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I (newbie) intend to apply drywall mud and knockdown a ceiling this weekend: 3BR 2BA apartment. Youtube videos indicate that it can be applied manually or sprayed pneumatically with a hopper gun.

What are the questions that I need myself to ask in order to make the decision as to whether I should try using a hopper gun?

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A hopper gun can help apply the mud quickly and more evenly for a light to medium knockdown. I find for heavy knockdown with patterns hand application is better. The main question I would ask , do you have a compressor that will provide the flow at the listed gun pressure requirement? My last comment would be Do not use hot mud in a hopper it drys faster and is harder to clean the gun. If you want what I consider a medium to light knockdown a hopper gun is a great time saving tool. Make Sure to clean the gun well after use and it can last for years and many projects.

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