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Drywall: A Mud and Tape Tutorial

March 12, 2012
Kitty Cat Prints the the Plaster

I have been so busy working on the basement I haven’t had time to post. Every night until the wee hours of the morning, I have been sequestered downstairs, covered in mud and dust, furiously working to get this project finished! The cat helped a bit, as you can see from the picture of her paw prints on the wall in fresh mud : /

The contractor we use for most of the heavy labor or skilled labor projects gave me a mud/tape tutorial to get me started. I do have prior experience working with drywall but it was oh, 10 years ago when I was in high school? I was a little rusty, and had only worked with mesh tape, not paper tape. Our contractor is a traditionalist and uses paper tape, so I was an eager student to brush up on my skills and learn to use a new medium.

We did have him mud and tape the ceiling. What a good decision that was. Working on the walls was time consuming enough, I can’t imagine working on ceiling, with all the dust in my eyes and a kink in my neck.

Have I lost you? Paper, mesh, what? I’ll break down the process of finishing drywall, including some choppy Blair-Witch like home videos, to help you along the way. I taped a few of them myself, with my iPhone – so forgive me if they are a little scrambled :)

Starting point:

  • Drywall is hung, and all the screws or nails are sunk below the surface of the drywall (dimpled).

Tools needed:

  • Joint compound (mud): I used dust control, which actually helped cut down on the amount of dust in the air. VERY important when you are sanding later. At HD it comes in 3.5 gallon buckets. Depending on the scope of your project, you may need 1 bucket or 10 buckets. I ended up using 3.5 for the walls.

  • Empty 3 gallon bucket: This is where you will mix the mud you are working with.
  • Tape knives/ spatulas: You will need a  4″, 6″- 8″, and a 10″- 12″.  Don’t cheap on these! The knife/spatula is the only tool you will be using for the whole job. You want something with a strong but with slightly flexible blade and a comfortable handle.
  • Tray:This is where you keep mud you are working with in small batches so it doesn’t dry out. You use the edges of the tray to clean your knives as you work through the project. They come in aluminum and plastic. Buy the aluminum one. The plastic one is flexible and has a lip so it will bow with the weight of the mud, and there isn’t a straight clean edge for wiping your knife as you work – which is crucial to clean finished work.
  • Tape: A roll of paper or mesh tape. I used paper, and I wouldn’t go back to mesh. Mesh is sticky like contact paper and will stick right to the wall, but because it is textured, you need to apply more mud to smooth it out. The paper tape is thin, flat, cheap, and is pre-creased for corners.
  • Cordless drill mixer attachment:   If you don’t have a cordless drill, you should buy one! I’m assuming if you are attempting this project then you fix up things around the house and should have one on hand. I love my Dewalt 18V drill. The charge lasts for months, even with heavy use. The mixer attachment is like a giant egg beater that attaches to the drill the same way a regular bit does. It will evenly mix the mud and water prior to use. You can not slap the mud on the wall straight out of the bucket. If you did, your results would be terrible.
  • Outside corner bead:  This is a metal or plastic strip that is nailed over the outside corner.
  • 150 grit/fine sandpaper/block: I used a sanding block that was medium grit on one side and fine grit on the other. I used the medium grit to knock down the high spots and the fine grit to smooth the texture and blend it into the wall.
  • Shop vac and a broom: Once it’s all said and done, you will want the dust gone, and fast. Have these on hand so you can clean up quickly.
  • Plastic sheeting: Unless you want dust all over EVERYTHING you own, tape and drape plastic in the doorways to your work areas. I also suggest buying the furniture plastic wrap. The dust is airborne and can easily drift underneath a sheet draped over a piece of furniture. We wrapped our couch up like a burrito with the plastic wrap and it was completely dust free post project.

Let’s Get Started:

  1. Mix the mud!The mud will dry out if it’s not covered, so only mix what you need to use. I worked with 1/4 of the bucket at a time.
    •  Use the 4″ spatula to transfer 1/4 of the mud to the empty bucket.
    • Attach the mixing tool to the end of your cordless drill.
    • Add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of water to the bucket of mud ( I just put the bucket in the laundry sink and turned the tape on and off quickly a few times). Use the drill to mix the mud and water until it is one homogenous mixture. It should be the consistency of brownie or cake batter.
    • Transfer enough mud into the tray to fill it up 1/3 to 1/2 of the way and cover the other buckets (main bucket, and the bucket you just mixed).
    •  Don’t skip this step! The mud needs to be whipped and smooth to spread on the walls evenly. Adding water makes the mud easier to work with and allows you to do multiple thin coats that don’t need a lot of sanding.
  2. Applying the mud:I like to use the 4″ or 6″ knife to apply the mud the wall.
    •  This is not the place to be perfect. Don’t waste time trying to smooth it out and make it pretty because most of the first coat is wiped off anyway.
    • The goal here is to get a mostly even coat 4-6″ wide that covers the corner or joint.

Joint ready for mud and tape

mud over joint

  • Tape Time:Measure the tape needed by unrolling the roll and next to the joint, and using the tape knife to cut or tear the tape at approximately the right length. A little long or short is fine.
    • Press the tape into the joint (6″ knife), if this is a corner, crease the tape first (see video).
    • Lightly hold the tape in place with the knife or your fingers, and with even pressure run the knife the length of the tape pushing the tape against the wall and removing all excess mud.
    • Make a few extra passes if needed to remove all the extra mud.
    • You only tape once, all subsequent coats will just be mud.
    • Optional: immediately go back over the tape with a think coat of mud, and wipe it all off again. This is like sneaking a super light second coat.

Mud ready for tape

Press tape into mud

Removing excess mud

  • Walk away! Stop here, don’t mess with it, or touch it, or whatever. Once it starts to dry if you touch it too much, you will mess it up and will have to pull the tape off before it completely dries. So leave it alone.
  • Coats:2-3 coats on every joint and in the corners.
    • Second and third coats should be with 8″ -12″ knife, with the subsequent coat with the same size or larger knife.
    • Outside corners don’t need tape since you are using the corner bead, but will take 3 coats to be completely filled.
    • Let each coat dry before applying the next coat (over night or 24 hours).
    • The 1st coat and taping of the corner, you do both sides of the corner at once.  Second and third coats – I suggest doing one side of the corner and letting it dry before doing the other side.
    • 1-2 coats on all the stand along screws/nails.
    • All of the screws/nails by the joints/corners will be covered by the tape so don’t worry about those
  • Sand:Hopefully you applied thin coats so there isn’t a lot of sanding to do.
    • Sand until it’s smooth and you can’t feel a ridge or bump when run your hand over the joint or corner.
    • There’s not much more to say except that if you don’t sand the joints smooth you will see them through the paint so take your time.

 Tips:

  • You need a water source to for mixing the mud and clean up. All of the knives and the tray should be washed clean and dried after use. Any mud that dries in the tray or on the knives will get stuck in the wet mud the next time you use the tools and makes a huge mess.
  • Give yourself time to get the project done. I worked in 2-5 hour stints. You can’t mud the whole room in one day. You will need to do one side of the corner, let it dry and do the other. You will also be applying 2-3 coats of mud, letting each coat completely dry before the next one is applied.
  • Don’t rush! This is your only opportunity to get your new walls smooth. Better to apply several thin coats of mud then to spend hours sanding and then having to go back and touch up.
  • The wider the knife, the smoother the joint. Don’t do the whole project with the 4″ and 6″ knife. Use the 10″ to 12″ knife whenever you can. A wider joint is easier to blend and sand.
  • To determine if you’ve sanded the joint smooth enough to be undetectable when you paint, close your eyes and run your hand over the seam. If you can feel where the mud ends and drywall starts you need to keep sanding.
  • Continuously wipe and clean your knives throughout the process, discarding the mud you remove from the wall.

Here are our results:

desk area at bottom of stairs

living area

stairs and laundry room

bathroom, furnace room

12 Comments leave one →
  1. October 21, 2013 1:59 AM

    I’m not sure exactly why but this site is loading extremely
    slow for me. Is anyone else having this problem or is it a issue on my end?
    I’ll check back later and see if the problem still
    exists.

  2. October 17, 2013 5:23 PM

    Greetings! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a team of
    volunteers and starting a new project in a community in the
    same niche. Your blog provided us beneficial information to work on.
    You have done a outstanding job!

  3. July 20, 2013 9:28 AM

    Hi i am kavin, its my first occasion to commenting anyplace, when i read this paragraph i thought i could also create
    comment due to this brilliant post.

  4. 1house1couple permalink
    March 14, 2012 6:42 PM

    Wow, great instructions! And videos too! good job! your basement is really coming a long! can’t wait :)

    ~Lisha

  5. March 13, 2012 12:47 AM

    Bookmarked for future reference! And the kitty paw prints make me giggle :)

  6. March 12, 2012 9:45 PM

    Great tutorial! Thank for taking the time to write it out…will definitely come in handy one day.

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