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How to repair drywall in Delaware County PA

A home in Media, PA needing drywall installation work.

Two years before I started working for myself, I was working for a local General Contractor as an apprentice. Since I was a kid, I had always been interested in construction, and having already gotten some extensive training over the previous few years in the painting industry, I decided to follow my passions of being a carpenter as well.
What I didn’t know was that the drywall repair we would do as painters was very different from the drywall finishing the general contractors are responsible for. I remember my first day on the job my boss asked me, “Can you finish drywall?” By finish I assumed he meant “fix the holes and make it look ready for painting.” “Of course I can,” I said. He smiled, happy that he had just hired a new guy that he wouldn’t even have to train for an essential part of the job. He left, I pulled out my 20 minute spackle and proceeded to mix it so that I could cover the gap between two sheets of fresh drywall in the ceiling. After 30 minutes, I realized I may not be doing this properly and my boss may not be excited to see this when he comes back. He came back a few minutes later. “Looks like you did it with a fork!” I felt bad. “I’m not sure how to do it this way, I’ve only ever repaired holes in the wall and imperfections.” “Did you use tape?” he said. ….”Tape?”
And that’s how I learned how not just to repair drywall, but also to finish drywall. Once you know the difference, it’s easy to fix either one and make your wall imperfections look like they were never there. I’m going to explain the differences in the products, how to apply them, and how to finish them. Believe me, the idea of fixing or finishing drywall is much more intimidating than the actual difficulty of doing the work. You just need the right method on your mind and the right tools in your hand.
There are three main situations where you’ll be interested in repairing the drywall in your home. They are:
  • Smaller holes, scratches, indentations, and imperfections (you’ll fix these with 20 or 45 min spackle that you mix yourself and apply with a small 4 or 6 inch spackle knife)
  • Larger holes or areas where you’ve removed/relocated smoke alarms, CO alarms that are outdates and moved, etc. Areas where there is a large gap that is roughly between 3-9 inches square (you’ll fix these with the same tools mentioned above, but adding the use of an 8-12 inch spackle knife as well as a wall patch that you can find at any home repair store)
  • Cracks! (you’ll repair these with drywall tape, 3 different drywall knives [6 inch, 8 inch, and 10 or 12 inch], and blue and green lid joint compound [we’ll get into this in another blog post].
This covers 90% of the situations in a home, and I’d say 80% of that 90% is actually situation number 1, which any homeowner can handle on their own with maybe 20 minutes of research and a trip to Sherwin-Williams. Let’s dive into how to address these situations.
For situation 1, you will need to have a spackle trough (also called a mud pan), a 6 inch spackle knife, a bag of 20 or 45 minute spackle mix, a sanding pad, and some drywall primer. I would recommend purchasing a metal pan instead of the plastic ones. In my experience, plastic troughs break very easily when you’re mixing spackle and don’t last more than one or two uses unless you’re extremely careful each time you use it. Keep your spackle mix in a dry place where there is no risk of it getting wet (I’ve seen some guys keep the mix in large plastic cereal containers, I think that’s a great idea).
Before I get into the details of how to apply the spackle to the wall surface, it’s important for whoever is going to be doing the application to understand how the spackle knife works and why the blade is so thin. It’s a good idea to take the spackle knife and put it up against the wall as though you’re going to apply spackle. I always teach my new employees to hold the spackle knife with their index and middle fingers on the back of the blade, and the rest of their fingers on the handle. You will hold it more like a baseball and less like a gun. Don’t keep your entire hand on just the handle. Notice how the blade can lean to either side depending on the pressure you put on it. This is called the bevel, and you can use it the force spackle material to either side allowing you to blend the spackle with the wall.
Mix your dry spackle powder with water and try to get the consistency of pancake batter, only slightly thicker. The spackle mix will set quickly in the pan, so if its too thin, just leave it aside for a moment or two and it will thicken up. Leave it too long, and it will harden to an unusable state. When it’s ready to apply, scoop up enough so that it is evenly distributed on the top ¼ of the spackle blade. Then, using the edges of the spackle trough, remove the amounts of spackle on the corners of the blade. This will give your spackle room to expand on the blade as you put pressure on it so that it doesn’t fall all over the floor! As you apply it to the wall, focus on keeping the bevel angles towards one side, and then the other. After each and every pass with the knife, clean your blade on the edge of the spackle trough. Each time you bring your spackle knife to the surface after you’ve put spackle on it, the spackle blade should be clean so that can sculpt with ease. When it looks smooth and blended, leave it alone to dry. Even though the bag of spackle mix says 20 or 45 minute, don’t be fooled. This is highly dependent on the humidity levels of the day and where you are located. If it’s an exceptionally rainy day, don’t expect to sand the spackle for at least 12 hours! When you are finished, dispose of the excess spackle mix, and clean and dry your spackle tools!! If you don’t clean them, you may as well throw them out. Hard and dried spackle is not impossible to clean, but if you aren’t motivated enough to clean them now, you won’t be motivated to clean them later. You’ll end up spending another $20-$25 for a new set. Don’t waste money or time! Just clean them now. Dry them as well so that they don’t accumulate rust.
When the spackle is completely dry, it will be in one of two states:
  • Ready to sand
  • In need of another coat.
It may take some practice to know exactly when you need another coat and when you’re ready to go, but in general, if you’re repairing small holes and small issues, you can likely just use one coat. However, if a small hole is deep (like when drywall anchors are removed), you’ll likely need another coat or two. Spackle mix is pretty thin when it first is mixed, so it may not fill a lot on its first pass. However, it will fill something, and sometimes you just need to build off of that and continue to add more. If you’re in a situation where you will definitely need multiple coats, you can make the spackle mix a bit thicker and try to fill more of whatever you need to cover.
If you’re ready to sand, go ahead and get that sanding block out, lay some drops or sheets down and get to work! If you’ve left your spackle on smoothly, hopefully you will only have to sand down the ridges on the perimeter where your spackle meets the wall as well as a line or two left over from the blade. I will always pass over the main body of the spackle just to smooth it out a bit more. Be careful in this step and start slowly. You just worked hard and focused on applying this spackle like a professional. You don’t want to sand this as though its a piece of wood being prepared to be stained. Don’t take off too much of the spackle! It is a fairly light product and will come off easily. Move in lightly pressured circles with focused energy on the ridges. It’s almost like ironing. If you have a section that is wrinkled (or in our case an imperfection), you don’t force the iron into the clothes very hard and fast. You just keep passing over it little by little and it will fall into place. When you are done, pass over the area with a dry rag or a broom to remove the dust, and you are ready to prime!
A quick word on priming before I wrap up this post. I have met painters who do not prime their spackle work. They say that most paints are paint and primer in one. In my experience, this is only partially true and I believe this is mostly a marketing ploy. What I think the paint companies really mean when they say “paint and primer in one” is that you don’t need to prime your walls before painting them in most regular situations. You can just go ahead and use any modern paint over the existing paint in your home. This is true with a few exceptions regarding specific reds and yellows (which do require specific colored primers). However, paint is not primer and they have different chemical compounds. Personally, I can tell when I enter a home which areas of their spackle work has been primed and which has not. I can tell when fresh drywall has not been primed and when it has. It just doesn’t look as good. If you could see a side by side comparison, you would always choose the primed spackle spot.
Lastly, make sure you keep consistent with the coats of primer and paint in how you apply them. If you are fixing the middle of a wall, use a mini roller for both primer and paint, especially the primer. If you prime with a brush and then paint with a roller or a brush when the primer dries, it will be quite noticeable. Use the same finishing methods to keep the eye from noticing. A great repair job isn’t noticed, and that’s what makes it great!
Finally, the last thing to keep in mind is that you can do this just as good if not better than a professional. I’ve seen many people pass through the painting industry who just don’t have the desire to do a great job. It’s unfortunate, but it happens. These people are professionals, but I wouldn’t trust them to do a better job than the person who has decided to read this entire post! If you decide you want to do something right, you just have to decide that you are also capable of doing it very well, better than the pros! I’ve seen pros doing things wrong for 25 years and insist on continuing to do it wrong, even if I am the one paying them! You can do it as long as you focus on good fundamentals and understanding the nature of the products!
Tools to success:
  • Practice with the spackle knife before you work it. Make it feel comfortable in your hand
  • Keep things clean! Your tools and your workspace.
  • Plan the process from beginning to end and have a place to store your items when you’re done.
You got this!
author avatar
Rick Sabatini

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