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As part of some home renovations I recently hung the equivalent of nine sheets of drywall -- eight on the walls (including a basement staircase) and one on the ceiling. I've done small patch jobs on drywall before and it's something I loathe. I got some quotes to have the finishing done, but apparently business is good for drywall finishers -- the quotes are four times what I anticipated, are scheduling almost a month out, and will take up to 10 business days to complete.

So I guess I'll be learning to finish drywall.

As this will be my first time finishing more than just a patch job, I'm looking for a process that will be straightforward and give me a high probability of success. Time is not a concern. Here are my questions:

  1. Paper tape or mesh tape? From what I've read, mesh tape is easier to install (good) but not as strong (bad) and requires compound that I'd have to mix up myself (bad-- another thing to figure out). It seems like paper would be a bit harder to position and install, but otherwise is a better choice. So the question here is which is more challenging -- getting the compound mix right, or getting the paper tape installed properly?
  2. Pre-mixed vs setting-type compound. Pre-mixed eliminates a step that I could mess up (good), and the main disadvantage seems to be that it takes longer to dry. Since I'm going to be slow, and will do most of this weeknights after work, that doesn't seem like a big deal. Are there other reasons why I should consider setting-type compound?
  3. Dust control compound? Home Depot sells this stuff, which sounds like snake oil to me. It costs $2 more per bucket. Is it worth it? Are there disadvantages?
  4. Oh my god the dust. This is what I remember about patch jobs, and what everybody complains about. Any pro-tips for dealing with the dust? Do these things actually work?

In all of these considerations, I'm not paying for someone else's time so I don't need the most convenient option -- I need the most fool-proof (the fool being myself). Since this is a small job, cost isn't too much of a concern either -- at least not compared to the outrageous quotes I got.

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Paper tape or mesh tape?

It comes down to preference. As a "beginner" (but not for long... haha) I feel that mesh tape will be easier for you. No, you do not have to use any special mud; premix will work just fine. Some say that paper tape is stronger; some say that it is less likely to form hairline joint cracks over time.

Pre-mixed vs setting-type compound.

You should absolutely use pre-mix joint compound to bed and cover your tape, and pre-mix topping compound for subsequent applications. Setting-type compound takes some special skill gained with experience, must be troweled/worked rapidly, and is harder to sand. You have time, take advantage of that to make this difficult work easier for you.

Dust control compound?

Yes, it applies just like regular pre-mix but is less dusty when sanding. If money is an issue and dust not so much, don't bother with it.

dust

The vacuum dust collecting sanding pads do work, but you are talking about significant expense, the vacuum is loud, and they only work with drywall sanding mesh/screens which I do not recommend for anything except the initial mud knock-down.

Tips:

  • Buy quality knives/trowels and set aside plenty of time to clean and dry them after each use.

  • Buy 3" (for scooping mud from bucket), 6", 10", and 12" knives.

  • Cover unused mud in buckets with plastic cling wrap (Saran Wrap) pressed tight to the mud, then snap the lid back on the bucket.
  • Get a strong worklight and shine it from the side, oblique to the wall, when finishing and sanding. This will highlight uneven areas and imperfections with shadows.
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I agree with Jimmy Fix-It's answer and would elaborate on a couple issues.

  1. Go with the pre-mix compound, otherwise you'll also be buying a mixing attachment for your heavy-duty drill and experimenting on the consistency. If you were planning on changing to a career in drywall that would be different but as a DIY who may do occasional hanging/taping jobs its much easier to use the pre-mix. Plus, you can buy a 5 gallon bucket and store it for a long time in anticipation of the next job.

  2. Joint cracks are almost exclusively a factor of the drywall placement and movement, not the mud or the tape. Make sure to attach the drywall solidly to the studs on all sides and the middle of the sheet, you can't use too many screws! I've seen it as close as 8" apart and as far as 16" - go for 8". Also, there should be no edges without backing, as it can allow flex in the drywall which translates into cracks.

  3. Apply the mud in thin layers, allowing it to dry between coats. If you apply the mud too thick it can shrink and crack as it dries. Shortcuts will almost always result in a problem that you need to mitigate later on. I usually put an initial coat on that is enough to encapsulate the tape and fill the screw holes. This typically will dry fairly quickly and requires almost zero sanding. Next, I come back and do an initial leveling but nothing thicker than 3/16". I might do a light sanding on this one if needed, but as pointed out by someone else, take your time and try to get it as close as possible. Finally, I go over it with a final coat, bringing it all level and tapering joints where needed.

  4. Buy good tools - your saving a ton of money doing it yourself, so buy the tools that in 5 years you will say to yourself, "I'm glad I bought this tool".

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I won't even try to compete with the excellent advice already given, which I entirely agree with.. except that I don't like mesh; I find it difficult to make mesh stay bedded in the mud in corners or uneven joints. But I'm merely an advanced novice in this specialty.

Start work in a closet or other place that will be poorly lit when the job is done. You'll feel a little more free to experiment with technique if you're working in a place where you can easily say "meh, it's good enough for a closet and I'll do better out in the main room."

The best way to minimize dust is to avoid the temptation to put on too much mud. It saves time to put on too little and do another coat rather than overdoing it, sanding it, and cleaning up more dust.

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