Material Pairings – Mud and Tape

Material Pairings - Mud and Tape

Material Pairings: Which Mud with Which Tape?

When you start working on a drywall project, the sheer variety of materials can be overwhelming, especially if you’re new to the craft. Compound comes in both drying and setting types, different weight grades, and a variety of setting times. Tape is available in three main varieties. When do you use each kind? Can you use any mud with any tape or are some pairings better than others? Let’s find out!

Types of Mud

The two broad categories of mud are commonly referred to as pre-mix and powdered (hot) mud. As the names suggest, pre-mixed comes ready to use while powdered compound needs to be mixed with water before you use it. Within these two categories, though, you’ll find a lot of different options.

Common pre-mixed varieties are “all-purpose,” which can be used at any phase of the finishing process, “topping mud” which is easy to sand and dries to a bright white making it good for a final coat, and “lightweight all-purpose” which sands more easily than standard all-purpose and is great for everything but the first coat. Some companies may call their standard mud “heavyweight” but this isn’t very common as it brings to mind doing extra work. Though it’s much less common, you may also find midweight mud, which strikes a balance between standard/heavyweight mud’s durability and lightweight mud’s ease of working.

Powdered mud is so called because it contains a mix of ingredients that, in the presence of water, undergo a chemical reaction which causes it to set very hard in a matter of minutes. The reaction can also cause the mud mixture to become warm, hence the name “hot mud.” These types of compounds are available in different chemical configurations with different set times – anywhere from 5 to 90 minutes – which will be indicated on the container. They all work basically the same way but vary in how long they take to cure. Remember that the number on the package is the maximum hardening time. They may take less time depending on jobsite conditions like humidity, temperature, etc. 

Within the two main camps of compound, you may find other products intended for specific uses (“mold resistant” for example). Feel free to try these if you like but know that they aren’t necessary. The basics are enough for any job. In some cases, the special compound may even give you a false sense of security – mold resistant mud isn’t mold proof and even if you use it, you need to take mold seriously. That’s why professionals recommend keeping it simple with all-purpose for the tape coat and lightweight all-purpose (if drying) or easy sand (if setting) for the rest of the coats.

Types of Tape

Traditionally, drywall tape has been available in paper and mesh varieties but in recent years, a new style called FibaFuse has entered the market. Find an in-depth comparison of paper and mesh tape here or read on for a quick summary.

Paper tape is generally regarded as forming a stronger joint because it starts with an underlying layer of mud. Also, it becomes very rigid, like papier-mâché, as it absorbs the mud and then dries. This means it moves less than mesh tape in response to building movement and, in the long term, may result in less cracking.

Unlike paper tape, mesh tape is self-adhesive, so you can skip the underlying layer of mud and attach it directly to the drywall boards. Because of its mesh design, air can move through it more easily than through paper tape, so air bubbles aren’t really an issue with mesh tape. 

FibaFuse is a relatively new third option that combines some of the benefits of paper and mesh tape into a single product. It’s a solid product (like paper tape) rather than a mesh but offers better breathability and air passage, making air bubbles less likely and shortening drying times. Once in contact with the mud, the tape fuses chemically, creating a stronger bond. Like mesh tapes, it’s made of fiberglass, which is more resistant to mold than paper tape.

Which Mud with Which Tape?

Of the three options, mesh tapes are the least flexible in terms of pairing. They require a setting-type compound. Because the tape is applied directly to the sheetrock, mesh tapes skip a layer of mud. That saves time but it also means you lose some of the strength that comes from the extra layer. Setting compounds, which dry to a harder finish than drying compounds, help compensate for that.

Both paper and FibaFuse tapes can be used with either setting or drying compounds, though drying compounds are more common. Many professionals stick to drying compound because it’s cheap, effective, and gives you more uninterrupted time to work (setting compound requires frequent cleaning of your tools to ensure the compound doesn’t set onto them permanently). Also, drying compound is easier to sand, saving some effort in the final stages. In the case of FibaFuse, pre-mix is generally a better choice because it flows through the tape better, creating the “fusion” that gives the tape its name. When using FibaFuse, apply less compound, especially in your bed-in coat, than you might with paper tape. Because of the tape’s capacity to fuse to the compound, you can use less mud and still achieve a strong bond. The breathability of FibaFuse will also allow the thin layer of mud beneath to dry quickly, saving you time between coats.

Summary and Conclusion

There are lots of different mud and tape products for drywallers to choose from. Generally, though, mud comes in two varieties (pre-mixed and powdered/hot) and tape comes in three (paper, mesh, FibaFuse). All of them can get the job done and offer different advantages. When choosing your materials, start with the tape you want because your mud choice may depend on it. Mesh tapes require setting-type compound. Paper and FibaFuse tapes can be used with either mud type, though pre-mixed is the generally recommended and more common pairing.


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