How to Install Sheetrock, Drywall, or Plasterboard

Sheetrock is brittle, weak, and easily crumbles… so why is it so widely used for home interiors? Well, there are many reasons sheetrock, or drywall, is the material of choice for many modern homes. Sheetrock is cheap, extremely workable, fire-resistant, and makes a good base for a wallpaper finish. So although it’s not the strongest material in the world, it’s pretty safe to say that the pros outweigh the cons.

Sheetrock, put simply, is just gypsum plaster “wrapped” in thick paper. The tensile strength of the paper is what keeps the otherwise brittle board from cracking too easily. Therefore, by only cutting the paper on one face of the board, you can “crack” it along this line and then flip the board over to cut the other side. Sheetrock boards can in this way be cut into virtually any shape that is needed.

Sheetrock is typically fastened to wall studs using drywall screws of appropriate length – although nails have also been used in the past. For example, 25 millimeter drywall screws are typically used for sheetrock 12 millimeters and under, while 32 millimeter drywall screws would be used for 15 millimeter sheetrock.

With modern pneumatic tools and air compressors, we have the ability to fasten sheetrock boards to walls and ceilings using air-powered screw guns. These work in much the same way as a nail gun does and enable the drywaller to secure boards to ceilings for example, that he otherwise would require the assistance of a prop for – not to mention the monumental speed difference that screw guns introduce.

Sheetrock can be cut with the method I outlined above using only a utility knife, or you have the option of using a circular saw with a vacuum attachment. Of course, it’s not like it’s impossible to cut out sheetrock with methods other than those I listed above, but most professionals will use one or both of these methods. I covered the utility knife method above, so I’ll explain how the circular saw method works.

Circular saws used for cutting sheetrock are usually in the 6 1/2 inch blade diameter category due to not having such high power and blade-depth requirements. Sheetrock is fairly soft and easy to cut, and even a small circular saw will make quick work of it. They differ from normal circular saws in that they have an outlet where dust can be sucked out by a vacuum cleaner hose that is attached to it.

The circular saw is plugged into the vacuum cleaner, which should have power settings such as on, off, or auto. “On” means the vacuum cleaner will be on regardless of whether the saw is on or not. “Off” is off, and “auto” is when it’s synchronized, and turns on and off with the circular saw. Auto is the setting that is usually used when attached to the circular saw.

It goes without saying that the three components – circular saw, vacuum hose, and vacuum cleaner itself – should be bought as a set, or an expert should be consulted so as to ensure all parts fit together and work with one another properly. As you can imagine, cutting sheetrock with a circular saw – sans vacuum attachment – will spray copious amounts of extremely unpleasant and toxic dust into the air.

For those who are contemplating roughing it without the vacuum attachment… don’t do it, it’s not worth it! – Especially if you’re working in enclosed spaces such as a room you’re renovating – which is often the case being that sheetrock is an interior building material. Not to mention it will put a substantial layer of white powder all over the room you’re in creating unnecessary cleanup work.

Final Pointers, Tips, and Tricks for Sheetrock Installation

  • Put a chamfer on all sheetrock board edges forming a joint with another board to ensure good putty joints. All joints will be puttied prior to wallpapering, but putty will simply dry, crack and crumble out of small, skinny joints. Therefore chamfering ensures adequate amounts of putty are applied, creating durable joints. Chamfering can be done simply with a utility knife, or a hand planer that has a V groove cut into the underside of its body.
  • Ensure no screws or nails are protruding from sheetrock surface. This is obviously important because screws will not only be visible as an ugly lump through the finished wallpaper, but has the potential to cause a tear as well. However, sinking them too deeply causes another problem in that they won’t be holding the sheetrock as well. Ideally you would sink the screw-head just past the sheetrock surface without allowing it to punch through the paper completely. This is especially important when doing ceilings! Screws that are sunk too deep lack adequate holding power and cannot be counted on to hold ceiling boards.
  • Sheetrock boards can be stacked up in neat piles and cut from the top down. By setting the blade-depth to just shy of the board thickness you can cut without having to worry about slicing through to the boards underneath. You then simply need to slice the remaining paper with a utility knife and you’re good to go. Also, by cutting with the boards backside-up, you have the option of slicing the paper on the “outside” of the saw-blade kerf. This allows you to intentionally cut the board shy (for fitting ease) yet still make it seem like a snug fit due to the paper concealing any gaps.
  • Having a hand saw handy can be extremely useful when needing to cut many small or intricate notches and/or angles.
  • A rasp can be used to file down high spots when walls aren’t straight. This is a quick and effective approach for small tweaks and adjustments.