Repair Techniques For Small to Medium Size Holes In Drywall
To read some articles, you'd think you need a PhD to fix a hole in your wall.
Well, excuuuuuuuse me, but fixing holes in drywall has never been easier.
Modern materials have made wall repair simple and almost foolproof. This article will have some repetition because all
wall repairs are more alike
than they are different. Only slight differences in technique are needed
between repairing a 6" hole and a 3' hole!
What is "feathering"?
You'll read the word "feathering" frequently, so it deserves
explanation. Many drywall repairs are higher than the walls around them.
For example, drywall tape, a thin durable paper which is used to reinforce and disguise seams
in repairs, has thickness... as does the drywall compound that glues the tape in
Drywall repair is an art of illusion... to fool the eye into thinking the
wall has never been repaired. To make the slightly raised surface or a
repair seem level with the wall around it, you apply patching compound so that
it tapers in thickness from the center of the high area to the wall around it.
The wider this tapered area on the wall, the less visible the repair is. The art of
tapering your repair is called "feathering". The larger
the repair, the more feathering that is needed to pull off the illusion.
Joint taping, for example, can have feathering out to a foot or more on each
side of the seam!
Drywall taping knives of various widths are available and should be used to
make feathering effortless.
General tips about sanding and drywall
When repairing drywall, your goal is to do as little sanding as possible. It's almost impossible to make a repair without at least a tiny amount of
sanding. The best pros hardly sand at all, but this ability comes with
years of experience and lots of sanding along the way! That's one reason
why the pros work so quickly... they are precise and know their products
intimately (Hey, Drywall Dude... get a room!)
Sanding drywall compound produces a fine dust that gets onto and into
everything. Because it is water-soluble, wiping the dust with a sponge
makes a royal mess! By collecting the dust at the work area, either
through wet sanding or through use of a vacuum, you eliminate much of your
cleanup. Since small holes generate small amounts of dust, these simple
methods are more than adequate.
The best way to minimize sanding is:
- Never apply the drywall compound in thick layers
because it can't be made smooth when thick and tends to crack while drying.
- Don't overwork the compound (because it dries quickly and loses its
creaminess). Apply it, make a few smoothing stroke and then WALK AWAY!
- If the compound seems too thick, it probably is. Add a few drops
of water... it doesn't take much to make the compound nice and creamy.
- NEVER REUSE OLD COMPOUND!! Putting old compound back in the can
will make the mix lumpy. Throw away any compound that has been removed
from the can,
even if never touched!
- Buy a new can for a new job... especially IF there is any dried compound
in the old can or it has dark streaks in it (most likely mildew).
Again, those hard lumps will mess up your attempts to create a smooth
- Use a dust mask whenever sanding drywall compound. Inhaling too
much of this fine dust can possibly damage your lungs.
Between coats, use your drywall knife to shave off any lumps instead of
sanding them. If you've followed these tips you should need minimal
Back to hole repair. First things first... look at the hole!
Know thy drywall! Drywall is made from a special durable paper
that is pressed onto a pressure-formed layer of compressed rock dust, a.k.a. gypsum. The gypsum gives the wall its
hardness and the paper protects the gypsum from moisture while providing a
smooth surface for painting while adding some flexible strength.
The smaller and "neater" the hole, the easier it is to fix. Here is a
- Holes up to about 1/2" can be filled with most wall patching compounds,
such as drywall compound or light duty spackle.
- Holes between 1/2" and 6" can be repaired with a piece of drywall and
- Holes larger than 6" can be repaired with a piece of drywall and drywall
compound but should have reinforcing wood strips installed in the wall to
support the drywall edges.
- Since wall studs are a maximum of 14 1/2" apart, very large repairs will
bridge across one or more studs. We'll talk about large repairs in
Repair rules for very small holes...
Very small holes in drywall... from nails, screws, picture hangers, wall
anchors... don't need much preparation aside from cleaning away any dust.
- Use a hammer to gently tap the wall to cause a slight depression.
You can also use the rounded end of a screwdriver (or other tool) and tap
the other end with a hammer for more accuracy. Filling this depression
will give you the most invisible patch since you don't have to "feather" the
repair to make it appear flat. You can sometimes finish the repair
with a single coat followed by light sanding.
- If the paper around the hole is loose or ragged, you can carefully cut
out the paper, though on very small holes this is rarely needed.
- SECRET TIP TO MAKE OLD MOLLY BOLTS DISAPPEAR: If you
have a molly bolt in the wall, you'll find them difficult to remove without
making a huge hole. So don't try to remove the molly. Instead,
use your handy hammer and a screwdriver and tap it lightly till the metal
collar is slightly depressed below the level of the wall. Cover the
entire head with a layer of drywall compound and voila... all gone!
Repairs for medium sized holes - up to about 6" across
There are two ways to repair these holes. (There are more but I want to
get home for dinner.) I prefer the first but some
people like the second. The second is definitely easier, though!
Method 1: Sheetrock patch screwed to supporting braces
- If the paper around the hole is torn, loose or ragged, cut back the
loose paper with a very sharp utility knife. Squaring up the hole can
make the repair easier, but it is not absolutely necessary. At the
least, cut off any hanging pieces of drywall. (For example, if you
accidentally smashed your wall through with a hammer, you'd know what I
- Install a wood backer support inside the wall behind the hole. This can be
made from any piece of scrap wood you have lying around... even a paint stirrer will
work. I prefer to use scrap pine because it is easy to cut and easy to
screw into. Cut the backer as wide as possible so it will insert into
the hole but be long enough to extend at least a few inches beyond the edges
of the hole. Up to 3" you only need a single backer. For larger
holes, use two, one near each opposite edge, to add more rigidity.
- Cut a piece of drywall slightly smaller than the hole so it fits easily
into the hole.
- Put the scrap drywall in place and screw it to the backer(s). You
can also glue it in place with hot melt glue, or use screws plus
construction adhesive. Whatever floats your boat.
- Taping is not necessary for holes up to 6", though this is a matter
of personal preference. I prefer to simply force drywall
compound into all the cracks, working it deeply so it pushes through the
cracks. The excess compound that pushes into the wall hollow, when it hardens, will "key" the repair
and make the seams firm and crack-free. Allow at least 24 hours drying
time and do not disturb the repair during that time. You might notice
some cracking as the compound dries. This is normal for thick coats of
drywall compound and will be covered completely by subsequent coats.
- If you want the job to move faster, you can substitute Plaster of Paris
for drywall compound for this first fill. The plaster dries extremely
hard and, because it sets in less than a half hour, you can do the second
coat in one day. Be sure than the Plaster is
not level with the surface for this first fill... push it strongly
into the cracks but leave it at least an 1/8" below the wall level and rough
so the drywall compound can stick firmly to it. IF YOU LEVEL IT UP,
THE PLASTER WILL EXPAND WHEN DRYING AND IT WILL RAISE ABOVE THE WALL LEVEL.
Plaster of Paris is very hard to sand and you'll end up with a mess!!
- Expect to apply one or two coats of drywall compound after the initial
fill. The larger the hole, the further you should feather out the
compound. If you
apply the compound too thinly, you will see the paper edges of your cut.
You should apply the compound just thickly enough to visibly cover the
repair and STOP. Do no try to work and work and work the compound.
It will only begin to dry and get more ornery! Walk away, let it dry
and come back for the second coat later.
- When the first coat is dry, use your drywall knife to knock off any
lumps and to scratch off any high areas. If you've handled the knife
skillfully, your surface should be fairly smooth with minor bubbling or
smearing. (This is where experience is helpful.) Use the second coat
to thinly fill in these defects and feather the repair out a little further.
Again, do not overwork the compound!
Method 2: Sheetrock trimmed and glued directly to existing wall
I said earlier that I prefer Method 1, but frankly Method 2 is so much
easier. I guess it's hard to teach old handymen new tricky techniques!!
- Square up the hole using a utility knife or a drywall cutting saw.
- With a pencil, draw a line outside the perimeter of the hole, about an
inch outside the edge. With a utility knife, cut through just the paper
along this line. Peel the paper off.
- Using the drawn line, make a drywall patch the same size.
- On the back of the drywall, mark the profile of the hole, centered
within the drywall patch. Choose any side. Along one line, cut through
the back of the drywall just enough to cut the paper and score the drywall.
Bend the drywall sharply towards the front to break off the drywall along
the score. Carefully peel the gypsum core off the paper, leaving the
paper. Do this on all sides.
- Test fit the patch. The gypsum should fit into the hole and the
overhanging paper should fit within the trimmed paper on the wall. If
not, trim either the gypsum or the paper till you have a slightly loose fit.
- Apply a generous amount of drywall compound to the wall where the paper
has been cut. Press the patch in place and, using a drywall knife, run
the blade around all sides till most of the drywall compound has been
pressed out. The patch should now fit in the hole and the paper should
be fairly level with the existing wall. Allow to dry for at least 24
- IMPORTANT: If the patch seems to be raised above the level of the
wall, you can level it by screwing a small (1x2) board across the patch to
push it flat. Leave the board in place till
the compound dries... at least 12 hours. The small screw holes in the
wall can be filled when you
second-coat the patch.
- Expect to apply one or two additional coats of drywall compound,
feathering each out to blend with the wall surface. Sand after last
coat is thoroughly dry.
Back to dusty, messy sanding...
You're at the point where you have a fairly level patch (you have gotten
good, haven't you!) but there are some rough spots. Now is the time to
First of all, it's always better to fill than sand, so if you have any small
holes or "bubbles", try filling them with thinned compound first before
resorting to sanding.
There are no two ways about it. Dry sanding is dusty! There are attachments for vacuum cleaners that
use sanding screens... plastic sheets with thousands of holes that are
impregnated with carbide abrasive. The vacuum sucks the dust through the
holes as you
sand. They are not 100% effective, but get virtually all of the light dust
which is the most messy. Any larger particles that miss the vacuum will
just drop to the floor for cleanup.
If you don't want to purchase one of these special sanding kits, you can simply
hold the vacuum cleaner nozzle under the repair as you sand, which will catch much of the
Wet sanding has its fans...
I'm not too big on wet sanding since it can smear the compound.
But it is the closest thing to dust-free drywall sanding there is. If you
decide to wet-sand, don't use too much water and be careful not to oversand
or you'll rub off too much compound and have to recoat the repair again!
(Don't feel bad... even pros have to go back and touchup their work!
At least the conscientious ones.) There are special sandpapers that
are designed to be used wet, and there are also sanding screens that work well
with water. Again, don't get the patch too wet!
When the repair is done...
No matter how large or small the repair, you should prime and paint the
patch. This protects the patch from moisture and will make it even more
invisible. I prefer to use Kilz oil primer/sealer for patches where I am
only going to touchup the finish paint. Kilz doesn't seem to cause
"flashing" because it does not dry smooth. Because it is an oil primer, it
won't dissolve or soften the drywall compound.
Shellac-based primers make patches very shiny and this shininess seems to
show through most finish paints, even multiple coats. I've had mixed
results with latex primers, but the one's I've used seem to be resistant to
Written by Jerry Alonzy
Jerry Alonzy, a.k.a. the Natural Handyman, has been an active handyman for over 30 years with experience in most areas of home repair and renovation.
As a do-it-yourself author and web developer since 1995, he has been featured in USA Today, the Today Show and on radio shows, magazines, newspapers and websites. His material appears widely on the web, but primarily on his website... The Natural Handyman. You can also find him on Google+.