I’m not an expert at drywall finishing by any means, but I’d say I’m fair to middlin’. I enjoy mudding very much. It puts me in a very meditative place when I am applying the compound, but NOT so much when I have to sand the compound, yuck! Anyway, from my years of experience working with drywall, here are my top five tips for doing drywall.

Prepare Your Drywall Compound

For this part of the procedure, you’ll need a paddle, a drill, some water, and dishwashing detergent. I don’t know how important it is that the dishwashing liquid be Dawn, but that’s what I was taught to use and when you are successful using something you hate to mess with that success by changing anything up, therefore I use Dawn.

When you open the bucket of the compound, you will see that there is a sheet of plastic laying on top. When you remove the plastic, you want to fold it in half with the goopy sides together. This will keep the mud on the plastic from drying out until you are done mudding for the day. If the mud dries out either on the plastic or around the edge of the tub, and then it gets into the rest of the mud, the hard chunks will create lines in your compound as you apply it. Unless you have experienced this, you have no idea how irritating this can be- trust me, you want to be neat and clean and keep any dried-out mud out of your good mud.

The mud is pretty stiff when you purchase it. You can use it just like this, but once you learn to mix it with water and Dawn, you won’t want to use it unmixed anymore.

To mix, pour a little water into the mud, add some Dawn, and then chuck the mixing paddle into your drill and place into the mud and mix until it’s a creamy consistency.

Mixing the mud is fun unless the mud has dried out somewhat while sitting in storage. When you try to mix partially dried up mud, the paddle can catch in the mud. It then flings the mud that is thinner with a more liquid consistency (and usually found at the top of the bucket) all over the room. Ask me how I know…..

As a woman doing construction-related activities I have to constantly fight to assure men that I do indeed know what I’m doing. When I had the mud-flinging incident, an older gentleman was working in the same room and to this day he thinks I don’t know how to mix mud 🙂

Prepare Your Taping Knife and Get Your Hawk Ready

When you buy a new taping knife, you will want to bend your knife so that there is a slight bow to it (this will be a very slight bend, but very effective). You want the knife to be bent like a smile, not a frown (or straight). If the knife is bent like a smile, with the belly of the smile touching the wall, and the corners slightly bent up, you will be able to smooth the mud very easily. Always hold the knife with my thumb on the cross and I’ll have the correct side against the wall.

If your taping knife is flat or bent in the wrong direction, every time you go over your mud, you will get two lines in the mud from the corners of the knife. However, if you use the knife correctly you will be able to finish the seams easier and have them turn out much smoother (meaning less dust when sanding!!!)

Next, you load that creamy, freshly mixed mud onto your hawk or into your mud pan and you are ready to rock and roll!! Apply self-adhesive mesh tape or paper tape, your choice, (I use the mesh), and then apply the compound.

Use Plastic Tape on Ceiling Line For a Perfect Finish

We were introduced to this amazing product when doing our second flip house, which was old and crooked. Upstairs there was a ceiling line that was just horrendous. We didn’t know what to do, so my hubby was going to put molding up to try to disguise the fact that it was so crooked.

We were flipping this house as a ministry to help give our Junior High Pastor and his family a great house for their expanding family and we were blessed with help from the church. One day, a professional drywall finisher from the church showed up to help and within minutes we had straight ceiling lines!!! Right where it was so crooked! How cool! You can be sure I wanted to know how this miracle occurred. The answer? Inside corner trim! Who knew?

Inside corner trim is more expensive than regular self-adhesive mesh tape, but I will never do another ceiling/wall drywall taping without it. This product makes me look like a drywalling genius! The tape is marked and is easy to cut with a utility knife. It is flat, to begin with, but it has a seam right down the middle where the tape is to be folded. You fold the tape in half but then you must open it back up most of the way so that it is ready to be applied to the ceiling/wall seam.

To use this product, first load the corner seam with mud. Cut the masking tape to length and then embed it into the mud, smoothing it from side to side with your taping knife. Wipe off the excess mud you collect onto your hawk. Next, begin applying mud over the tape until the seam is covered with a thin layer of compound. Wait for it to dry and repeat.

Apply thin coats

This one is hard for me. I’m the hurry up and get ‘er done girl! But….if you apply the drywall compound in a thick coat, it WILL crack and you will have to sand and apply more compound anyway. So…..just do it correctly the first time. The only way to get around the” waiting for the mud to dry so you can sand problem” is to use a fast-setting drywall compound.

Now in my other life, I was a cosmetology teacher and we had the same dilemma when doing artificial nails. There were slow-drying products which gave you time to work the product and get it right and for professionals, there were fast dry products to speed up productivity. Put the fast dry product in the hands of a beginner and it was a disaster problem.

So, using the standard type of compound, I apply the mud in short vertical swipes over my tape, then I draw my knife horizontally three times. Once with the knife on the top third of the seam, with the top edge of the knife pressing a bit harder than the bottom edge. Next I draw the knife horizontally over the bottom third of the seam, with the bottom edge of the knife pressing a bit harder than the top edge. Lastly, I draw the knife horizontally right down the center of the seam with light pressure. There will be very little to sand when the seam dries.

The key is to not let a ridge of mud along the edge of any seam. The mud should taper down to nothing along each edge, leaving a bit more in the center. This makes sanding MUCH easier!!

Anyway, learning from experience, I don’t think I am ready for the fast dry product. I feel I do a pretty good job of applying the mud so that there is minimal sanding when finishing, but I think I need to be able to take my time. One advantage of applying thin coats? It dries faster- woo hoo! Don’t forget to make sure the area is nice and warm and add some ventilation from windows or a fan to speed up drying time.

Close Your Eyes

Okay, my least favorite part, sanding!! It’s dusty and tedious, and just not a lot of fun. However, there are ways to make it less awful. First, if you are careful with the amount of mud you apply, there won’t be as much to sand off.

Back to my artificial nail analogy. For those of you who have seen nail pros in action, you will notice that they put just the right amount of product on the nail, and then spend almost no time filing. When my students started learning how to do nails, many of them could get a nice finished product, but it came at the expense of at least an hour of filing because they put way, way too much product on the nail. Pro drywall finishers spend much less time sanding than your ordinary DIY person, just because they’ve learned to control the amount of mud applied.

When sanding, one tool I really can’t do without is the 3M sanding sponge. Talk about the best of both worlds. The sanding portion is very effective, while the sponge is soft, so you don’t have to worry about the edge of a hard sanding pad digging into the edge of a corner and taking out too much product. Some of the sponges come with angled sides. If you use a sanding sponge with straight sides, the edge can dig a groove into the corner opposite the side you THINK you are sanding. The angle keeps the business end of the sanding sponge away from the other side of your corner. If you are sanding the middle of the wall, the sponge sides can be straight or angled. It makes no difference.

After sanding, you may think your finished wall looks good. Maybe, maybe not. This is one time when your sense of touch will be much better than your eyesight. Your eyes may be able to spot some defects in your mudding before you prime but to be sure, you need to trust your sense of touch. Again, going back to the artificial nail analogy, touching the nails would often point out flaws we couldn’t see so we could correct them before starting to polish.

Just close your eyes and run one hand over the seams, while holding a pencil in the other hand to circle any imperfections found. When adding the final coat of mud to those minor imperfections, another contractor trick is to slightly tint (and I mean slightly) the mud using a little chalk dust. If you go too crazy with the tint, you will have to try to cover bright blue or red spots on your wall when priming. Now you can easily see where you have to do a final sanding.

Wipe off Your Bucket

Again, if you have any drywall compound left on the edges of the bucket, it will dry out and cause you a lot of problems. When mudding, you want to continuously scrape the sides of the bucket to keep excess mud off of them. Then when you are done for the day, you will want to wipe down the sides of the bucket to prevent “crumbles” the next time you mud. You never want crumbles in your good mud. You will be saying some not-so-nice words and regretting not keeping the sides of your bucket clean.
drywall compound

I hope these six tips are things you can use to help you get started (or solve some problems) the next time you need drywall work done! What are your favorite tips? Share them with me – I’ll take any suggestions that will make my job easier!

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