Pros vs. Jos: The drywall edition

Jesse Gift applies drywall compound to the ceiling while framed by the 12-inch white pine beams that form the structure of the virtual high school being constructed on the main street of Bayfield. The building was still under construction when photographed on Wednesday December 14, 2011. MIKE HENSEN/THE LONDON FREE PRESS/Postmedia Network

There used to be a TV commercial which had a diminutive, computer analyst-type fellow in the checkout line of some hardware store, supplies in hand, with a couple of contractors in close behind him, slowly moving towards the cashier.

The TV viewer recognizes the little fellow as a do-it-yourselfer because he was wearing a fine dress shirt and dress pants, and everybody knows that amateurs, no matter what the task, be it cooking, painting, or even playing a sport, always wear their good office clothing while participating in such events.

The two gentlemen behind the little fellow were obviously tradesmen because they were both 260+-pound behemoths, sporting hard hats, while classily attired in torn blue jeans and timeworn bowling shirts with mustard stains that dated back to the 1990’s, because that’s what building contractors look like.

Regardless, the two professional contractors see the do-it–yourselfer is about to buy a bunch of cheap building supplies, so they tug the little feller out of the cashier line, remove whatever he has in his hands, then fill his arms up with better tools, with the lesson being buy what the pros use. Once through the cash, the three of them leave the hardware store laughing and giggling like a troop of schoolgirls.

In most cases, it’s better spending a little more money on quality products. However, when it comes to mudding drywall, how the pros work, and how they buy, isn’t always what’s best for the do-it-yourselfer.

Essentially, the amateur drywaller will lack technique, know-how and speed. As a result, his or her product choices will have to differ, at least in a few areas, from what the pros use.

When it comes to taping a joint, especially in the case of a repair, the amateur should consider using a Fiberglas tape. Professional drywallers commonly use a paper tape because it’s less expensive and can be rolled out and applied more quickly.

Fiberglas tape will stick to the drywall, unlike paper tape, which requires the user mudding the joint beforehand. Mudding, or adding joint mix to the seam, then embedding the paper tape into the joint compound, requires speed and technique, otherwise things gets messy, with joint compound spilling onto the floor.

As an amateur, methodically and patiently moving from one procedure to the next, and not speed, is what’s going to get you to the finish line.

After carefully placing the Fiberglas tape over the seam, the amateur can move on to the next step, mudding. The professional drywaller will choose either a beige or white all-purpose light compound. As amateurs, we’re going to go with the dust-control product.

Dust-control compound is heavier and thicker than regular light-joint compound, allowing the user to more easily scoop out a trowel full of mud, check their phone messages, go for a coffee, then calmly spread it on the wall.

Light compound is a lot thinner, and lighter, which makes it a whole lot easier on the shoulders and elbow joints of those professionals who work with this stuff for hours on end. However, light compound won’t sit on the trowel for long, so once it’s scooped out of the box, you had better be quick to get it on the wall.

Dust-control compound is also recommended for the amateur because the dust particles fall to the floor when sanded, in a controlled type of manner, hence the name. With the tendency of most amateurs to over apply the joint compound, followed by the need to sand things smooth, this is a key feature to avoiding dust everywhere.

Next, amateurs should invest in sponge sanders, a handy tool to avoiding dust when removing those not-so-perfect raised edges.

Where to copy the pros? The wider the swath of compound applied, the smoother the wall. So, invest in trowels by having four-inch, six-inch and eight-inch putty knives, as well as a 10-inch and 12-inch taping knife in the tool box.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Kitty through the door

A cat hole in the wall? Easy enough. But first, paws to think about how to do it – safely. Postmedia Network KEVIN GOULD / KEVIN GOULD/STANDARD-FREEHOLDER

Last week we cut out a cat hole, or essentially a large mouse hole, at the base of the wall nearest the staircase to the basement. The purpose of this miniature archway was to allow the home’s two felines, Tigger and Coco, free access to their litter box.

Because it’s worth mentioning a second time, when creating a hole in an existing wall, we don’t simply “cut” out the drywall, but instead, we “surgically” remove it. The reason for caution relates to the consequences one could experience, conservatively estimated at, zero to 10 per cent, ductwork damage – 25 per cent, plumbing and related flood damage – 50 per cent, severing an electrical circuit – 10 per cent, and death – five per cent (which computation is based on your 50/50 chance of surviving the cutting of an electrical circuit) should you simply cut through a wall.

Surgically removing a section of drywall means you’re cutting to the depth of the drywall, then basically letting this portion of drywall fall into your hands, keeping this removed portion intact. Observing what’s behind this removed portion of drywall will lead you to either continue the task, or if you’re faced with a series of copper pipes or wiring, place the piece of drywall back in position, patch things up, and either move on to another section of wall, or take this project off the to-do list.

When cutting out a section of drywall, whether it be for a cat hole or any other small renovation project, locate the center of the nearest stud on either side of where the hole will be, then cut your drywall from the center to center of these wall studs.

The reason for this strategy is twofold. One, you’ll rarely get into trouble cutting down the center of a stud, and two, replacing the piece of drywall, or re-fitting it back into position, will be easier when you have these two anchoring studs to work with.

Last word on cutting drywall, put a new blade in the utility knife, then be sure to lightly score the surface, then progressively cut a little deeper with every passing. Again, we’re looking to eliminate any bloodshed, or loss of one’s typing finger, by digging too deeply into drywall, then tugging on the knife in an attempt to cut out a square patch in four passes.

Hold a level, square, or solid straight edge against the wall, then lightly draw your knife downwards. Once you’ve scored over the line three to four times, either put your non-cutting hand behind your back or keep this steadying hand a few feet away, then make that final cut. No one has ever lost a finger doing things this way.

Next, we frame the hole. In the case of our arched cat hole, we’ll be cutting pieces of 2”x2” lumber the depth of our 2×4 wall, about 3 ½ inches, then stacking them between the drywall, following the contour of the arch. Set a bead of glue in between each block, using drywall screws to help hold them in place if necessary. Next, line the 2”x2” blocks with a fiberglass mesh tape (as opposed to regular paper drywall tape) vertically and horizontally, overlapping the drywall by a couple of inches on the outside of the arch. Then, using a flexible plastic drywall corner bead (available in 10 ft. sections), cut it to the desired length (cuts easily with scissors), then fit it around the arched drywall contour. Use 5/16 staples to hold the flexible corner in position. The flexible drywall bead will ensure a nice contour line around the arched hole.

Now you’re ready to apply the drywall mud. Mud the wall surfaces first, let dry one day, then mud the jamb, or inside wall of the hole. Essentially, we’re creating a classic lath and plaster archway, only on a kitty scale. Similar to any drywall repair, subsequent muddings and sandings will have you going further and further out from the hole, as you attempt to make this kitty entrance as level to the wall, and as inconspicuous as possible.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard