How to Repair Drywall

Drywall - a.k.a. wallboard or sheetrock - isn't difficult to repair. It just involves a bit of technique and some basic information.

Learning how to repair drywall involves understanding the materials and how they work...and learning techniques you can use for basic wall repairs.

After the demolition for your kitchen (or other) remodel is done, you might have only some small holes to patch.

But I've included tips on how to repair sheetrock for small holes and case you got a little carried away!

Things you'll need for patching drywall

  • pre-mixed joint compound ("mud")
  • metal taping knives - 4", 6", 10" (1 each)
  • metal mud pan
  • drywall tape (paper or self-stick fiberglass)
  • drywall sandpaper
  • utility knife
  • keyhole saw
  • tape measure
  • straight edge
  • 1-1/4" drywall screws
  • power drill
  • OPTIONAL: replacement drywall sheet(s)

How to Repair DrywallGetting Started

To patch small holes you won't need to buy drywall itself, but for medium to larger repairs you do.

Drywall is most commonly available in 4'x8' sheets, 1/2" or 5/8" thick. (You can buy half or quarter sheets, too.)

Measure to see what thickness and size pieces you need.

Each sheet has a "beveled" edge for mounting full sheets next to each other. The "dip" created by the edges makes mudding smooth and easy. But avoid using pieces with these edges for just makes more work for you!

How to Repair Drywall - Cutting Drywall Sheets

Use a straight edge as a guide to score the wallboard with a utility knife. A straight edge can be anything fairly straight, even a piece of wood. For repairs you don't need exact cuts.

Place the sheet on supports like sawhorses. Measure from the end the size you need (less 1/4" for an easy fit) and mark both edges of the top surface. Match up the marks with a straight edge and score along it with a utility knife.

Hold the end and snap the piece down. It will still be attached to the main sheet with backing tape. Cut through the backing tape with your utility knife - if you turn the drywall over this cut will go easier.

To cut a smaller piece from the one you just cut, come in past the factory edge (about 2") and score a line across the end. Then snap the edge off. Measure from that edge (again, less 1/4") and score and snap off the piece you need.

It doesn't have to be pretty or exact...the perfect part is in the mud.

How to Repair Drywall - Applying Mud

Joint compound, also known as "mud," is the goop that covers joints and repairs and makes them invisible. Comes premixed in small buckets (1-gallon) or large (5-gallon). Unless you have a lot of drywall patching to do, the 1-gallon should be enough. I only buy USG Sheetrock All Purpose Joint Compound - works the best.

Scoop some mud into the drywall mud pan. (A mud pan gives you a handy carry-around container with thin edges to clean mud off your taping knives.) With your 4" or 6" taping knife, "chop" the mud in an up and down motion. Then mix, then chop some more. This trick gets rid of any air bubbles and makes the joint compound smooth and easier to work with.

Apply mud in smooth strokes to the wall with the taping knife. Go in any direction (think slathering cream cheese on a bagel).

Clean off your knife on the mud pan. Go back and scrape the area with the knife to remove excess mud and to smooth it.

Scrape across the patch spot several times. Apply the excess mud on your knife back onto the spot as you go to fill in where needed. Then do a final finish scrape.

You may see holes in the joint compound...this is caused by air bubbles. "Chop up" the mud in your pan. Apply fresh mud.

Try to get the patch spot as smooth as you can. This way you won't have much sanding to do later.

Let it dry. Then sand lightly and apply a thin second coat to hide any imperfections, feathering out to blend with the wall. Do a third coat if needed.

How to Repair Drywall - Tips to Conquering Mud

When learning how to repair sheetrock, mud can be maddening! If you just can't get a spot smooth, give up and leave it alone. The more you mess with mud the harder it is to work with.

Make sure you're not building a "mud mound" on the wall...keep it as flat as possible. Do several thin coats rather than one big thick one.

The 10" wide taping knife helps to catch those sly little mud blobs that want to escape out the sides. Use when your patch spot extends beyond your 6" knife, and/or for a final scrape.

Mudding is one of the trickiest techniques when learning how to repair drywall! You just need to get a "feel" for it...STOP WHEN IT'S CLOSE TO PERFECT. I guarantee if you try one more swipe you'll probably ruin everything.

How to Repair Drywall - Sanding

Drywall sandpaper comes in a packet of 11" long mesh sheets you can cut in half. Regular sandpaper is worthless here - clogs up immediately with drywall dust.

Lay sandpaper flat on the wall and place your hand flat on it. Move back and forth and in circles to don't need to press hard. Sand a little then release pressure and let the dust fall.

When your sanding area is close to being flush with the rest of the wall, go in a circular motion to remove any major sanding lines. Feather edges where the mud ends till it's smooth with the wall.

If you're sensitive to dust, wear a dust mask and safety goggles (a must if you wear contact lenses!).

Drywall sandpaper can rough up your hands but I find if you wear gloves you won't have a feel for how smooth the patch is.

Change to fresh sandpaper occasionally.

How to Repair Drywall - Taping

Drywall tape comes in paper and in self-stick fiberglass mesh. Techniques for using each are a bit different.

Paper tape needs mud on the front and the back to make it stick.

Spread some mud on the wall around the hole and a little beyond with your taping knife.

Tear off pieces of paper tape shorter than the mudded area and cover the hole.

Go over the tape lightly with your knife to even it out.

Then spread joint compound over the tape, pressing it into the mud underneath.

Scrape the area to remove excess mud and leave the spot smooth and even as possible.

Paper tape has a crease in the center to use in corners.

To tape a corner, spread mud on both sides all the way down. Fold the crease of a long piece of paper tape and, starting at the top, press it into the corner. Smooth with your knife. Spread mud down both sides and then scrape it smooth, keeping the edge of the knife away from the opposite wall.

Self-adhesive fiberglass mesh tape has the stickiness of a Post-it note, just enough to stick to the wall without having to mud first. Cut strips and cover the hole about 2" bigger than the hole itself. Start mudding near the middle, spreading the mud outward. Then do a skim coat over that.

A wallboard repair hazard with both types of tape is you can catch the edge of the tape with your knife and pull it right off the wall! I prefer paper tape...mesh tape is easier sling off the wall.

How to Repair Drywall - Very Small Holes

For tiny holes from nails, screws and wall anchors, tap the area with a hammer or screwdriver handle to create a slight indentation. Then just swipe across the spot with joint compound on your taping knife. Sand when dry. Most very small holes don't need another coat.

When patching sheetrock with a hole up to about 2", tape over and mud. Let dry. It may take up to several hours. In a hurry? Use a heat gun or blow dryer.

Sand smooth. Feather the edges where your mud ended, sanding that smooth with the wall.

Apply another coat of mud. Scrape with a wider knife to smooth the whole area.

Once dry, sand lightly and blend into the wall.

How to Repair Drywall - Small to Medium-size Holes

To patch drywall with a 2"-3" hole, cut it to a square or rectangle shape with a keyhole saw.

Cut a piece of wallboard the exact size of the hole (or close), and push it into place.

Then tape and mud (2 coats) over it. Sand between coats and to finish.

If the hole is 4" or more your replacement piece may need support.

With a keyhole saw, cut out a square around the hole - big enough to get a piece of wood into it that extends a few inches past the opening on both sides.

Center the wood brace and hold it flush against the back of the hole. Run screws through the existing drywall into the brace.

Then cut a piece of sheetrock 1/4" smaller than the hole and insert it. Now you have a piece of wood to screw it to. One screw should be enough.

To patch drywall tape over the seams, then mud. When it's dry, sand and mud again. Let dry and sand one more time.

How to Repair Drywall - Large Holes

With a keyhole saw, cut out the damaged area straight across from stud to stud, stopping in the middle of each stud. The stud will be supporting the existing drywall next to it and the new replacement.

Make sure the existing drywall is still secure...add screws to it as needed.

Cut a drywall piece 1/4" smaller overall than the hole.

Put pieces of wood (1 x 4's work well) in between the two studs on the top and bottom of the area you've cut out.

Hold the wood from behind against the existing drywall, leaving enough surface area showing to screw in the new piece.

Screw through the existing sheetrock (3 screws) to attach the wood.

Then fit your replacement piece into the hole and attach with screws to the studs on each side and to the wood you've added to the top and bottom.

Tape and mud all joints.

How to Repair Drywall - Drywall Screws

Typical drywall screws are 1-1/4". Drive them in to just beyond the surface. This holds the drywall and leaves a small indentation you can swipe with mud to hide the screws. If you go any deeper, you ruin the integrity of the drywall and it may not hold.

How to Repair Drywall - Finishing

If you're simply painting over the patch job, make sure the mud is totally dry. Place your hand on the spot - it will feel cool if still wet.

Prime first before you paint.

If you need to add wall texture, buy a can of spray texture to match your wall surface (most walls are "orange peel"). Test outdoors to see if you're getting the right texture.

Spray the wall repair spot, going back and forth with short bursts of light spray. Spray a little beyond the patched area - feather it out so the texture blends in. Let dry and then prime and paint.

WARNING: Texture in a can is EXTREMELY FLAMMABLE! Turn off all ignition sources, like pilot lights, before texturing.

Canned texture has a strong smell - and don't inhale the fumes! Open up windows and doors before spraying, and wear a dust mask and safety goggles.

Applying spray texture is a messy job. Cover the floor and any nearby furniture with plastic.

A little experience goes a long way when you're learning how to repair drywall. Now you can take your new-found skills to other rooms besides the kitchen and get busy!

How to Install Kitchen Cabinets      

How to Tile a Floor

How to Install a Sink      

How to Tile a Backsplash

Back to DIY Kitchen Remodeling

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Thinking of remodeling?

Keep a notebook or scrapbook of notes, clippings and ideas.

Kitchen magazines are expensive - look through them in the grocery checkout line. If you see pix of a kitchen you really like, buy that magazine.

Stop in at home centers and pick up any free cabinet manufacturers' catalogs.