We have begun a bathroom remodel project. All the studs were exposed by removing plaster, wood lath and old plastic tile. We began attempting to install the ceiling drywall first. We were able to drive 1-5/8" drywall screws partially in, just enough to get it up there, but we were totally unable to drive the heads down just below the surface. (The drywall is 5/8" thick).

I tried removing them and re-inserting, with no success. I suspect the studs are really hard old-growth wood, believing this house to be 100 years old. Our next attempt was predrilling, which may have worked but the required drill bit was not long enough to penetrate the wood completely. We were able to "sink" the screws, except for approximately 1/16", that protrudes above the drywall. I really don't want to use shorter screws or nails. The drill used was 3/32".

How can I drive the screws to the proper depth?

  • 3
    What is happening with your drill? It just stops? Or does it strip the screws? – DMoore Sep 30 '14 at 5:47
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    Do you have an impact driver? Not ideal for drywall installation, and there's the possibility of shearing the screw head off, but that's what I'd try myself. – Doresoom Sep 30 '14 at 12:20
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    Sounds like your drill is garbage. I've put up drywall in similar situations and haven't had problems with a fully charged cordless drill. You didn't accidentally have it in reverse did you? – Zach Oct 1 '14 at 15:09

I suspect the studs are really hard old-growth wood

Lubricating screws can really help when driving them into wood. I've seen various lubricants suggested. For exterior projects I've used LM grease and petroleum jelly (vaseline) but I'm not sure if there are any problems using either in your situation.

The other common solution is to drill pilot holes to the expected depth of the screws, but this would be pretty tedious. I usually pick a drill size by holding screw and drill up to the light together and checking that the screw's threads are wider than the drill and that the drill is almost as wide as the core of the screw.

  • 1
    Another solution -- also a bit of a hassle -- is to drive the screw, back it out, and drive it again (or drive a fresh one if the head was damaged). That lets you start driving it at higher speed, which will often "power through" the place where you stopped last time. Beware of driving the screw all the way through the drywall! – keshlam Oct 1 '14 at 12:52
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    you can also use a drywall screw bit to help prevent driving it all the way through. – aaron Oct 1 '14 at 17:35
  • You need a sharp drill bit to get through that old hard pine. Go to the store and buy several brad point bits in the diameter you need. Expect to break a bit or two, and to have to change out the bits when they get dull. – Wayfaring Stranger Oct 2 '14 at 12:44

If you're not snapping the heads off (torque), your drill just doesn't cut it. If you're stripping the heads, you're not pushing hard enough (under powered drills require more pressure to avoid this and also lose torque towards the end, helping you snap the heads off). If the drywall pops, use two or more screws 2-3" apart, slowly sinking each one to distribute the load. If the heads pop off (tension), use the same procedure only this time, run the screw backwards until it hits the stud, creating a relief. This countersinks the drywall and will help you set the screws with a poor drill or unhappy hard wood. I've had some sections where only deck screws would avail me (+1 for impact drivers). Keshlam mentioned backing it out and driving it again, however I'd toss any screw I backed out that was giving me trouble (careful, they're hot).

  • Tip- Hit the dry wall with your fist-palm. If the dry wall moves and dust flies out, you popped the drywall. This screw must be removed and another (or 2) put near it. This screw would have popped it's mud plug after a while. – Mazura Oct 4 '14 at 0:12

How big an area? If it is small, can you replace the studs with pine? Cut the old out with a Sawzall.

You could also use drywall adhesive.

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