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MATERIALS : Installing Drywall Panels Is a Job That Takes Both Sense and Sweat

June 10, 1995|From Associated Press

Installing drywall, also called wallboard and Sheetrock, is not easy work. The typical panel measures 4 by 8 feet, is one-half-inch thick, weighs about 100 pounds and can be very awkward to maneuver. That's the bad news.

The good news is that it's inexpensive and yields a first-rate interior surface when properly finished.

The product comes in a variety of sizes and thickness. In addition to the typical size, you can usually get longer panels--in two-foot increments up to 16 feet--on special order. The thickness ranges from one-quarter inch, mostly used for covering up old wall surfaces, up to three-quarters inch, which appears mostly in commercial situations.

For consumers, the usual choices are three-eighths, one-half and five-eighths inches. All can be used on ceilings and walls as long as the framing members are on 16-inch centers.

But if you plan to apply texturing to your ceiling, three-eighths is not viable, and if you need to install a fire wall--between your garage and living area, for example, or around your central heating system--many codes require five-eighths for these jobs. The one-half-inch thick panel is by far the most common because it performs well in most situations, especially those you're liable to confront when doing work around your own house.

Regardless of their length or thickness, the panels are constructed in the same way. The ends of the boards are full thickness, but the long sides are tapered upward from the edge toward the center of the panel. This taper is about 1 1/2 inches wide and about one-eighth inch deep. When two panels are abutted, edge to edge, a depression is created to accommodate the compound that's needed to finish the joints later.

Because the board ends don't have tapers, finishing these butt joints is harder--and usually more noticeable. So, it's best to reduce the number of butt joints to a minimum. Working with longer panels will accomplish this. But, of course, they're much heavier and much more unwieldy.

Probably the best approach for the non-professional is to use the standard panels and simply avoid butt joints whenever possible.

Here are some considerations before beginning the job:

Mark the location of all framing members on their adjacent surfaces. For the ceiling, that means marking the side of the top plates just under the ceiling joists. And for the walls, it means marking the floor under each stud, and marking the ceiling panels, once they're in place, to show where the top of the studs fall.

Plan to install all the panels perpendicular--not parallel--to the direction of the framing members and start with the ceiling, not the walls.

You can use 1 1/4-inch drywall screws to attach your one-half-inch panels. But 1 1/4-inch drywall nails are a suitable alternative. We prefer screws over nails because they hold better and are only marginally harder to install, especially if you are doing only one room. If you have a variable speed drill, that's all you need to drive the screws.

But if you have a lot of work to do, renting or buying a drywall screw gun is a better idea. These tools have adjustable nosepieces that regulate the depth that the screw can be driven.

When set properly, the gun should drive a screw just below the panel surface. The screw should compress but not tear the paper. Nails should be driven to the same depth.

While using a screw gun is a nice convenience, renting a drywall lift--about $25 a day--is almost a necessity. You can lift up the panels by hand, but you'll need help, and the job is far from fun.

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