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The Dos and Don’ts of Taping Drywall

Eager to turn fresh drywall into walls with a flawless finish? Whether this is your first taping job or you’re just looking to improve your technique, improve your drywall taping skills with these tips and tools.



Professional drywall taping crews make it look so easy: They move quickly, smear compound into every joint and nail hole, and leave walls ultra-smooth. While gluing drywall is not a difficult task, a flawless finish can be difficult to achieve. That requires the right techniques, the right tools, and patience. With the following guidelines, and a little help from HD DRYWALL, you’ll be gluing walls like a pro in no time.



DO put your power drill to work.

Drywall mud should be smooth and lump-free before taping begins. Mixing the powdered compound and water by hand is time-consuming, and you may not be able to remove all the clumps of powder if you don’t stir enough. Instead, use a mixing bit, such as HD DRYWALL’s Stir Whip, attached to a heavy-duty ½-inch power drill to mix the compound until it reaches the consistency of peanut butter. Even pre-mixed sludge (always a good idea) can benefit from a mechanical mixing blast as it may have settled in the bin.

DON’T buy the wrong mud for your project.

One of the most common mistakes new tapers make is selecting the wrong mud. Use an “all-purpose” or “setting” compound for the initial coat and for each additional coat—except the final coat. All-purpose compound goes on smooth and adheres well to joints and drywall tape. For the final coat, though, switch to a “topping” compound, which creates a fine surface and sands easily.

Unless you’re an experienced taper, steer clear of “fast-setting,” or “hot,” mud that dries very quickly. Hot mud can set up before you have a chance to smooth it out, leaving you with a lot of extra sanding.

DO prefill wide joints.

Gaps 1/8 inch or wider between drywall panels can give a drywall installation an amateur appearance, but gaps aren’t the end of the world. Just fill ’em up before you get to work taping! Because the compound used to fill them has a tendency to shrink, it may cause the paper tape (and the entire initial coat) to warp if you fill the gaps at the same time as you apply your initial tape coating. If you prefill the gaps, however, and let them dry before you apply the tape coat, the compound in the gaps will not negatively affect the tape.

To prefill gaps, use an all-purpose compound and a small flexible putty knife like Black and Silver 2-Inch Flexible Putty Knife. When prefilling joints, carefully press the compound directly into the joint, then wipe the excess off with the blade of the putty knife—you don’t want any mud buildup on the face of the drywall. Allow joints to dry completely (24 hours) before applying the first taping coat.

DON’T overlap drywall tape.

Applying a single layer of paper tape will help minimize any chance of ending up with a bulge in the finished wall. Begin by applying a thin layer of compound to a single vertical joint using a quality knife, such as Hyde Tools’ 6-Inch Flexible Black & Silver Stainless Steel Joint Knife. Its flexible blade will distribute mud uniformly over the joints. Then, immediately after applying mud to the entire length of a single vertical joint, position a strip of paper tape (about two inches shorter than the joint) over the wet mud. Pull the joint knife smoothly—working from the middle of the tape to each end—to bed the tape securely in the mud. Repeat with all vertical joints. When you tape horizontal joints, cut the tape so it fits between the vertical joints without overlap. If they do overlap, they will probably leave bumps.

DO take steps to reduce the mess caused by wet compound.

As you tape, you’ll find that splatters of drywall compound go just about everywhere: in your hair, on your clothing, and on everything else in the room. Wear a hat, protective eyewear (drywall compound stings!), and old clothing that you can toss when you’re done. Remove furniture from the room, and cover the floor with a canvas drop cloth.

DON’T skip nail or screw holes while applying each coat of compound.

It takes just a dab of compound to cover the head of a fastener. Smooth out the compound with your 6-inch joint knife. Only the dimple over the fastener should have any mud—the wall around it should be completely clear. Wipe the knife over the fastener a second time in a different direction to remove any excess mud.

DO cut the bubbles that form in the paper tape.

After the initial layer of compound dries, check the paper tape for bubbles. These indicate that there was not enough mud on the wall under the tape, or that you may not have pressed the tape firmly enough with the joint knife. Fear not: you can remove these points. Use a sharp utility knife, such as the 18mm Auto-Lock Utility Knife with detachable blades, to cut around the edge of the bubble, then remove the loose piece of tape. Apply some fresh mud on the bubble, smooth it out and let it dry.

DO NOT apply the next layer of mud over pieces of dry compound.

While it’s important to smooth out the compound with each coat, it’s common to end up with a few small wrinkles caused by excess mud that ran off the corners of the knife and dried. These, as well as any unintentional stains of compound, must be removed before the next coat is applied. Scrape them off with a taping knife, such as the 8-inch Professional Hardwood Stainless Steel Extruded-Back Taping Knife. Instead of pulling the knife like you do when spreading compound, simply push the edge of the blade along the wall to scrape off any hardened bits of compound.

DO apply several thin coats instead of one thick coat of mud.

The biggest secret to a professional finish? Apply three or more coats of very thin compound instead of one or two thicker coats. Yes, the compound takes time to dry, but don’t try to speed up the drywall taping process by applying fewer and thicker coats. Doing so will only increase sanding time and you may never be able to get the joints completely smooth. Also, compound shrinks slightly as it dries, so thick coats tend to sag and warp, leaving you with a hardened, lumpy mess.

DO NOT forget to fade the joints.

“Fading” involves applying a layer of mud and then using a taping knife to smooth the edges of the compound so thin it’s hard to tell where the mud ends and the wall begins. It is a technique that requires practice and quality tools. For most feathering situations, a good 10-inch taping knife, such as the Pro Project 10-inch Blue Steel Extruded Back Taping Knife, will give the best results. Hold the putty knife at a 45-degree angle and apply light pressure, just enough to smooth the edge, but not enough to make a ridge in the mud.

DO add an additional strip of mud on each side of the butt joints.

While standard drywall joints (where the long edges of two panels meet) have a factory bevel that accommodates a four-inch layer of compound, butt joints (where the ends of two panels meet) ) they dont have it. There, the compound you apply tends to collect on the joint. To make these seams less noticeable, apply the first layer of mud and paper tape as usual, but apply two additional stripes, 8 to 10 inches wide, on each side of the second layer of mud. This will give you a strip that extends 20 to 30 inches across the butt joint. By spreading the compound over a wider distance, the bond will be less noticeable. With each successive coat, continue to spread the mud in the same manner over the entire joint.

DO NOT sand before to protect yourself and your home.

Your top coat has dried and you’re probably anxious to see how smooth the finish turned out, but don’t start sanding until you have the dust guard in place. Tape plastic sheeting over doorways, vents, and registers to prevent drywall dust from seeping into the rest of the house. Wear old clothes, a hat, goggles, and a full respirator mask. Drywall dust is incredibly invasive. It will stick to everything and even travel out of the room if you’re not careful.

If you have a lot to sand, it’s a good idea to invest in the professional dustless sander. This sanding pad hooks up to a shop vac that will suck up most of the dust while smoothing the walls from top to bottom. While you should still wear protective gear, the Dustless Pole Sander will remove up to 99 percent of drywall dust that would otherwise become airborne.

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