How to Use a Drywall Banjo
In drywall work, the banjo is technically an “extra” in the sense that it is possible to do finishing work without one. While it can be tempting to say that the banjo is for more serious drywallers or those who intend to do a large-scale project or lots and lots of projects, it is one of the tools that is most useful to beginner drywallers. This is because it helps lay smooth, even tape with no bubbles or air pockets, which often takes a lot of practice to achieve by hand. So regardless of whether you’re a total novice or an experienced craftsperson, working with a drywall banjo can be a great way to save time and effort, and, in some cases, money (if it helps you avoid mistakes that will cost you later on). But if you’ve never used one before, you may be wondering exactly how it works. Let’s take a look.
Function and Setup
The basic use of the banjo is to quickly and accurately lay tape and mud simultaneously, in smooth, even stretches. Used correctly, it can cut your taping time nearly in half. The banjo is set up basically like a giant scotch tape dispenser, except that on the way from the roll to the cutting edge, the tape has to pass through a chamber full of mud.
When setting up your banjo for the first time, you’ll need to follow a few steps to get started.
- Begin by installing the tape roll. Every banjo has a spinning “wheel” on the back – usually a rotating piece with three prongs – that holds the tape roll. The prongs just slide into the hole in the roll of tape.
- Next, locate the opening in the back bottom of the banjo. This thin hole opens into the chamber where the mud will go. Thread the tape through the hole so that it’s in the mud chamber.
- Pull the tape along the upper surface of the mud chamber – you want the tape to follow the upper border all the way around to the front, where it will exit through the dispenser.
- Once you’ve got the tape threaded into the chamber, along the upper wall, and out the dispenser, prepare your compound. Take some all-purpose joint compound and thin it out slightly with a bit of water – if the compound is too thick, you’ll have trouble moving the tape through it.
- Take your lightly thinned compound and fill up the mud chamber. Here, be sure that the chamber is generously full but not full to bursting. An overfull chamber can cause the tape to rip inside the banjo, causing a mess and a break in your workflow.
- Close the chamber with the built-in clamps to keep the mud in.
- Adjust the flow of mud as necessary – depending on the tape you use and the exact consistency of your thinned joint compound, you may need to tweak the opening of the tape dispenser. There should be a screw on the front that controls the opening. Do some tests on scrap pieces of drywall until the tape comes out with roughly 1/8” of mud on it. Too little compound and your tape won’t stick, too much and you’ll waste compound and make a mess.
Working with the Banjo
Once you’re all set up, it’s time to start laying tape. Hold the banjo with your hand through the strap. Take the loose end of the tape in your hand and hold it to the wall or ceiling in line with the joint you want to cover. As you continue to hold the loose end to the wall, pull the banjo to release about 12” of tape, then holding the tape taut, bring it to the wall, smoothing with your hand once it’s stuck. When your smoothing hand reaches the banjo (or within a few inches), hold the tape firmly against the wall and repeat the process, pulling the banjo again to release another 12” or so of tape, smoothing, and so on. When you reach the end of the joint, use the cutter on the end of the dispenser to cut the end of the tape. Smooth the last few inches and you’re all set, ready to move on to the next joint!
A drywall banjo is a great tool that can save time and eliminate costly mistakes for drywallers of all levels of experience. They make the otherwise, long, precise work of taping into a much faster, more approachable task and can save you a lot of time and effort. Applying tape with the banjo will take a bit of practice, but requires less practice than taping by hand to get the same results. Plus, once you get the hang of it, you’ll be working faster and more efficiently than you would when taping by hand. A little setup of the tool itself is all that’s necessary to achieve professional results in record time!