There’s More Than One Way to Do Drywall

There's More Than One Way to Do Drywall

When it comes to drywall, every craftsperson has an opinion about the “right way” to do it. The reality, though, is that there are lots of different approaches and all of them are valid. Each method has its pros and cons but as long as you’re paying attention and executing the steps with skill, you can get good results with paper tape and mud, mesh tape and hot mud, or newer methods and products like Fibafuse tape with traditional mud. Below, we’ll look at each method individually, outlining the basic steps and examining the pros and cons of each approach so you can decide which method is right for you.

Traditional Mud and Paper Tape

Advantages and Disadvantages

This method is considered “traditional” for a reason – it’s the first way most people learn to finish drywall and is widely appreciated for its strong, smooth finish. Traditional mud takes a while to dry, which is both a pro and a con. You need to allow plenty of time for each coat to dry but you also have more time to smooth everything to perfection, making it a great approach for newcomers to the craft who don’t work as quickly. Traditional mud is also easier to sand than hot mud, again making it a great choice for DIYers and newbies who might have more errors to sand out in the end. Aside from the drying time, the other con associated with traditional compound is that it’s not quite as strong as hot mud once it dries, so you generally need to use it with paper tape. Paper tape can be more difficult to apply perfectly than mesh tape, since it’s more prone to air bubbles and a bit easier to rip as you embed it in the mud with a knife.

How to Apply

Before you apply your paper tape, you’ll need to apply a coat of mud over the seams between your drywall boards. This coat is used to stick the paper tape to the wall (a step called “embedding the tape”). Lay the tape down over the initial coat of mud, pressing every foot or so, then embed it by pulling a taping knife along the tape, pressing it into the compound and squeezing out air bubbles. Start from the center and work towards the ends. Let it dry overnight, then add a second coat over the tape. Dry overnight and complete your work with a third coat. Each coat, use a larger taping knife to feather out the compound and get a smooth transition back to the drywall panel. Consider using a lightweight all-purpose compound for the final coat: lightweight compound is easier to sand, making it easier to smooth out any remaining imperfections.

Hot Mud and Mesh Tape

Advantages and Disadvantages

Unlike traditional mud which comes pre-mixed, hot mud (or “quick-setting compound”) comes as a powder which you mix with water. The biggest advantage of hot mud is that it can save you time. Once mixed, a chemical reaction occurs which causes the mud to become warm (hence the name “hot mud”) and to harden in much less time than it takes traditional mud to dry. That quick-set process means experienced drywallers can get jobs done more quickly. On the other hand, it also makes hot mud harder to use for beginners. Some hot muds set in a matter of minutes, meaning that if you aren’t an expert, it may become too hard to work with before you finish smoothing it and once it’s hard, sanding it smooth takes a lot more time and effort than sanding traditional mud.
Additionally, you’ll need to work in batches and clean your tools more often – if hot mud hardens on your tools, it can be difficult or impossible to remove, so you need to be much more careful than with traditional mud. You’ll need to be careful about how much mud you mix, too – anything you’ve mixed but don’t use will need to be thrown out. On the other hand, the powder is easy to keep and takes up less space than a comparable amount of traditional mud, so you might want to consider it if you’re doing lots of projects and want to have mud on hand.
Using mesh tape can help somewhat with mold resistance, since it’s harder for mold to grow on the fiberglass material that mesh tape is made of than it is for mold to grow on paper.

How to Apply

Hot mud is compatible with mesh tape, which doesn’t require a bed coat like paper tape. Instead, mesh tape is self-adhesive, so you can apply it directly to the seams and then mud over it with hot mud. As with traditional mud, you want to apply each coat with a wider knife, feathering out each layer of mud to produce a smooth transition back to the drywall panel. You won’t need to wait overnight, though – the hot mud will harden in an hour or two (as indicated on the package, depending on the formula). Once one coat has completely hardened and dried (it will turn white), you can begin the next coat.


Advantages and Disadvantages

FibaFuse is a relatively new tape product that aims to combine some of the best qualities of paper and mesh tapes. Like mesh tape, it’s made of fiberglass, but it’s a solid tape, not a mesh. It’s more breathable than paper tape and fuses chemically with the compound to create a strong bond. Thanks to its breathability, it offers a shorter drying time with traditional mud compared to paper tape.

How to Apply

Depending on the mud you use (FibaFuse works with either kind of mud), you can apply FibaFuse as you would the other tapes mentioned above. Though FibaFuse is compatible with both hot and traditional muds, experts recommend using traditional mud because it flows through the tape better. You can use considerably less compound, though – especially in your bed-in coat – than you would with paper tape, which can further shorten drying times.
For a more complete look at FibaFuse, check out our interview FibaFuse expert Rick Eisfeller.
There are lots of different opinions on the best way to do drywall. Each method has its advantages and can produce good results. In the end, you should use the methods and materials that you feel comfortable with and that you like – just make sure you’re following the right techniques and best practices for the approach you’ve chosen. For a more in-depth look at why we typically use hot mud with mesh tape and traditional mud with paper tape, have a look at our post about pairing materials.

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