How to Repair Drywall

A well-placed piece of art may be the quickest way to disguise a hole in drywall, but for a professional fix, follow our tips for a smooth, finished surface.

July 14, 2020
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Photo by: Vivian Johnson

Vivian Johnson

Drywall repair shouldn’t scare you. In fact, it can be kind of fun. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be perusing the walls of your home looking for little nail holes to fill and repair. It’s one of the more satisfying home improvement projects because it’s quick and takes minimal experience to achieve great results. Whether you’re a serial renter or a bona fide homeowner, having the tools and skills to properly repair drywall is like knowing how to tie your shoes.

Materials Needed

  • drywall
  • joint compound
  • joint knife
  • drill + bit
  • drywall screws
  • utility knife
  • drywall knife
  • measuring tape
  • level
  • square
  • pencil
  • stud finder
  • scrap wood

Assess the Damage

Before you head to the hardware store, take a moment to consider the scale of the damaged drywall in question. Just a few small nail holes? All you’ll need is some spackle or joint compound (aka “mud”), a small putty knife and a sanding block. Dealing with a sizeable hole? You will likely need more than the bare necessities. Anything larger than a nail hole often requires mesh drywall tape to strengthen and hold the drywall mud in place. Mesh tape is great for long cracks or coin-sized holes. Holes larger than this will require a patch of drywall. Before you move forward, try to identify what thickness your existing drywall is. This may require you to cut a clean piece off to get an accurate measurement. It will likely be 3/8, 1/2 or 5/8-inch drywall.

Photo by: Kamron Sanders

Kamron Sanders

Prep for Patching

Patching drywall requires you to cut a clean hole in the wall, cut a patch to fit, screw the patch into place on the wall and tape around the joint before mudding. It may seem counterintuitive to cut a bigger hole in the wall, but it is the only way to get a strong, smooth finish in the end. To cut your hole, start by using a stud finder to locate the studs on either side of the damage and place a level above the hole, straddling the two studs. Mark the line above the hole and repeat the process below the hole (Images 1 and 2). Use a drywall jab saw to poke through the drywall and cut along each line until you reach the studs (Image 3). Mark the studs by measuring over 1/2 to 3/4 inch using a square and marking down the center of the studs (Image 4). Once the studs have been marked, use a utility knife to cut out the drywall from the stud (Image 5).

Pro Tip: Many older homes are full of unpredictable construction. Our home featured a layer of 3/8-inch drywall beneath the 1/2-inch drywall, most likely as a means of bringing the surface of the drywall out to meet a plaster surface or existing drywall. To avoid purchasing and cutting material to pad the stud and make up the difference, we left the 3/8-inch drywall on the studs as a spacer and placed the 1/2-inch drywall over top of it, just as we found it.

Photo by: Kamron Sanders

Kamron Sanders

Attach a Support

Drywall is a fairly weak material. If you were to just screw a patch to the studs on each end, your drywall mud would crack in no time and the patch itself would never survive even the slightest hit. Because of this, it is smart to place a scrap piece of wood in the center of your cutout and screw it in place using drywall screws through the existing drywall (Image 1). If you have to pad out your studs, be sure to do the same on your support piece (Image 2).

Measure and Cut Patch

To cut your patch, measure the hole and subtract about 1/8 inch to ensure a good fit. All you have to do to cut drywall is score the paper and break off the piece. You could cut out a custom piece with a jab saw, but you will likely end up with a mess and cut your hand in the process. First, start by measuring your short side, tracing and scoring a straight line along the entire length of the drywall piece and breaking off the piece (Image 1). To cut the piece to length, repeat this process on the cutout piece (Image 2).

Place the Patch

Place the drywall patch in the hole. If there is any difficulty sliding the patch in place, locate the spot and modify it rather than forcing it. The patch will easily crack, and you will have to cut another. To modify any places that don’t fit, cut away the excess with a utility knife or use a drywall rasp. Once fixed, slide the patch into place and secure using drywall screws. Be sure to countersink the screws just below the drywall surface to allow a void for the mud to fill.

Photo by: Kamron Sanders

Kamron Sanders

Tape and Mud the Repair

To finish the repair, use self-adhering mesh tape to cover the gaps along the edges (Image 1). Fill the voids with joint compound and let dry completely (Images 2 and 3). Once dry, simply sand until smooth and paint. If you’re unhappy with the smoothness of the repair, repeat the mudding and sanding process until you’re satisfied, and then paint.

Pro Tip: Voids like screw holes tend to suck in drywall mud, leaving you with a second hole to fill once you sand the first coat. To avoid this, simply dab a little extra mud over the top of the screws when applying the first coat of mud.

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