Attaching drywall to wood studs is traditionally done with either drywall nails or drywall screws. In recent years, drywall screws have become the standard due to their superior holding power. Further, screws can be used with both wood studs or metal studs, which are gradually becoming more popular even in residential construction.
Most everyone thinks they know how to drive a nail or screw, but in fact, a special technique is needed to drive drywall screws. For maximum holding power, the head of the screw needs to be just slightly recessed below the surface of the face paper, but not to the point where the paper breaks or tears. Drive it just a tiny fraction too far and the screw loses all its holding power. Too shallow and the screw head can't be properly covered with taping compound.
Choosing Drywall Screws
Drywall screws come in different lengths, and in fine-thread and coarse-thread variations. The length 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.
Equipment / Tools
- Stud finder
- Straightedge or chalk line
- Variable-speed drill or screwgun
- Drywall screws
Locate the Studs
The ends of drywall panels will always fall over studs but is it also important that the panels also 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, begin driving the screw at a slow speed. As the screw begins 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 allows you to drive each drywall screw perfectly in a second or two.
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.
If you do a lot of drywall work, you may want to invest in a specialty drywall screw gun. This tool has a variable clutch and tip that can be set to perfectly recess the screw head below the paper facing without breaking the surface. All professional drywallers use this tool, and advanced DIYers may also appreciate its features.