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Drywall Finishing: How to Tape and Float Sheetrock and Apply Corner Bead

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Drywall finishing tools

Drywall finihing tools

This article was updated on 06/28/20.

While wood stud or metal framing and hanging drywall are relatively mechanical activities, drywall finishing is more of an art form, but easily learned.

This article provides step by step instructions for taping and floating (or finishing) sheetrock or drywall on walls and ceilings. A tool and material list is included for your convenience. First things fikrst; be aware of these drywall-taping problems and how to prevent and solve them.

A Little Background — The Evolution of Wall Construction

Finishing sheetrock or drywall isn’t a new trade, but it’s not as old as its counterparts: carpentry and plumbing. As a matter of fact, sheetrock made its debut way back in 1916, but it really didn’t really catch on until World War II.

Before that, interior walls and ceilings were lathe (wooden strips) and plaster. This process petered out when the war loomed; Uncle Sam needed a faster way to build structures — barracks, office buildings, etc.

Sheetrock was the obvious candidate. It could be manufactured on a mass scale, was economical, and cut labor drastically. This article will show you, the daring DIY’er, how to tape and float sheetrock. The terms drywall and sheetrock are used interchangeably in this article, as they are in the trade (although Sheetrock is actually a brand name).

Of course, this isn’t just for new construction. The homeowner needs this knowledge for the day to day drywall patches that come about from accidents or repairs. Very small repairs such as repairing drywall seams are easy.

Drywall Finishing Tools and Material

Here’s a list of tools and material you’ll need to tape and float sheetrock or drywall:

  • 6” taping knife
  • 10” taping knife
  • Electric drill
  • Ribbon mixer (found in drywall taping tool area of the home improvement store)
  • Drywall hammer
  • Screwdriver
  • Mud pan
  • Utility knife
  • Drywall rasp
  • Stapler
  • Dust mask
  • Sanding pad, pole, and screens
  • Plastic corner bead
  • Drywall tape (fiberglass mesh type, not paper)
  • 5 gallon bucket(s) of sheetrock mud (drywall compound)or powder

Preparing the Drywall

Go over all the surfaces and make sure that there are no nails or screws above the surface of the drywall. If you find any, hammer the nails or screw in the screws (whichever were used in your home). If there are any other protrusions, get rid of them.

Plastic Corner Bead
Plastic corner bead

All outside corners need corner bead. If at all possible, use just one stick per corner. This should be no problem in the average home. If the drywall is ragged, use your utility knife or drywall rasp to trim it to a nice, square corner.

There are two types of corner bead--plastic and metal. I recommend plastic; it’s flexible, easy to work with, and does not rust. Just cut it to length, stick it on the corner, and staple it, making sure it’s straight. For outside corners, miter it carefully (see photo above).

Mixing the Drywall Compound (Mud)

Thinning Out Drywall Compound
Mixing drywall compound

Buy your mud in the large plastic buckets or use bags of powder (not fast setting). The consistency of pre-mixed mud is a bit too thick to begin with for my taste; when it’s thinned out it is easier to work with.

Open the bucket and pour in a cup or so of water and thin it out with your drill and ribbon mixer. Add a bit more if you like. I prefer a milk shake-type texture. Note: if you are using mud for drywall texturing, thin it out a lot more. It should easily slide off the end of the ribbon mixer.

Taping the Seams

Stick tape to all the seams and all inside corners. Do this all at once or as you go; it depends on the job. Fill your mud pan about 1/4 of the way full, and using your 6” knife, apply mud to all the seams, inside corners, and nail/screw indentations.

All you are doing with the taping step is initial work. Try to not leave any ridges of mud because you’ll just have to scrape them off prior to floating.

Floating the Walls and Ceilings

Taped and Floated Wall
A taped and floated wall

Now that the mud from the taping has dried, it’s time to float the sheetrock. Use the big knife. The objective here is to cover everything you did before but make the surface as smooth as possible and widen the area covered by the mud. The seams might still be indented, depending on how tight the joints were.

You likely won’t meet that objective on the first floating pass. Don’t give in to the temptation to just go over it once because ‘the texture will cover it.’ On this pass you go over the tape filling in the void.

As before, try not to leave any ridges. After the mud dries, float it at least one more time. On this pass you’ll be feathering the joints on the sides of the joint (and going over the nails or screws again).

Final Step: Sanding

Once you’re satisfied that your surface is flush and smooth, use the sanding screens to finish it off. Make sure you use your dust mask. Once you’re happy with this, you’re ready to apply your choice of easy drywall texturing techniques.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

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