Drywalling DIY: the Toolkit You’ll Need
If you’re just starting to learn how to drywall (or even if you’ve got some experience and want to deepen your knowledge), one of the first things you should consider is what tools you’ll need to finish the job efficiently, effectively, and beautifully. In this article, we’ll take a look both at essential tools (the stuff you absolutely have to have if you want to complete your project) and at some extras (the optional stuff “toys” that make the job easier, faster, or more fun). Let’s get into it!
Drywall work does require some special tools but fortunately, much of what you’ll need to do basic drywall jobs at home are tools you may already have (utility knife, safety goggles, measuring tape, drill, snips, etc.). Outside of that basic “DIY toolkit” that you would expect to need, you’ll also require some specific equipment for each of the two major phases of drywall construction (hanging and finishing). Here are the drywall-specific tools and supplies you can’t work without:
- Dust mask. Working with sheetrock generates a lot of dust. A lot. And more importantly, that dust is composed of fine silica particles which can cause health problems if you breathe it in. Take your health protection seriously and stock up on dust masks.
- Drywall T-square. Even if you have a T-square already, you will want to get one made for drywall work. Why? Well, the drywall T-square is 48”long, meaning you can square up and cut across an entire 4×8 sheet of drywall in a single cut. This not only saves time, but eliminates wavy lines that can result from re-positioning.
- Drywall saw. You’ll use a utility knife with the T-square when you want straight lines, but the drywall saw is your go-to when you need to cut shapes out of the middle of the board – such as for electrical outlets. The tip is sharp enough to easily puncture the drywall and the blade is narrow and roughly triangular so you can start cuts exactly where you want and make very precise shapes in the middle of the board.
- Drywall screws. It may sound obvious, but if you were thinking about just using whatever screws you have lying around to hang your sheetrock: don’t. Get the right screws to ensure a good hang, which will save you time and effort later on. Use coarse-thread if they’re going into wooden studs and fine-thread if they’re going into metal.
- Taping knives. You’ll want several – at a bare minimum, get knives in widths of 6”, 8”, 10”, and 12”. These knives are crucial for mudding and taping your drywall once it’s hung and will directly affect your ability to create a smooth, even result in your walls and ceiling.
- Drywall tape. This special tape is used, along with joint compound, to cover the seams between drywall boards. It helps create a smooth, flat surface in the final product and also helps keep the boards from shifting around which can cause the drywall to crack later on, requiring repairs.
- Joint compound. Along with taping knives and tape, this product (also commonly referred to as “mud”) starts as a sort of thick paste and hardens to a firm, durable, sandable surface. It is used as a sort of glue to reinforce the joints, embed drywall tape to the sheetrock, and to attach other drywall components to the sheetrock.
- Hawk or mud pan. There are two tools that you can use to hold the joint compound while you work (so you don’t have to constantly go back to the bucket every five minutes). You don’t need both – either one will do – but if you’re new to drywall work, you may want to get one of each so you can figure out which is more comfortable for you.
- Corner bead. Available in both metal and vinyl varieties, corner bead is a protective strip that fits onto an outside corner to protect it from impact. Drywall is a great building material for a lot of reasons, but it can crack or even break off if subject to impact, especially at the edges, so these simple strips reinforce the areas most likely to see such impacts – the exposed edges of outside corners.
- Sanding sheets. Once your mud dries, you’ll need sanding sheets in multiple grits from coarse to fine to work your way down to the perfectly smooth finish of your dreams.
- Sanding block. This is a sort of grip that you attach the sanding sheets to so that you can apply an even pressure and work over a larger area. It may sound like an extra, but if you want your wall or ceiling to have a consistent look when you finish, you’ll need this.
With the above tools and lot of patience and attention to detail, you can complete nearly any drywall project you set your mind to…but just getting the job done isn’t as much fun as getting it done with style. The tools listed below may not be strictly necessary but they’ll save you time, energy, and make you feel like a real pro, too. Basically all of them (with the exception of stilts) are used only for the finishing phase of construction, since that’s the part that generally requires more finesse.
- Drywall stilts. Sure, you can use a ladder or a scaffold to hang rock on the ceiling or apply tape to the tops of vertical seams, but with a little practice, you could just walk around the room on your drywall stilts, hanging, mudding, sanding, and generally looking and feeling like a boss.
- Corner knife and corner sander. Mudding and taping inside corners is one of the most difficult and time-consuming aspects of finishing your project. This is in no small part because, with simple, straight tools (like a regular drywall knife), it requires doing each side of the tape or mud separately, doubling the time and effort required. Additionally, without a lot of practice, it can be tricky to treat the two sides of the corner evenly if you do them separately. That’s where corner tools come in – they’re specially designed versions of regular drywall kit that have a built-in right angle, so you can work the whole corner evenly and all at once.
- Sanding pole. If you don’t have stilts, getting a sanding pole is a more economical choice that will still save you a lot of time and labor. Basically, it’s a sanding block on a long pole, allowing you to sand up high without constantly moving, climbing, moving, and re-climbing a ladder.
- Banjo. Now you’re in the big leagues. If you’ve decided to do a large project by yourself, you anticipate doing lots of hobby construction in the future, or you just like really cool gadgets, the banjo might be for you. It looks like a big version of the dispenser that scotch tape comes in, and it lets you load a roll of drywall tape along with joint compound to apply the tape and mud together in a single step. With a little practice, this gizmo will save you lots of time and energy, but it requires a bit of an investment so it’s not right for everyone.
- Mixer paddle and dry compound mix. If you want to mix your own joint compound (rather than buy it pre-mixed), you’ll need these. Why mix your own joint compound? If you’re very precise, you can reduce waste by only mixing the amount you really need. But the main reason to mix your own is so that you can control the thickness of the mix. That’s not necessary if you’re just starting out, but as you gain experience, you may find that you prefer working with a compound that’s slightly thinner or thicker than the pre-mixed stuff. Plus, some specialty tools (like the banjo) benefit from a different consistency than the standard pre-mixed type.
- Specialty corner bead. While basic corner beads offer protection against impact and a nice, sharp line, they are fairly utilitarian and can be boring to look at. They are also basically only useful for outside corners. Decorative corner beads, on the other hand, allow you to instantly finish outside corners with a variety of visually appealing shapes at the same time as you protect the corner from damage. Available in styles like bullnose, rounded corner, chamfer and more, they allow you to quickly and economically create “millwork” effects. There are even beads designed for other specialty finishing tasks besides outside corners – allowing you to quickly and easily fit skylights, showers, and more.
- Shop vac. While shop vacs aren’t drywall-specific, exactly, they are a big help in drywall work and most people don’t have one. If you’re just getting into drywall, especially finishing, you’ll be shocked at how much dust results from the sanding process. A good shop vacuum is a godsend when the work is done and it’s time to clean up.
Drywall construction is a great way to get into home improvement not only because it’s a practical and useful skill set but because the essential tools and materials you need to get started are pretty affordable. If you’ve been thinking about tackling the next home improvement project on your own, get the essential tools in the first list and give it a shot! Then, once you’ve caught the DIY drywall bug, take your work to the next level with some of the toys and extras in the second list. With a bit of practice, you’ll develop the skills to do everything from small repairs to completely transforming your home.