How to Install Drywall Screws

Screwing Drywall Into Place

Andranik Hakobyan / Getty Images

Overview
  • Total Time: 30 mins
  • Yield: 8 x 12-foot wall
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $3 to $5 (excluding drywall)

At one time, all drywall was nailed to wall studs and ceiling joists. While nails still do have their place, drywall screws are now the dominant method of attaching drywall panels. 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.

Proper Drywall Screw Installation

Most people imagine that driving a screw is simplest, most basic of all skills, but with drywall screws, there is a right way and wrong way to do it, and doing it right is integral to the strength of the wall.

Drywall screws should be driven so that the screw head is very slightly recessed below the surface of the paper facing of the drywall panel—but not so deep that the paper facing is broken. Too far above the surface means that there will be no divot, or depression, available to fill with drywall taping compound. But too far below the surface means that the screw has lost most of its holding power.

Tools and Materials for Driving Drywall Screws

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, which greatly simplifies the task.

But most homeowners opt to use a tool that they already have on hand: a cordless drill. A cordless drill is perfect for hanging drywall on a limited scale, but it does require some care and attention in order to drive drywall screws precisely without punching through the paper. A drywall screw extension can be used with a standard drill to reduce the likelihood of punch-through.

For standard 1/2-inch-thick drywall panels, use 1 1/4 -or 1 3/8-inch drywall screws. For 5/8-inch-thick drywall panels, use 1 3/8- or 1 5/8-inch screws. Drywall screws come in both coarse-thread and fine-thread designs. Choose coarse threads when attaching drywall panels to wood studs. Coarse screws aggressively bite into the wood, reducing the physical effort of pushing with the drill. Fine-thread screws are made for attaching panels to metal studs.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Drill or drywall screw gun
  • Drywall screw extension bit (if desired)
  • Work light or lamp

Materials

  • Drywall screws

Instructions

  1. Set a Screwing Interval

    For walls, most professionals secure drywall panels with screws driven every 8 inches along the edges, and every 16 inches through the center (field) of the panels. A typical 4 x 8-foot sheet of drywall will require about 32 screws when installed on a wall. For ceiling panels, the field interval is usually shortened to 12 inches, with the same 8-inch edge intervals.

    To avoid damage along the edges of the drywall panels, you may want to slightly offset the edge screws so they aren't abutting from panel to panel.

    Most pros simply eyeball the position of the screws when driving them, but you can also use a pencil to mark the location for the rows of screws across the field. This can help ensure that you hit the studs as you drive screws.

  2. Illuminate the Wall

    Sidelight on the wall will make it much easier to monitor the depth of the screws as you drive them. A painter's work light set to the side of your work area works well, but any ordinary lamp set close to the wall will also cast enough sidelight to let you work effectively.

  3. Prepare the Drill

    Mount a new Phillips-head screw bit into your drill. Avoid worn bits, since they sometimes strip the screw heads. (You can also attach a drywall extension bit to your drill, if you have one.) If your drill has a side handle, attach it for an improved grip.

    If your drill has an adjustable clutch, adjust the drill's torque down to its lowest level, which will help prevent the drill from driving the screws too deep.

  4. Begin Driving the Screw

    Lean your weight against the drill as you begin driving the screw at a slow speed. Without enough pressure, the bit may strip the screw head as it gets farther into the wood. The more pressure you can create, the better control you will have as the screw head reaches the paper. As you drive, watch the progress of the screw from an angle.

    Slow, consistent speed results in a better-installed drywall screw. The best option, if you can do it, is to drive and and sink the screw-head in one smooth action, without stopping the drill. 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.

  5. Finish Driving the Screw

    Slow and stop the drill as the head of the screw reaches the paper and a dimple forms. When the screw is perfectly sunk, the edges of the paper around the circle will be slightly rounded inward. If the edges are sharp, that means that the screw went down too far. But if you don't drive far enough, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to cover the screw head with taping compound.

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

    If you hear a popping sound, it means the head of the screw has punctured the paper, and that you'll need to dry another screw alongside the failed one. It is not necessary to remove the failed screw; the hole can be mudded over with taping compound during the finishing process.