Marking and Cutting
When I’m cutting drywall to length off the stack, I score the board (using my T-square as a guide), then slide it 3 or 4 feet out into the room before breaking it along the score line and completing the cut from the back of the board along the crease (Figure 3). For cuts parallel to the long edge, I use my Johnson RockRipper, a 24-inch scoring square (888/953-8357, johnsonlevel.com). With this tool, there’s no need to mark a line — you just insert your knife in the appropriate slot and slide the square and knife along the board.
When I need to make an out-of-square cut, I can either use a straightedge to draw the line (for shorter cuts) or snap a chalk line (for longer cuts). Spring clamps are handy for keeping the straightedge in place. When I’m snapping a chalk line, I cut a short kerf in the board at the mark and use the slot as a line-holder.
Installing the Panels
Figure 4: Instead of trying to hoist sheets straight up and into the Telpro panel lift, the author tilts them until their bottom edge clears the lift’s support hooks.
The hardest boards to install when you’re working alone are the ones on the ceiling and the upper horizontal course on the walls. To make the job easier, I own a Telpro Panel lift (800/448-0822, telproinc.com). Though there are now several imported Telpro knockoffs that can be had for less money, I’ve used my lift for over a decade and consider it the best drywall lift on the market.
Ceilings. I always start with the ceilings. After working from my benches to make the necessary cuts for vents, electric boxes, and so forth, I set the lift a few feet away and block its wheels to keep it from rolling as I load it. Then I tilt the panel up so that I’m facing the rough face, lift it, and carry it over to the lift. Because I’m fairly short, I have to raise the leading edge of the panel several inches to get it over the hooks of the lift. I’ve found that it’s easiest to just tilt the board back at an angle to raise the panel edge, rather than lifting it straight up (Figure 4).
Once the panel is on the lift, I tilt the carriage back, roll the lift into place, and crank it up to the ceiling. From there, it’s a piece of cake to install the board.
Walls. When I’m fastening wall panels, I start with the upper course. I use brackets instead of my panel lift to temporarily support the boards, which gives me a little more flexibility in aligning them. My first brackets were site-built affairs that I assembled from scrap plywood, and they lasted for years. Now, though, I use a pair of Swanson MAG Squares (815/469-9453, swansontoolco.com) that I’ve modified by drilling a few holes through their fences (Figure 5).
I set the brackets about 3/8 inch below lines I’ve marked on the studs 48 inches down from the ceiling, screwing them to the studs with two or three drywall screws. To install a panel, I just lean its top against the framing above the brackets, then slide its bottom up and over them. Once the brackets are supporting its weight, I can push the panel tight to the ceiling with one hand as I screw it in place with the other.
I also use these brackets when I have to put small pieces on the ceilings of closets and nooks, where the lift won’t fit. I screw the brackets to the wall framing about 11/2 inches below the ceiling, then slide the piece of drywall over the brackets. The brackets support one end of the panel while I screw in the other end.
Inclined ceilings. When I’m installing sloped ceilings, the hooks that hold the panel on the panel lift are a nuisance because they project into the insulation. For those jobs I prefer to support the panels with simple site-built brackets, even when I’m working with a helper. And when I’m alone, these brackets take the strain out of aligning the boards at the ceiling-wall junction, which can be particularly hard to do when you have to push them against bulging insulation.
I use a ruler to mark a line 48 inches below the ceiling, then screw a 2x6 to the framing about 1/8 inch below this line. I fasten a couple of 1x4 scraps to the 2x6, with their top edges projecting about an inch beyond the edge of the 2x6, creating a channel to support the drywall (Figure 6). I lower the bottom edge of the panel into the channel first, then push the top up against the sloping ceiling and screw the panel in place.
On taller sections, where I need to install a second full panel below the first, I screw a 1x2 to the upper panel just above its lower edge. I fasten this strip with a single screw close to the center so that it can pivot. After setting the lower panel in the channel bracket at the bottom and pushing the top tight against the frame, I swing the 1x2 down, which locks the panel in place. The panel is well-supported, but it isn’t fastened at this point, so I can easily pry it up tight to the upper piece with a flat bar before screwing it off.
In my area, the price for installed drywall varies tremendously, depending on the size of the job, the degree of difficulty, and the standard of workmanship. The rock-bottom labor rate for production work in new houses is about $22 per sheet for hanging and finishing, while very high-end work on a difficult job can fetch as much as $52 per sheet. At $34 per sheet, my price for this job was right in the middle but probably didn’t adequately account for all the openings (more than 150) I had to measure and cut for outlets, vents, wires, and the like. Next time, I’ll pay more attention to the style of the electric boxes when I make my bid; these were designed for maximum volume and stepped out behind the sheetrock, so I couldn’t cut them out with a router, which definitely slowed me down.
John Carroll is a builder in Durham, N.C. All photos by Barbara Lehenbauer.