Patching (Repairing) Holes in Drywall
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Patching (Repairing) Holes in Drywall

In this article, methods are discussed and explained to repair holes in drywall (gypsum) walls.

Patching holes in walls that look as good as new is not a simple task. Most people will need to hire a pro (talk to your local home paint store) to seamlessly mask damage. That said, the techniques that I share with you in this article will allow even a novice DIYer to perform basic wall repair that, while it may not be imperceptible, will provide a significant improvement. This basic repair will also save the pro time and you money when they come in to finish the repair.

Step 1: Assess What Type of Wall You Need to Repair: The following steps are suggested to repair holes in modern drywall. Drywall is the material used in modern construction that covers the wood framing on the inside of a home. It is comprised of a core of relatively soft, chalk-like material sandwiched between a front and back layer of paper. On older homes and some (rare) specialty modern construction, plaster over lath covers wall framing. If the hole in your wall reveals thin strips of wood underneath the damaged plaster and you see no evidence of paper layers, then you likely are dealing with plaster and lath construction. I do not recommend attempting a DIY repair on a plaster and lath wall. Seek out a professional with experience in plaster and lath. So long as you are dealing with drywall construction, proceed to the next step in the repair process.

Step 2: Determine the Size of the Repair Required: Draw a square or rectangle on the wall with a pencil, being sure your box covers all the damage. Now, measure the height and width of the box you drew using a measuring tape, yard stick or ruler. Make note of these two measurements. If the box is less than one foot in height and width, then my repair techniques will be relatively easy to perform. Go ahead and break or cut a fist-sized piece of drywall from the edges of the damage. Since you are repairing a hole in the wall, a few more inches of hole will not hurt and this gives you something to take to the supply store to match the drywall. Drywall comes in several thicknesses and a couple of different formulations, so the easiest way to get it right is to have a sample. For repairs over two feet in either height or width, I would suggest consulting a professional.

Step 3: Obtaining Materials: Take the measurements and drywall sample you gathered in Step 2 to your local home repair store. Seek out an employee, who at least claims to know something about drywall, and show them the sample, along with the measurements of the square which will be the patch. If you are lucky, your store may sell drywall already cut to manageable dimensions, and one of these precut pieces may work for your patch. Otherwise, you will need to ask your helpful employee what it takes to get a piece of matching drywall cut to the dimensions you need. Depending on store policy and your charm, the service could be free or may cost a couple of bucks. Naturally, you will have to pay for the piece of drywall they start with and not the prorated amount you take home, but since an entire 4x8 foot sheet of drywall should cost less than two mocha lattes, this should not break the budget. What you do not want to do is deal with an entire 4x8 foot sheet of drywall for a small patch. Now that you have the drywall cut to your patch dimensions, don’t let the helpful employee escape. Ask him to show you a drywall saw, drywall screws and composite shims.

  • A drywall saw is an inexpensive hole saw with large, rather dull, teeth. Looking more like a bread knife than a saw, it is designed to cut on the push stroke and will make quick work of cutting the drywall at home to match the patch. Because of its dull teeth and stiff blade, this saw is easy to control and relatively safe. (I won’t say you can’t hurt yourself, but I would probably laugh about it if you did.) 
  • Drywall screws come is several lengths, but the most common size for the most common drywall thickness is 1-5/8 inches in length. You want to get the smallest box available, and they should be relatively cheap. You do NOT need more expensive coated deck screws.
  • Composite shims may test the knowledge of your helpful employees. Shims were traditionally wooden wedges that carpenters would make on site to do all kinds of neat carpenter-like tricks from filling gaps between windows and rough framing to aligning and leveling doors. Now, they are manufactured in bulk and are commonly made from pine or, occasionally, cedar. What we are looking for are the latest and greatest shims (in my opinion) which are made from wood fiber and plastic resins. The greatest characteristic of these composite shims is that they will not split like a wooden shim which makes them perfect for my method of wall repair.
  • Now that you have all the tricky items in your shopping cart, you may release your helpful employee since you can probably navigate yourself to the paint section and find a tube of latex caulk. Pick up a tube that is clearly marked “paintable” and can be squeezed out by hand. 
  • The last item required to complete our repair is a screwdriver. Naturally, you can use the old, standard, manually operated screwdriver, so long as it is a Phillips style tip. (Phillips head is also known as a cross-tip as it leaves a cross-like impression in modeling clay, or your little sister’s Barbie doll. Mom still thinks it was an accident.) Of course, while you are in the home improvement store, you could take a look at the line of power drivers since no home should be without a power driver. I know the selection is daunting, but try to seek equilibrium between budget and brag factor. Oh, and don’t forget to have the Phillips head bit for your new tool. Now, go home.

Step 4 - Mark the Hole: Take your freshly cut patch and hold it up to the wall so that it covers all of the damage. Hopefully, you measured correctly. Mark your patch with an arrow pointing to the ceiling, and then use the same pencil to draw on the wall around the entire patch. When you remove the patch, you should have a clearly visible line on which to cut, which perfectly matches the patch.

Step 5 – Cut the Wall: NOW, PLEASE READ THIS. Walls can conceal some things that should not be cut. While your drywall saw would have difficulty cutting through metal pipes, modern plastic pipes would not be too much of a challenge. Worse yet, (considering danger) would be the potential results of cutting through an electrical wire. With this in mind, proceed with extreme caution when using your saw. It is advisable to use a small flashlight to examine the wall cavity where the cut will be made. If you have any doubts as to the safety of your cutting operation, DO NOT PROCEED and call a professional. I do not want to get any comments that you flooded a basement or tested out self-induced CPR because you were careless. If you are completely secure that no dangers lurk inside the wall, and you realize that I am not responsible for your lack of understanding of actual dangers, proceed with caution. Using your nifty, new drywall saw, cut all the way around the line, making sure that you do not veer to the inside of your box since that will leave a bump that the patch will catch on.

Step 6- Mount the corner braces: Personally, I think this step is the coolest part of this technique. Take one of your composite shims and hold it inside the wall so that it just spans across one corner of your cut hole. Using a drywall screw, drive through the good drywall and into the shim, driving the screw tight, but only slightly indented into the good drywall. Do the same thing to firmly attach the other end of the shim to the back of the good drywall. (See picture) Repeat this process for each corner.

Step 7 – Mount the Patch: Now, push your patch into the hole so the arrow that you drew is pointing up toward the ceiling. This makes certain the patch is oriented the same way it was as when you drew your cutting lines. The patch should push flush to the good drywall and fit well with only a small gap. If you have some spots that are too tight to allow for a fit, you can use your drywall saw to shave off additional material to achieve a good fit. Now, simply drive four screws into each corner through the patch and into the composite shim below.

Step 8 – Fill the Gap: Using the latex, paintable caulk, fill the gap that is left, using your finger to smooth the caulk bead and blend it into the drywall. Using caulk will seal the repair without using the difficult to master “tape and mud” techniques used by pros.

Step 9 – Finish: Once the caulk has set (see directions), you can paint the patch to match the surrounding wall. Texturing to match can be done before or after initial painting, but texturing is beyond the scope of this article.

Now, you can put up your tools, toss the scrap drywall, and clean up the dust and debris. After that, you need to step back and admire your handy work. Then, go out and treat yourself to something special. You just saved yourself some bills. – Doug Sweet © 2011

Materials/Tools Used: Measuring Tool, Drywall Saw, Phillips Head Screwdriver or Power Driver (Recommended), Drywall, Drywall Screws, Composite shims, Latex Caulk

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Comments (2)

Very well done and nicely written. Great instructions. RT'd and voted up

Double Glazing Cheltenham

Great post and very straight to the point! Thank you for sharing this! I now know what to do when something unexpected happens!