by Myron R.
Imagine the home as a work of art. The cabinetry, trim, and
furnishings are the composition, and the drywall is the canvas
they're arranged on. In building as in art, the quality of the
canvas affects the quality of the finished piece. Think about
it: If you assemble a perfectly mitered crown molding in a
corner with a cracked seam and popped nails, what do you think
is going to attract the customer's attention?
Good artists spend hours preparing their canvases, but even
good builders sometimes neglect the details that make a great
drywall finish possible. After 24 years in the drywall
business, I have seen many builders who should have known
better do the same dumb things over and over. Sometimes the
slip-ups are outright mistakes. Other times they're
easy-to-overlook details. Most have simple solutions —
which demand a bit more time and care from the framer but pay
off in a more durable finish and happier customers.
My goal here isn't to criticize other trades, but to show how
one phase influences the next, so that we can work together to
fix problems before they get built into the job.
Poor Planning and Prep
It's obvious that poor planning can throw the job off schedule
and cost money. Less obvious, perhaps, is that poor planning
can guarantee a poor finish.
Wet framing. One of the biggest planning mistakes
is not taking time to let the framing dry before calling the
drywaller. Wet lumber will start to dry and shrink as soon as
the heat is turned on. If the drywall is already in place,
you'll get cracked corners, ridged seams, and popped
In winter, of course, drying the framing requires a functional
heating system. Some contractors balk at having the heat on
before and during the drywall work, because of the cost of fuel
and worries about drywall dust in the furnace. But the fuel
cost is money well-spent, and it's easier to clean the furnace
filter than to go through the entire house patching walls and
By the way, forget about temporary heat. I've never seen
temporary heaters provide even heat for an entire work area.
Temperature and humidity fluctuations will inevitably cause
problems with the finish.
Insufficient lead time. Builders sometimes ask if
I can start a drywall job "next week." The answer is no. Even
if I had time for a last-minute job, haste breeds mistakes. I
need a minimum two-week lead time. This gives me time to
measure the job, order the materials, and have them delivered.
I also like to give the drywall a few days to acclimate to the
home's humidity and temperature.
An inaccessible job site. Drywall is
usually delivered by boom truck, and since I'm not going to ask
my crew to carry a truckload of drywall across the site, the
truck needs to pull up next to the house (see Figure 1). You
need to get power lines, tree limbs, and ditches out of the
A boom-truck delivery saves a lot of
carrying, so make sure that site conditions allow the truck to
get next to the house.
You also have to think about booming in upper-story deliveries.
I turned down a large brick house with small windows in the
upper story because we were too busy to hand-carry all those
sheets. One option is to leave one or two windows out of each
level of the house, so that we can bring the drywall in through
the rough openings. On one job, the builder left the plywood
sheathing off one wall until we had delivered the
If leaving windows or sheathing out is not an option, consider
scheduling an early delivery.
Other people's trash. Some builders
neglect to clean the site before we arrive. But the hanging
crew has to install heavy, cumbersome panels in every part of
every room, and the tapers have to keep a steady hand and stay
focused on their work. If tools, materials, and debris are
scattered all over the place, the quality of the work will
Cleanliness cuts both ways. The next group of
contractors shouldn't have to deal with drywall scrap, globs of
dropped joint compound, filled electrical boxes, and thick
dust. I clean all of this up when I'm done. I want the customer
to notice the quality of my work, not the mess I left
Problems With the Framing
Most of the homes I work in have framing errors that make it
hard to do quality drywall work. Because of this, I like to
have a carpenter on the job while I'm hanging. The builders I
work for have learned to plan ahead so that the carpenter has
other work to do. On two recent jobs, there was a guy building
stairs and doing other things in the basement while we hung the
drywall. I used him probably 10 times to correct little framing
problems, but the end result was a much better, more durable
Fixing these problems also makes the home easier to trim. One
contractor I know considers this important enough that he has
the door installer do his own walkthrough, using a can of
orange spray paint to mark problems the framers have to correct
before the drywall goes up. Not only does that one hour the
installer spends inspecting the job make my life easier —
it probably saves him a couple of days' work.
Here are the most common framing problems we find.
Poorly crowned lumber. I'm surprised
how many framers don't pay attention to this, but the crowns on
a row of studs or joists should all face in the same direction.
If they don't, it can be hard to pull the drywall tight to the
framing, and screws will be more likely to pop loose if the
framing moves or if someone leans on the wall. And those bumps
caused by opposing crowns will become glaringly obvious when
you turn on the lights or install a chair rail or
Even if all the crowns face in the same direction, any stud
crowned more than 1/4 inch will cause problems. If the crown
faces the finished surface, it may create a bulge in the wall
that you can't hide. If it faces away, it may be impossible to
pull the drywall tight.
So, do everyone a favor: Cut excessively crowned studs up for
blocking. And since framing can twist and bow after it's
installed, check the framing before the drywall arrives and
straighten any studs that need it. (You can do this by nailing
the offender to a straight stud, or by cutting it and scabbing
on a piece of scrap.)
Too-rough openings. Crowned lumber can play havoc
at door and window openings, which are surrounded with
doubled-up framing members. Quite often, this framing isn't
nailed together with the greatest of care. Drywall doesn't bend
much, so framing that's misaligned by as little as 1/8 inch can
leave gaps that cause the drywall to crack as it's
Misaligned framing also makes for unhappy finish carpenters.
Most prehung doors have 45/8-inch-wide jambs. If the framing
isn't straight, the drywall may bulge out past the jamb in
places, making it a nightmare to trim. The same goes for
windows with factory-installed extension jambs. You won't have
these problems if you fix the framing before the drywaller
Fire stops at seam height. Installing fire-stop
blocking behind a drywall seam sounds like a good idea at
first, since the blocks will provide a strong backing (Figure
2). The problem is that if the blocks — or the nails used
to attach them — protrude past the edges of the studs,
there will be a ridge in the drywall seam. The ridge may appear
only in spots along the wall, but it can be difficult to fix.
And it's an annoyance homeowners may notice only after they
move in and turn on their lamps.
Figure 2.Many framers automatically place
fire-stop blocks in wall cavities at drywall-seam height. In
fact, the author prefers that the blocks be offset, because
they tend to cause ridges in the drywall seams.
Keep fire blocking away from seams. And no matter where you put
it, take the time to install it flush.
Unshimmed shower walls. Whose job is it to shim
out the walls around fiberglass shower units? The plumber isn't
going to do it, and neither is the drywall contractor. I'd have
to say it's the GC's job. Leaving these walls unshimmed creates
a gap between the drywall and the framing all around the unit.
This is easy enough to fix by having someone rip 1/4-inch-thick
plywood strips and nail them to the studs.
Keep in mind, too, that when an outside corner is too close to
the unit (Figure 3), I have to fasten the drywall through the
unit's flange and thus risk scratching the fiberglass with the
screw gun. Anything less than 2 inches is difficult to finish,
as there won't be enough room to fasten a strip of drywall and
a corner bead.
Figure 3.It's the GC's job to shim the framing
next to a shower unit so that it's flush with the fiberglass
flange. Neglecting to do so will leave a bump in the drywall
and increase the likelihood of a cracked finish. There should
also be enough backing that the drywaller doesn't have to place
a screw through the fiberglass flange.
Not enough corner framing. The narrow
fastening surfaces at most inside wall corners drive me crazy.
On the typical three-stud corner, even if I hang the wall with
the narrow edge first, that edge is so close to the corner that
I can't drive a screw straight with a screw gun. I prefer to
see the studs 2 inches from each corner (Figure 4). Yes, it
takes a few more minutes to frame this way, but I can drive the
screws straight and set them properly. Plus the corner will be
easier to insulate.
Figure 4.A typical three-stud corner forces the
drywaller to angle the attachment screws, which can cause a
tear in the paper face and a potential bump in the finish. A
better way, when structurally permissible, is to hold back the
last stud on one wall 2 inches from the corner; that gives the
drywall plenty of support and allows room for
Hiding Butt Seams
You can reduce the number of butted seams by using the
longest sheets of drywall possible. Placing a seam
above a doorway or window will make it less noticeable.
For a stronger seam, attach butt seams to framing with
screws and adhesive and cover them with paper tape
embedded in a setting compound.
Or you can try back-blocking, a technique I've used
successfully for years. I place the seam between the
framing members and fasten it to a specially designed
wood or metal backing made by Wilco Drywall Tools
(www.wilcotools.com), which attaches
to the back of the drywall but not to the framing (see
photos). The center of the backing is recessed;
fastening the drywall creates a shallow void that, when
filled with tape and compound, yields a nice flat
surface. And because the seam floats independently of
the framing, it's less likely to crack as the house
moves and settles.
A recessed butted seam is easier to conceal. The author
attaches butt seams to a specially designed wood
backing (top left) placed between the studs or joists.
Screwing the drywall to the backing creates a shallow
recess, which can then be filled with tape and
compound. Note how the butt seams in the ceiling above
fall between the joists.
Corners at the tops of wall partitions are just as bad.
Where a partition runs parallel to the ceiling joists, some
builders tack lengths of scrap to the top of the wall to catch
the edge of the ceiling drywall. But these strips usually
aren't solid enough or straight enough. I would rather see the
wall framed with a single piece of wide lumber nailed over the
top plate and left protruding over the sides.
If the ceiling joist is within 6 inches of the wall, I don't
need nailers: The wall panels will support the edge of the
Unrecessed joist hangers. I
understand the structural importance of joist hangers, but when
they're attached to a flush beam in the middle of the ceiling
they can create bumps in the drywall. It's often a shallow
bump, but it's still enough of one that seams placed near it
are difficult to hide, and the installers are more likely to
drive screws through the drywall's paper facing, weakening the
attachment. If the structure settles, these seams and screws
are likely to crack and pop. Even without such problems, the
bump will be noticeable under certain lighting
One solution is to notch the ends of the joists so that the
hangers sit flush with the framing (Figure 5); this takes extra
time but produces a better drywall finish.
Figure 5.Low joist hangers can create problems for
the drywaller. Notching the ends of the joists, as was done
here, gets them up out of the way.
Unfurred ceilings. You won't have to worry about
joist hangers if you fur the ceiling. Furring also compensates
for a number of other sins, including low beams, ceiling
framing that runs in different directions, and sagging ceiling
insulation. The few extra dollars it costs to fur the ceiling
will speed up the drywall process and save you from having to
explain that unsightly hump to your customers.
I like to fur ceilings with metal resilient channel, because it
spans inconsistencies in the joists, offers excellent sound
control, and reduces fastener pops and joint cracking.
Protruding insulation. On occasion I
will turn down a drywall job on a site where the insulation has
been sloppily installed. Overstuffed or sagging insulation puts
pressure against the board, making it difficult to get it tight
to the framing. More often than not, the insulation wins, and
the resulting gaps lead to popped screws and sagging sheets
Figure 6.Sagging and overstuffed insulation (top)
can make it difficult to get drywall snug to the framing,
leading to ridged seams and popped screws. Face-stapling wall
batts also makes it hard to fasten drywall tightly.
Inset-stapling, as shown (bottom), solves the problem but is
not liked by energy-efficient builders. An alternative is to
use unfaced batts and a poly vapor retarder.
Furring solves this problem on ceilings. On walls, I don't like
to see the paper flange of kraft-faced insulation stapled over
the face of the framing. Unless the insulator does a perfect
job by pulling the paper tight and driving the staples flush,
the flanges make it difficult to fasten the drywall tight to
Energy-conscious builders don't like to inset-staple batts
because it creates a break in the kraft vapor and air retarder.
As an alternative, you can fill the stud bays with unfaced
batts, then either stretch a poly vapor retarder across the
studs or coat the exterior walls and ceilings with
vapor-retarding primer before painting.
Hanging and Fastening
Hanging drywall probably isn't your duty, but it still helps to
know the dos and don'ts of a good job so you can communicate
your expectations to the drywall sub.
Parallel sheets. On some jobs, you
may be able to reduce butt seams by hanging sheets of drywall
parallel to the framing. Regardless, I prefer perpendicular
attachment for all jobs (Figure 7). Otherwise, if the framing
isn't exactly 16 or 24 inches on-center, I may have to cut the
beveled edge off a sheet of drywall, making it hard to finish.
Perpendicular attachment also floats over imperfections in the
framing instead of highlighting them. Ceilings hung this way
are stronger and less likely to sag.
Figure 7.The author prefers to install drywall
perpendicular to the framing. Not only does this give the
structure greater strength, but the drywall can float over
slightly uneven joists and studs, making them less conspicuous.
In the photo at right, the second course of drywall bridges the
flush beam, which will have no screws installed in
If you're worried about butt joints, try arranging the sheets
so that the butts are around the edges of a room rather than in
the middle. Or you can use the back-blocking technique
described in the sidebar (see "Hiding Butt Seams,"
Seams over framing transitions.
Transition areas like flush ceiling beams or plates running
across two-story walls are bad places for drywall seams. Unless
the framing is perfectly aligned, a seam here will be tough to
hide and prone to cracking or ridging. It's best to span these
areas with a single sheet. I minimize fastener pops by using
adhesive only on the plate or beam, with screws on either
Improper screwing. Most people know that screws are better than
nails. They're faster to install, do less damage to the drywall
surface, and hold the drywall more tightly against the framing.
Despite these advantages, I still see a lot of problems with
If a screw is set too deep, it will tear the face paper. Screws
need to penetrate the framing only 5/8 inch, so 11/4-inch-long
screws are optimal for most installations. Longer screws are
harder to drive straight and are more likely to pop. Also,
because lumber shrinks more across its width, screws driven
into door and window headers are more likely to pop. I try to
minimize screws in headers and instead screw to the plates
Not using panel adhesive. Some
contractors don't want me to use adhesive because it can add
$100 or $200 to the cost of hanging drywall in a house. But the
fact that adhesive holds a sheet of drywall along its entire
length and can even bridge minor framing irregularities means
it keeps ceilings from sagging and can minimize cracks and
screw pops. The bond created by adhesive is strong enough that
you can use up to 75 percent fewer screws. And adhesive is not
affected by moisture or temperature changes.
Myron R. Ferguson,a drywall
contractor from Galway, N.Y., moderates the jlconline.com
drywall forum and is the author of Drywall: Professional
Techniques for Great Results.