foam is extremely sticky, so avoid getting it on the outside surface of the hole or on your hands as it is not easy to clean.

3.  After the foam insulation is dry (not sticky to touch, about 1 hour) fill the hole with the patching compound or all purpose joint compound. Fill the hole to slightly below being flush with the outer surface of the hole. The first application of compound will take approx. 4-6 hours to dry depending on the size and depth of the hole you are filling. 

Note: Since I cannot afford to take that amount of time on a small drywall repair, I use a 5 min. quick drying compound. If you are a novice, I don’t recommend trying this as you have to purchase a 25 lb. bag, it has to be mixed with water to the proper consistency and requires prompt cleanup to prevent ruining your tools and mixing container. On the positive side, the quick dry compound dries harder than regular joint compound and I can mix it to a consistency that is less prone to “sagging”.

The weight of the drywall mud and gravity can cause the mud to sag (collect at the bottom of the repair hole), particularly when you are filling a 2-3” hole. This can create a “high spot” that makes the  mud extend past the outside surface of the hole. If this happens, after the mud/compound is dry, run the sharp, flat edge of your drywall knife over the wall surface to “shave off” the excess mud.

4.  Apply a second coat of joint compound drawing the flat edge of your drywall knife over the hole so it is flush with the wall surface. The second coat will take 1-2 hours to dry.

5.  Lightly sand the patched hole with the 120 grit sandpaper or drywall sanding block. Sand the outer edges of the dried drywall compound you have applied to “feather” (smooth) the patch to flush with the existing wall surface. Note: Cover the area below the patch with newspaper, masking paper or painters plastic to catch the drywall dust.

The final step will be to add texture that matches your existing drywall texture. That is a large topic in itself and may be a good topic for me to address in the next blog.

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