How to Hang Drywall

Hanging Drywall

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Hanging drywall is a crucial skill that you keep returning to over and over when you remodel a house. With a small financial investment, you can substantially alter the look of an unfinished space, such as a garage or basement, in little time. Successful drywall installation hinges on correctly anchoring the drywall panels to the framing members. Once you master the technique of hanging drywall, you can inexpensively finish rooms in very little time.

Safety Considerations

Although you can install drywall by yourself, the job will be much easier if you have a helper or two, especially if you are covering the ceiling. Made largely of the mineral gypsum, drywall is a heavy building material that also happens to be large and unwieldy. Consider purchasing an inexpensive plastic drywall carrier that allows you to hold the drywall sheet at your side without twisting your arm.

Project Metrics

  • Working Time: 10 minutes per drywall sheet
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Material Cost: $20 to $50

What You Will Need

Equipment/Tools

Materials

  • Drywall sheets
  • Drywall fasteners

Instructions

Check the Wall Studs

Drywall is attached to framing with drywall screws or nails. Before you start hanging the drywall, check the studs and joists for bows or twists. The finished walls will look best if the studs are as flat as possible. Visually inspect the studs or joists to see if they are aligned in a straight plane. Alternatively, hold a long, straight board or level across the framing.

If any framing members stick out, trim them with a saw or a plane. A power planer is perfect for this job if you have a large installation. Fill in low spots with shims attached with nails or glue.

Run the head of the hammer up and down the studs (for remodels, not new-construction drywall installation) to check for stray screws or nails that will impede the drywall.

Choose a Drywall Fastener

Drywall screws are the fastener of choice for most drywall installations. Drywall screws have a fluted head designed to recess slightly below the surface of the drywall paper without breaking it, and coarse threads for the best hold in the gypsum core of the drywall. Screws can be driven faster than nails, with less chance for damaging the face of the drywall; they also hold the drywall to the framing better than nails.

For do-it-yourselfers, the best tool for attaching drywall is a cordless drill with an adjustable clutch. Or you can use special drywall screw bits that fit into a drill chuck. These bits are designed to stop turning when the screw hits the desired depth.

Drywall nails do have their place, though. If you need to install a large amount of drywall quickly, drywall nails go in considerably faster than drywall screws. Use a hammer that has a curved face, to leave just a small dimple around the nail head. Use ring-shank drywall nails only, as these have a broad head that helps hold the drywall in place.

Drive the Fasteners

Screws and nails need to be driven below the surface of the drywall so that they can be covered with joint compound and sanded to create a smooth surface. But they should not be driven so deep as to tear the paper surface and damage the gypsum core. Once the paper is torn, much of the holding power of the fastener is lost. 

A properly driven fastener is slightly countersunk beneath the surface. Screw depth can be controlled on a screwgun or a cordless drill with an adjustable clutch. Screws should penetrate the framing at least 5/8-inch, which means that easy-to-find 1-1/4-inch screws will suffice for both 1/2-inch and 5/8-inch drywall panels.

Nails should penetrate the framing at least 3/4-inch. Hammering drywall nails can actually be a more forgiving technique than driving drywall screws. Drywall screws tend to rapidly penetrate the drywall paper and tear through instantly. But with hammering, the broad, smooth head of the hammer allows for several errant blows before the paper tears.

Hang the Drywall

If you are covering both walls and ceiling, begin with the ceiling. When attaching drywall to ceiling joists spaced 16 inches on center, fasteners should be spaced 12 inches apart. With wall studs, the maximum spacing between fasteners should be 16 inches. Drive screws into each stud beneath the panel.

Attach fasteners every 8 inches along the untapered edges, but keep them at least 3/8-inch from the edge to avoid damaging the gypsum core. When using nails, plan to drive a second nail 2 inches from the first at each fastener location, along the face of the drywall.

After covering the ceiling, attach the top sheets to the wall. Before doing so, though, mark the locations of the wall studs on the edges of the ceiling drywall with a pencil. This will make it easier to find the stud centers when driving screws into the wall panels.

Tips

When installing drywall that is horizontally-oriented, start with the top and work your way down. The idea is to make your cut side facing the floor, where it will be later covered up with baseboards.

Finishing the Panels

Once the stud locations have been marked, lift the panel into position. Drive a screw at the bottom of the panel into a center stud, then work your way out and up the panel. Lift the panel into place on the screws, then grab your drill in one hand while sliding the panel into position with your other hand and shoulder.

Bottom panels should fit snugly against the top panels. The easiest way to manage this is to use a drywall lifter. Commercial models are best, but you can make a suitable lever out of a couple of scraps of lumber.

Tips for Hanging Drywall

  • Rent a Drywall Lift: A drywall lift can hold a panel in place against the ceiling or against the wall, freeing both of your hands to easily drive screws.
  • Make Your Own Drywall Lift: Homemade braces are not quite as effective as a lift, but they are easy to assemble and cheap. Make a brace by attaching a 4-foot-long two-by-four to a full-length two-by-four leg. The T-shaped brace should be about an inch longer than the height of the ceiling. Make two of them.
  • Resting a Drywall Sheet: When installing top panels on a wall, you might find it easier to handle the panel by resting it on screws driven temporarily into the studs about 50 inches below the ceiling. Lift the panel into place on the screws, then quickly grab your screwgun or drill in one hand while sliding the panel up with your other hand and shoulder.