Learning how to drywall a ceiling is a project that can be done by homeowners with basic construction skills. It’s much easier if you have a friend or helper, as full sheets of drywall are heavy.
Drywall is manufactured in several thicknesses: 1/4”, 3/8”, 1/2” and 5/8”. The thinner 1/4” and 3/8” sheets are used for remodeling in two-layer installations, or for building curved walls or coved ceilings. Most single story residential ceiling applications will require 1/2” sheets. Two story installations may require 5/8” drywall sheets at least on the first floor.
Some installations may also require fire-rated Type-X drywall between apartments or on a garage wall joining a house. Type-X drywall is fire resistant though not considered fireproof.
Check the local building department for the city code requirements. Most building departments will provide a copy of the building codes for installation of drywall and required spacing of nails or screws.
1. Measuring the project
Measure the entire ceiling to estimate how much drywall will be needed. Allow for extra pieces in areas you will need to cut out, such as light fixtures, skylights, and windows, and for those little measuring errors that happen as the job progress. Calculate how many sheets will be needed and purchase 10% to 20% extra for cutting errors and breakage.
2. Installing ceiling drywall
Measure from the wall to the closest ceiling joist or roof rafter. Be certain the end of the sheet falls across the center of a joist or rafter. This will produce a stronger joint when it is taped.
Measure the drywall sheet, cut to fit with a saw or utility knife. Measure for any cutouts such as ceiling lights, air conditioning vents or outlets. Use a keyhole saw or utility knife to remove these areas. Stagger all end joints to make a stronger ceiling and avoid joint cracking. Your ceiling layout should have all drywall panels perpendicular to the ceiling joists or rafters.
While a friend holds the sheet in position, begin at the center of the sheet and apply screws every 7” along each ceiling joist or roof rafter. Sink the screw heads just below the surface without tearing the paper. Each drywall sheet needs screws around the edges of the sheet also. The screws should be not less than 3/8” or more than ½” from the edge of the sheet. Always use drywall screws on ceiling installations. Drywall nails have a bad habit of popping out after a year or so.
3. Tape and mud
Check that each screw or nail is sunk just below the drywall surface. Fix any screw or nail problems now rather than after you’ve started to tape and mud.
Use a 4” putty knife to cover all screw heads and nail dimples with joint compound. Keep the surface flush with the ceiling. Use a 6” putty knife and run it along each seam of the drywall filling each crease with joint compound. Apply tape to the joints. Hold one end while your friend stretches the paper tape along the freshly mudded seam. Begin at the center of each seam, smooth the tape into the wet mud with the 6” knife and remove any excess compound that squirts out of the edges.
Give the first coat a day to dry. When dried, lay a second coat over it feathering the edges wider, to at least 4” on each side of the taped joints. Repeat this after the second coat has dried and apply the third coat, feathering it 7” or 8” on each side of the joint. The final coat is a very light skim coat feathered with a 12” or 14” finishing knife.
Remember to give each coat ample time to dry. When it’s dry, finish sand the ceiling with 100 grit or 120 grit sandpaper. The dust from gypsum and joint compound will irritate your eyes and throat; wear goggles and a dust mask when sanding. Sand only the joint compound, not the drywall paper. If the paper gets damaged, it will require an additional thin coat of joint compound over it.
Now that the drywall is finished, you’re ready for primer and paint.
4. Tools needed
Assemble the following tools.
Soft lead pencil
Tape measure 12 to 25 feet long
Utility knife with extra blades
Electric screwdriver with drywall bit,
Putty knives 4” to 6”,
Small hand-held rasp.
Additional tools you may want are:
Electric saber saw
12” or wider finishing knife
Router fitted with a drywall screw tip
5. Buy professional quality tools
Professional quality tools will save time on the drywall project.
A tape measure with a thumb or finger lock to hold the tape at the desired measured distance is easier to use than a tape measure without the locking device.
Drywall hammers have a special serrated face that helps keep the hammer on the nail head. They will perform better than a finish hammer.
If you’re shopping for an electric screwdriver, get one with a magnetic screw-holding tip and an adjustable clutch. That type will stop the driving of the screw at the proper degree of tightness and depth.
Sur-forms, pocket planes or hand-held rasps will quickly reduce and straighten a cut edge of drywall pieces to help keep joints tight.