How to Guide for Drywall Installation

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How to install drywall on ceilings, walls, and curved walls or openings.

Drywall became a mainstay of residential construction during the 1940s when skilled labor was in short supply for installing wood lath and plaster and then in the 1950s when the demand for housing skyrocketed after World War II and developers like William J. Levitt mass-produced suburban housing.

Drywall is made using gypsum plaster, which is then covered on both sides by fiberglass matting or heavyweight paper. Depending on the manufacturer, various chemicals or materials are incorporated into the gypsum plaster before applying the paper to produce mildew, moisture, or fire-resistant products. Some drywall does not contain any paper or cellulose materials to produce a product that will not allow mold to grow.

Installing drywall is relatively easy for a homeowner, as long as you have another person to help. The 4 x 8 sheets are difficult to lift when doing ceilings and professional drywallers will start the wall courses at the ceiling and then work their way down to the floor. In commercial buildings the drywall sheets are installed vertically instead of horizontally with offset joints as is the case in residential construction.

Tools Screwgun with a special tip that prevents the screw from going all the way through the wallboard

Drywall T-square

Circle cutter, for cutting around light fixtures

Drywall saw, for cutting and trimming panels before installation

Keyhole saw for trimming around small openings like receptacles or door jambs

Snips, for cutting corner bead

Utility knife


Measuring tape

Drywall rasp for smoothing cuts

Supplies Drywall

1 1/4-Inch Coarse-Thread Drywall Screws

Corner Bead

1 1/2-Inch Drywall Nails: For Corner Bead

Drywall Installation

Typical Drywall Sheet Layout (red outlines drywall sheets)

Nail and Screw spacingFor ceilings: Space nails a maximum 7” apart along framing, and screws 12” apart, starting in the center of the panel and working toward the perimeter.

For walls: Space nails a maximum 8” apart along the framing, screws 16” apart, starting in the center of the panel and working toward the perimeter.

If using nails on the ceiling, double nail and also apply construction adhesive to the joists before installing the sheet. Adhesive is not normally needed when using screws or on walls.

1. Measure and cut drywall for the ceiling

To determine where the first panel's end will land, measure out from a corner, perpendicular to the joists.

If the panel doesn't span the entire ceiling, its end must land on the center of a joist. If it doesn't, measure to the center of the farthest support piece the panel will overlap. Use a T-square on the panel and place it alongside the mark. Score through the paper on the front with a utility knife, using the T-square as a guide. Stand the panel on edge and snap the waste part of it away from the score line and then cut through the paper backing to remove the waste. (Note: The back or the drywall sheets are usually brown and will have an overlapped seam where the front layer of paper wraps around the edge.)

It is best to mark the location of the joists onto the drywall before you try to hang it. Measure the spacing of the joists and transfer the measurements along a factory (uncut) edge. It is best to install the sheetrock perpendicular to the joists; if you try to install the sheets parallel to the joist the long edge may not cover the joist if it is slightly twisted or bowed.

Make sure that there are nailers on the top of the wall so that the drywall is not floating. It may not be a problem if your drywall sheets are tight to the ceiling, but cracks can appear over time if the sheets are not secured.

2. Cover the ceiling

With a helper, lift the first panel into one corner of the ceiling. Make sure that the edges are perpendicular to joists and one end should be tight to the wall. Drive five or six screws, across the panel's width and into the joist as close to the middle of the sheet as possible. Make sure that they are evenly spaced. Keep screws at least ½ inch from all edges. Drive the screws slightly below the surface of the paper but not through the paper.

Repeat the process at each joist. Continue the row in same fashion until reaching the opposite wall. When starting the next row make sure the end joints are offset by at least 4 feet.

You may also want to rent a drywall lift if you are working alone to raise the sheets up to the ceiling. Many pros use a tee made out of 2 x 4s that is about ½ inch longer than the distance from the floor to the bottom of the joist. This allows you to wedge the drywall sheet in between the joist and the tee.

3. Cutting Around Ceiling Boxes

Before installing a sheet of drywall over the electrical box of a ceiling fixture, measure from the center of the box to the closest edge of the adjacent sheet. Mark that panel end where the tape measure meets it and transfer the measurements. Poke a hole in the sheet with your keyhole saw on the center mark.

Cover the box with the drywall as before, but don’t secure the sheet within 24 inches of the box.

Use your keyhole saw to cut around the box; use caution so you do not nick any wires coming out of the box. Pros use an electric rotary cutter, similar to a router, to quickly cut around the boxes. Unfortunately I have seen many damaged wires caused by inexperienced or overzealous drywallers. It also takes awhile to master the technique, so for the do it yourselfer a keyhole saw and utility knife works best.

4. Covering the Wall

Mark all the stud locations on the adjoining ceiling panels.

Use a tape measure to ensure the first panel's end will land in the center of a stud; if it doesn’t cut off the edge that will be in the corner. With a helper, lift the sheet to the ceiling wallboard and hold it firmly against the studs. Make sure that one edge butts against the ceiling and one end fits squarely into the corner. Check the free end to make sure that the factory edge is centered on the stud along the entire length of the sheet.

Following the stud marks on the ceiling, drive a line of screws through the drywall and into each stud starting in the middle of the panel and working outward.

Continue hanging panels along the top of the wall and over any window and door openings. Make sure the seams do not line up with a door or window corner. Do not secure the sheets to the framing around the openings until the excess is cut away.

Once the sheets are up, trim away any excess from around the openings with a drywall handsaw. Use the jamb of the window or door as a guide and let the edge of the saw follow the jamb.

Drywall Handsaw

For openings you only need to cut through one side, and then use your utility knife to score the backside of the sheet along the framing. Snap the sheet and then cut through the face of the sheet.

5. Final Checks

After all the drywall has been installed, check for protruding screw heads. Drive them slightly below the surface of the sheet if you find any. If there are screws that were driven too deep and add a second screw next to any screw that has broken through the paper.

Curved Walls or Arches

You may come across a situation where the wall is curved or you have an arch that needs to be covered with drywall. There are a few techniques that you can use to make the finish product come out looking like a pro did the work.

Drywall doesn’t bend well because the paper cannot stretch and the gypsum inside is brittle.

Depending on how large the wall or arch is you may want to consider using 3/8” drywall for going over the curved portions. The framing may also need to be increased the tighter the curve is, sometimes studs are placed 8 inches on center or plywood is installed over the framing.

Installing Drywall On An Outside Curve

1. Measure the length of the curved surface by pressing you tape measure tight to the curve and cut drywall to size.

2. With a water sprayer, spray both sides of the drywall and let it sit for about 15 to 20 minutes.

3. Screw one edge of drywall to a stud.

4. Attach a temporary piece of 1 x 2 to outside edge of drywall. Secure with screws, through the drywall and into stud.

5. Moisten the face of the drywall again using the water sprayer.

6. With your hands at about the 2/3 point of the sheet press it towards the framing.

7. Once drywall has made contact with second stud, fasten it to the stud using screws, every 6 inches, vertically and horizontally.

8. Continue bending and securing the sheet; spray with more water as needed until complete.

Installing drywall on an outside curve

Installing Drywall On An Inside Curve

1. Measure the inside radius of the curve and cut the sheet an inch or two longer you’re your measurement. Center piece of drywall over curved surface.

2. Moisten both sides of the sheet using a water sprayer.

3. Apply pressure to the center of the sheet of drywall.

4. Once drywall has made contact with middle stud, fasten it to the stud using screws, every 6".

5. Fasten drywall to the other studs moving first to the next stud over on the right of the center stud then switch to the stud on the left of center stud. Continue alternating studs in this fashion and secure with screws every 6 inches.

Installing drywall on an inside curve

If you are using 1/4" drywall you may want to consider installing a second sheet of 1/4" drywall over the first sheet for more strength and rigidity. Follow the installation procedure for the first sheet in the same manner, for the second sheet.

For installing drywall over a curved arch, you can wet the drywall as stated earlier or you can cut the paper backing of the sheet with very shallow cuts about an inch apart. This will make the sheet snap easier so you may want to enlist another set of hands to help hold the sheet in place while you secure it. Thin strips in drywalled openings, under 8 inches wide, should not require back-cutting.