Screwing drywall to wood studs is traditionally done with either drywall nails or drywall screws. Drywall screws are the standard when putting in drywall due to their superior holding power. Further, screws can be used with wood and metal studs, gradually becoming more popular in residential construction. If you do not screw into a stud when hanging drywall, it can cause the joint to fail. If a stud is missing in the spot where you're hanging drywall, add another stud to the frame if you can.
Most everyone thinks they know how to drive a nail or screw, but a particular technique is needed to secure screws in drywall. For maximum holding power, the head of the screw needs to be slightly recessed below the surface of the face paper but not to the point where the paper breaks or tears. Too shallow, and the screw head can't be adequately covered with taping compound. Drive it just a tiny fraction too far, and the screw loses all its holding power.
Use a variable speed drill and start going slowly and increase speed as the screw meets wood. Slow down again as the nail head reaches the drywall paper, allowing it to go just barely recessed below the surface. Do not over-sink the drywall screws. They should only go about 5/8 to 3/4 inches into the wood. Never hammer in drywall screws. It will create a big hole in the drywall and won't stay in.
Choosing Drywall Screws
Drywall screws come in different lengths and fine-thread and coarse-thread variations. The size of the screw should be chosen based on the thickness of the drywall panels. Standard 1/2-inch-thick drywall calls for 1 1/4-inch or 1 5/8-inch drywall screws, while 5/8-inch-thick drywall panels call for 1 5/8-inch or 2-inch drywall screws. Use coarse-thread screws for wood studs and fine-thread screws for metal studs.
When hanging drywall on the ceiling, the entire weight of the sheet is held by upside-down screws. Use 1 5/8-inch screws to ensure you have at least 1-inch penetration into the wood. Place the screws about 7 inches apart for the edges and field space of 12 inches or less.
Equipment / Tools
- Stud finder
- Straightedge or chalk line
- Variable-speed drill or screwgun
- Drywall screws
How to Screw Drywall to a Stud
Locate the Studs
The ends of drywall panels will always fall over studs, but it is also important that the panels be anchored to studs through the center of the panels (the "field"). Use a stud finder to locate the interim studs between the sides of the panel, then use a long level or chalk line to mark faint vertical lines down the panels to indicate the location of those studs.
Position the Screw
Push the tip of a drywall screw into the drywall at a stud location. At the edge of the panels, the screw should be no less than 1/4 inch from the edge. Any less than this, and you run the risk of crushing the edge of the drywall. The sharp tip should stick firmly into drywall, enough to hold it in place.
Start the Screw
Using a variable-speed drill mounted with a Phillips-head bit, drive the screw slowly. As the screw starts to bite, increase the speed of the drill and apply firm inward pressure on the drill by leaning into it until you feel it bite into the stud.
Finish Driving the Screw
Slow up on the drill speed but keep firm inward pressure on the drill as the screw head reaches the paper facing. As you finish, the head of the screw should be just barely recessed below the surface, no more than 1/8 inch. This generally takes another 1/4 turn past the point where the screw is exactly flush with the paper facing. With practice, you can easily develop a rhythm that can drive each drywall screw perfectly in a second or two.
A drywall screw depth setting adapter can be purchased for a standard drill or impact driver. Perfect setting of the screws can be obtained easily and consistently.
Remove the drill and run your hand over the depression. The edges of the hole should feel smooth. If you feel roughness, you may have driven the screw too deep, breaking the paper facing and ruining the holding power. If this happens, drive the screw deep into the drywall, cut away any paper that feels rough to the touch, then properly drive another screw near the first one.
Drive additional screws at roughly 8-inch intervals along the edges of the drywall panel and at 16-inch intervals along the interim studs through the field. When drywalling ceilings, shorten the field intervals to every 12 inches.
Tips for Installing Drywall
- Adjust tip setting for drill or screw gun: If your drill or screw gun has a nosepiece to control depth, adjust it to the correct depth of the drywall and stud you are working with. Practice driving screws on a scrap of drywall and wood.
- Make sure the drywall is tight against the stud: Press against the drywall while you drive in screws. Do not release the pressure until several screws have been secured.
- Don't use nails for securing into drywall: Use drywall screws for securing drywall to studs. Drywall nails should only be used for tacking up.
- Make sure edges have stud backing: Add an additional 2-inch by 4-inch backing to the edges of the frame if the frame does not already have it.
- Remove screws that don't screw in well: Pull out screws that do not catch the framing. They can cause problems when taping.
Why are my drywall screws popping out?
Screws pop out that are screwed in too deep or if wood studs expand and contract based on humidity. To prevent this from happening, do not screw them in too deep and use a humidifier or dehumidifier to control humidity, keeping it at least 50%.
How much weight can drywall hold without a stud?
Drywall can hold about 1 to 2 pounds per square foot, depending on the thickness of the drywall sheet. The thicker the sheet, the stronger it is. If you want to hang heavy items, consider using anchors, molly bolts, and adhesive-backed hangers.
Do I need a pilot hole for drywall screws?
You do not need to pre-drill drywall screws. Drive the screw in slowly. Apply pressure to help the screw bite into the wood stud, and keep applying pressure to control the screw as it reaches the drywall paper.