The goal of any wall-building project is to end up with walls that are straight and true and flat. Walls should quietly do their job, without much fuss.
And most of the time, this is the case.
In new-construction home building, you hang drywall on studs and generally all of the drywall edges meet perfectly with each other and with all the window and door trim. If the carpenters have framed the walls properly, the drywall installers will have a perfect surface for installing drywall.
But when you are remodeling a home, often you will not find a perfect nailing surface for drywall. That's when you need a little extra help. Fortunately, that help is very inexpensive and easy to find. In fact, you can even make your own version of this help for free. This help: cardboard drywall shims. Anyone hanging drywall for a remodel project should have a pack of drywall shims on hand.
Studs or Joists: Unacceptable For Drywall
In home remodeling, not all is perfect because you are dealing with the consequences of time, demolition, or even poor decisions made decades ago by builders and homeowners.
Often, after you have removed the older drywall or plaster, you will find individual studs or joists that are warped, twisted, and bowed. This is especially common when the previous wall covering was plaster since the lath-and-plaster system is excellent at compensating for imperfect stud assemblies.
Sometimes, the very act of removing old drywall will bring studs out of line when overambitious workers knock studs slightly back. Another condition is when a number of studs, even if they are in good condition, are not far in or out enough to match your other work. This section of studs might be just 1/8 inch back from an adjacent section of studs.
Do you accept the imperfect and go on? Or is there a simple way to nudge it along until it is close to perfect? The answer is drywall shimming. Far from being technological marvels, drywall shims are dead-simple, cheap cardboard strips sized perfectly for studs.
Those warped, twisted, and bowed studs benefit from shimming partial sections. The occasional stud that is too far back can be shimmed from top to bottom. That entire section of studs that doesn't match its neighboring section can be shimmed forward by 1/8 inch.
What Are Drywall Shims?
Drywall shims are strips of cardboard that increase the forward reach of a stud (that is, the stud's width) so that the drywall hangs better on the stud.
Drywall shims are not to be confused with window or door shims, which are short, tapered, and made of wood or plastic.
Since they are constructed of water-soluble cardboard, drywall shims should never be used for framing windows or exterior doors. Also, they should not be used for plasterwork since the water from the plaster would cause the shims to become pulp-like.
Hard cardboard that does not compact under pressure is the source for drywall shims. Other materials, such as corrugated cardboard, would compact too far.
While drywall shims can be duplicated for free by slicing up old cardboard, veneer board, or even tar paper, cardboard drywall shims are far easier to work with.
Drywall Shims Specs
- At 45 inches long, drywall shims are the perfect length because they are the width of a sheet of drywall or half of an 8-foot length. In either sense, shims are cut perfectly to size for working with full sheets of drywall.
- At 1 1/2 inches wide, drywall shims are the width of a stud, reducing width waste and the need for long cuts.
- At about 1/8-inch thick, drywall shims are thin enough to correct shallow irregularities but can be stacked to address worse problems.
Tools and Materials
- Cardboard drywall shims
- Staple gun and staples
- Laser level or chalk line
- Drywall installation tools
- Use a chalk line or laser level to determine how much the defective joists or studs need to be shimmed for the drywall. If dealing with a section of defective studs or joists that are all different distances, write individual measurements on each stud or joist with a pencil.
- Lay a shim (or multiple shims) against the stud or joist until it reaches a point consistent to the level point.
- With your staple gun, staple the shims in place against the stud. Generally, shims are less effective beyond three or four of them, because the staple is not long enough to reach the stud. Another reason is that the eventual drywall screw or drywall nail will have less wood to grab onto.
- Continue installing drywall shims for all of the studs.
- Make one final check for level by using your laser level or chalk line.
- Install the drywall as normal, using a drill, drywall screws, and drywall.
How to Make Drywall Shims
Corrugated cardboard used for boxes does not work well for making drywall shims because this material will compact and flatten. Instead, use thin, non-corrugated cardboard.
With the drywall square, measure out and cut strips of cardboard that are 1-1/2 inches wide by no more than 8 feet long.
Where to Buy Drywall Shims
Most large home improvement stores will carry 100-count bundles of drywall shims in the drywall section of the lumber department. The shims will typically be located in the tools and accessories section of this drywall area.
Because they are not commonly used by homeowners, drywall shims might be on a higher shelf or away from immediate view. You can also find them on Amazon.