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How to Patch Holes in Drywall

How to Patch Holes in Drywall

Drywall is a popular construction material because it is inexpensive, easy to work with, and naturally fire-resistant. However, impacts can cause unsightly damage and even the settling of the house or building over time can cause cracking, especially if the drywall hasn’t been carefully installed. When sheetrock takes damage – whatever the source – it can often be repaired pretty easily, even by a DIYer. Below we’ll look at how to repair different sizes of hole and bring new life to a damaged wall.

Small Holes

Very small holes, such as those left behind nails or screws, can usually be filled with spackle. Make sure to apply enough spackle to fill in the hole, running a putty knife over the hole a few times to force spackle into the opening. Build up a little mound of extra spackle where the hole is, then feather it out until it’s flat, smooth, and camouflaged into the wall around. Once the spackle is dry, you can sand and paint.

Slightly larger holes – those up to 3-4 inches – may be too big to simply fill with spackle. Beginners may want to purchase a patch kit for these projects. The kit will contain the tools you need as well as a self-adhesive mesh patch. You’ll put the patch over the hole where it will stick on its own. Once the patch is in place, apply joint compound over the patch, feathering it out until the patch is completely covered and the compound makes a smooth transition to the rest of the wall. Let it dry completely, then apply a second coat of joint compound. When the second coat is dry, sand and paint.

Medium and Large Holes

Really large holes may require you to cut away a strip all the way across the sheet of drywall. This will allow you to remove the hole entirely. Once you’ve removed the section, you can cut a new strip from a fresh sheet to fill in the gap. Attach the new piece to the studs, tape and mud as you would any other joint.

Everything else – larger than the 4” patches in the kits but small enough that you won’t simply remove a section of the sheet – can be patched by cutting out a rectangular area around and filling it with a matching piece of scrap drywall. There are two basic methods to accomplish this:

  • Wood-backed patch – in this method, you’ll cut a piece of scrap drywall into a rectangle big enough to cover the hole plus about an inch on either side. Hold this piece over the hole in the wall and trace around it to create a matching outline on the wall. Using a keyhole or drywall saw, cut out the hole by following the outline you’ve just created. Now, you’ll take some pieces of scrap wood that are long enough to span the hole and insert them through the hole. Attach them to the backside of the wall with drywall screws, driving the screws in enough that they slightly dimple the sheetrock. Add one of these wooden backers to either side of a medium-sized hole. For larger holes, consider adding a third or even fourth backer in the middle of the hole for increased support. Once your backers are in place, insert the drywall patch into the hole (it should be a perfect match but if it won’t go in easily, trim a tiny amount off the edges). With the patch in the hole, use drywall screws to attach it to the wood backers, slightly dimpling the drywall sheet. Tape, mud, and finish as you would any other drywall joint. This style of patch can be used with any size of hole because of the stability provided by the wood backing. Consider putting a piece of corner bead between the wood shims and the wall: this sets the patch back a fraction of an inch making it easier to finish without building a hump where the patch is.

California Patch Diagram
  • California or “butterfly” patch – This is similar to the wood-backed patch but creates a free-floating patch that is suitable only for small- to medium-sized holes. You’ll begin by cutting a piece of scrap drywall into a rectangle bigger than the hole – about 3 inches bigger in each direction (horizontally and vertically). On the paper backing, measure and mark off lines 1½” in from each side. Use a utility knife to score these lines down to the front paper but DON’T cut the front paper. Snap the drywall along the scored lines, leaving the front paper intact. Finally, peel the scored and snapped edges away from the front paper. The result should be a rectangular patch with 1½” paper “wings” all the way around. Hold your patch up to cover the hole and trace around it, as in the wood-backed patch. Cut out the hole following the outline of the patch and check that the patch piece enters the cutout easily. Apply mud all the way around the cutout, insert the patch, and press the paper wings into the compound until they’re smooth and strongly attached. Mud in the joint and patch as normal, covering the patch with compound, allowing it to dry fully before applying a second coat, sanding, and finishing. Because this style of patch is less secure (free floating with no backing), it is only suitable for holes 6” or less in diameter.

FibaFuse Fiberglass Tape

Both of these techniques will take multiple days if performed with all-purpose, pre-mixed joint compound, which typically takes up to 24 hours to dry, meaning you can’t apply the second coat on the same day. Using hot mud (setting compound) can get the job done faster and allow you to do the second coat on the same day but it requires more practice to use. It sets up very hard and it will be difficult to sand out imperfections.

Depending on the product you select, setting compound can harden in as little as five minutes, so be sure to get a setting compound with a long enough set time to perform the work you need to. If you’re using mesh tape, hot mud is considered essential because the hot mud’s hardness compensates for the mesh tape’s weaker bond with the drywall.

A final possibility is FibaFuse tape, which is a fiberglass tape product that gets embedded like paper tape and then bonds chemically with the drywall mud, giving it some of the best of both worlds. Because of the chemical bond, FibaFuse requires less mud to bond effectively with the drywall, meaning you may use less mud and need less time to finish the job.

Special Patches

Some patches take advantage of the properties of certain materials or save time with an innovative approach.

  • Capsule Patch – If you’re using FibaFuse tape, you can also patch small holes with a “capsule.” In this approach, you lay a piece of Fibafuse over the hole, then push it partway through the hole. The remaining tape flaps on the close side of the wall are flattened against the sheetrock to attach the tape. On the back side of the wall, you’ve created a small capsule out of the tape which you can then fill with mud. Apply a second piece of FibaFuse over the capsule to seal it. The mud dries, forming a custom patch. Then, finish as normal. This approach is advisable only with FibaFuse – paper tape won’t allow the mud enough air circulation to dry easily and mesh tape can’t contain the mud, which will fall through the gaps in the mesh.

  • Stress Crack Stitching – If you’ve got stress cracking in the drywall, cut some strips of OSB about 1 x 3-6 inches, depending on the width of the crack. Cut a small hole, about 1” x 1”, just before the start of the crack. The hole should be just big enough to let the OSB strips pass through. Tie a thin string around the center of each OSB strip, feed it through the hole and pull the string to keep the strip tight against the backside of the drywall, perpendicular to the crack. Pull the string along the crack to the far end making sure to keep the OSB strip flat against the backside of the drywall and perpendicular to the crack. Your goal is to use the string to position the strip across the crack at the far end from where you cut the hole. Once the strip is in place, fix it with screws. Repeat this process with a strip every few inches until you’ve reinforced the whole length of the crack (imagine that each piece of OSB is like a doctor’s stitch closing a cut if you can’t picture what it should look like on the back). Now, all you have to do is patch the 1-inch hole you made, rather than cutting out and replacing/patching a huge section of drywall. You may want to finish over the crack with mud to remove the visible cracking.

Summary and Conclusion

Fixing holes in drywall is an approachable DIY project that most home repair hobbyists can perform on their own with a bit of patience and practice. Techniques and tools required vary depending on the size of the hole. The smallest holes can be filled with spackle. Slightly larger holes (up to about 4”in diameter) can be patched either with a ready-to-use kit containing all the items you’ll need or with the manual techniques used for larger holes.

Large holes (4”and larger) will require you to cut a custom patch and a matching space in the wall. This removes the irregular hole and creates an easy-to-finish rectangular space to plug your matching patch into. Depending on the size of the hole, the patch may be either free-floating (California) or supported (wood-backed). Using hot mud or FibaFuse tape can reduce your time to complete the project compared to paper tape, though hot mud especially requires more planning and practice to use effectively. FibaFuse can be used for a special “capsule” patch over small holes and stress cracking can be repaired strongly and quickly with the stitching technique.

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