Like most small remodelers, I usually subcontract large drywall jobs. But I can make decent time hanging drywall by myself and won’t hesitate to tackle smaller 12- to 15-board jobs. To test my mettle, I recently hung the drywall in an addition that required eight 8-foot sheets of drywall and 125 12-foot sheets (32 of which were fire-rated 5/8-inch-thick sheets weighing 110 pounds each). I didn’t make a ton of money, but I kept myself busy during a slow time.
Whether I’m hanging 10 boards or 100, there are two basic challenges. The first is figuring out how to make accurate measurements — especially overhead ones — efficiently by myself. The second is finding ways to manage large sheets as I cut them, lift them into position, and fasten them in place. For measuring, I use a couple of unconventional techniques along with tools other than the standard tape measure. For lifting and holding the panels, I use careful lifting mechanics and a few specialized tools.
Moving and Lifting Boards
I’ve been working in the building trades for over 30 years, so I’ve learned to avoid lifting full sheets or large pieces directly off the floor whenever possible. On most jobs, a large proportion of the drywall has to be cut to length, which I do immediately, right on the stack where it’s been stocked. This makes the boards lighter, substantially reducing the amount of weight I end up moving and lifting over the course of a day (see Figure 1).
When I can’t work off the stack, I bring the sheets up to knee level with the help of a pair of purpose-built 18-inch-high by 6-foot-long benches. I position the benches perpendicular to the stack of drywall, setting them roughly 7 feet apart and about 4 feet away from the stack; that way I can just drag a sheet over and tilt it up onto the benches without having to bend over and lift it up off the floor.
Once the board is elevated, I can either work on it in the horizontal position or tilt it up vertically and continue with my lifting motion. Boards are much easier to lift when their bottom edge is 18 inches off the floor than when they are sitting directly on the floor.
To help move full sheets of drywall or large pieces after they’ve been cut to length, I use a Gorilla Gripper (805/523-1800, gorillagripper.com). This is a handle that clamps to the top edge of sheet goods like drywall or plywood, so you don’t have to grasp the panel with your hands. By allowing me to get my shoulder under the load, it minimizes wear and tear on my back.
Although I always carry a tape measure, I don’t use it much when I’m measuring overhead. Instead, I use rigid straight-edge rulers — one measuring 72 inches long and another 48 inches long — to avoid the problem of a collapsing steel tape (Figure 2).
For ceiling measurements that are longer than 72 inches but less than 12 feet, for example, I’ll mark the ceiling joist at 70 inches, then measure from the opposite wall and add that dimension to 70. Since this is drywall and not trim carpentry, I undersize each board slightly when I cut it to size so that it will fit easily without additional trimming. For example, if the distance between two walls measures 116 inches, I’ll cut the board to 1151/2 inches long. If I’m working in a bigger space and one end of the board is butting against another board, I’ll subtract 1/4 inch from the total measurement.
For longer measurements, I use a wood strip cut to exactly 144 inches (or the length of the longest full sheet of drywall that I happen to be working with). I can butt one end of the measuring stick against the wall framing and mark the other end on the last sheet of installed drywall, then measure from the mark back to the center of the nearest joist. This gives me the length that I need to cut off a full sheet of drywall so that the butt joint falls on the joist — but to allow a little play along the wall, I cut the sheet 1/4 inch short of the mark. I also use the wooden measuring stick as a story pole, to record the location of vents, electric boxes, and other openings in the ceiling and then lay them out on the drywall.
To transfer measurements to the panel, I clamp a stop block — in this case, a Gomito Universal Square hand tool (510/569-9961, duniquetools.com) — to the end of the panel and butt the measuring stick against it.