How to Drive and Install Drywall Screws

Screwing Drywall Into Place

Andranik Hakobyan / Getty Images

At one time, all drywall was nailed to wall studs and ceiling joists. While nails still do have their place in drywall installation, drywall screws tend to be the dominant method of attaching drywall boards.

Drywall screws are inexpensive, install quickly, and have immense pull-out strength. A wall system or ceiling built with correctly installed drywall screws and wallboard will last for decades.

Basics of Installing a Drywall Screw

One crucial skill needed when hanging drywall is driving the drywall screws. The screw must be sunk below the surface—but not too far below. Too far above the surface means that there will be no divot, or depression, available to fill with drywall compound. Too far below the surface means that the screw has lost a majority of its holding power.

Professional drywall installers often use drywall screw guns that automatically regulate screw depth. If you are installing drywall in more than a couple of rooms, renting a screw gun might be your best option. Drywall screw guns can be pre-set to sink screws at the perfect depth.

But most homeowners opt to use a tool that they may already have on hand: a cordless drill. Cordless drills are perfect for hanging drywall on a limited scale.

Elements of a Perfectly Sunk Drywall Screw

The aim is to secure the drywall sheet to the studs. Yet, unlike a screw driven into wood, deeper is usually not better. You have to hit a certain sweet spot of depth: deep, but not too deep.

Sink the Screw Head Just Below the Paper

You want to drive the drywall screws below the surface of the outer paper covering. Plus, you want to create a dimple in the paper. Higher than the paper surface will make it difficult, if not impossible, to apply the drywall compound and finish the walls.

When the screw is perfectly sunk, the edges of the paper around the circle are rounded. If the edges are sharp, that means that the screw went down too far.

If you rub your finger against the screw head, it should not feel flush with the paper.

Avoid Sinking the Screw Too Far

Should you drive the screw too far, the screw head will completely puncture the paper and end up in the gypsum part of the drywall. This means that the screw is not properly holding the drywall to the stud.

The pop you hear when the head pulls through the paper means you need to drive another screw nearby. It is not necessary to remove the failed screw; this can be mudded over with drywall compound.

There are drill bit extensions you can purchase that help with sinking drywall screws. However, these tools tend to be hit-or-miss, and it's usually best to do this manually.

Tips For Installing Drywall Screws

  • Choose coarse screws. Coarse-thread screws are the proper screw for biting into wood. Finer thread screws are made for metal. Coarse screws aggressively bite into the wood, reducing the physical effort of pushing with the drill.
  • Choose screws that are the right length. Shorter screws may seem like a better idea, but not so. Short screws will barely reach the wood and begin biting in, and it's already time to stop. Longer screws will establish a consistent draw-in speed so that you can better predict when to stop. Drywall screws that are either 1 1/4-inch or 1 5/8-inch work well for half-inch drywall.
  • Brace the drill to reduce stripping. Bracing your body creates pressure between the drill and the screw. Without enough pressure, the bit will strip the screw-head as it gets farther into the wood. You brace by resting the back of the drill against your body. Or you can grasp the back of the work area with your free hand and pull the drill toward the drywall. Whatever you do, the more pressure you can create, the better control you will have as the screw head reaches the paper. If your drill has a handle, attach it for an improved grip.
  • Watch your progress from an angle. Viewing the drilling operation from a high angle ensures that you will better see when the dimple begins to form. By contrast, if you were to view it from behind the drill, it would be difficult to discern when the screw begins to sink into the paper.
  • Use light to your advantage. Place a work light to the side of the drywall. This will create shadows on the board and make it highly evident when the screw begins to dimple.
  • Slow, consistent speed results in a better-installed drywall screw. The best option, if you can do it, is to drill all the way and sink the screw-head without stopping the drill. As soon as you stop the drill, you lose momentum. Should you need to stop, no fear. Just make sure the driver bit is secure on the screw-head, give the drill some pressure, and slowly begin screwing again.
  • Adjust the drill's torque. Torque is one of those features found on all cordless drills, and one which is often ignored. Yet it can help out immensely when hanging drywall. Turn down the torque to its lowest level.