How to Cut and Hang Drywall

By: Karen Nelsen

Cutting drywall with straight edge and utility knife.

While hanging drywall can seem intimidating, with the right tools and techniques, it’s not as difficult as you might imagine. Drywall—also known as wallboard, plasterboard, and by the trade name Sheetrock®—is made from gypsum cement that is covered with paper to give it added strength and a smooth surface.

Drywall comes in thicknesses ranging from 1/4” to 3/4”, with 1/2” being the most common. Standard sizes are 4’ x 8’ and 4’x 12’ though 54” widths are available for use on 9’ ceilings.

While longer sheets are heavier and hard to deal with, they reduce the number of joints, making finishing easier.

Since lifting heavy sheets can be a challenge, consider renting a drywall lift, such as PanelLift, when hanging ceilings.

Apply drywall to the ceiling first then the walls, with long sides at right angles to the framing and the ends centered on studs.

Drywall Tools

Only a few simple tools are needed to cut drywall:

  • Measuring tape
  • Utility knife
  • Straight edge
  • Drywall saw
  • Drywall keyhole saw
  • Drywall rasp or sanding block

Tools used to hang drywall

Cutting Drywall

Drywall can be cut by either scoring or sawing. Scoring is best for cutting sheets to length or width while sawing is used to cut holes and openings for windows and doors.

Scoring

Scoring is the easiest and least messy method of cutting drywall. Here’s how to go about it.

Step 1: Score Front of Drywall Panel

Scoring front of drywall panel with utility knife
Using a straight edge or chalk line as a guide, cut through the paper and into the gypsum core on the face side of the drywall sheet with a sharp utility knife.

Step 2: Break Drywall Sheet Along Scored Line

Breaking sheet of drywall
While supporting the drywall sheet on the back, apply pressure to the face, causing the piece to break cleanly along the joint.

Step 3: Cut Through Paper on Back of Drywall Sheet

Cutting through the paper on the back of a drywall sheet
Score the paper on the back of drywall sheet with a utility knife to compete the cut.

Step 4: Smooth Cut Edge of Drywall with Rasp

Smoothing the cut edge of drywall with a rasp
If needed, use a drywall rasp or sanding block to smooth the cut edge.

Sawing

A drywall saw is used to make cuts for windows and doors while a smaller keyhole saw is perfect for cutting around electrical boxes and other small openings.

Using a drywall saw to cut through drywall

Make the cuts from the front side when possible to keep from roughing up the paper on the face.

When marking the locations for cuts, follow the old carpenter’s adage of measuring twice and cutting once to avoid making costly mistakes.

Door and Window Cutouts

Since drywall is cut around doors and windows before the casings are attached, a perfect fit isn’t necessary. While professional drywall hangers often use a special high-speed rotary tool to cut around openings with the sheet in place, most do-it-yourself projects will involve measuring and cutting the sheet before it is installed.

Measuring drywall with a tape measure for cutting

Start by measuring horizontally from the corner of the room to the edge of the jamb and transfer the measurement to the drywall. Mark the waste side with an “X” to keep from accidentally cutting the wrong piece. Next, measure vertically down from the ceiling or up from floor and transfer that measurement to the sheet as well.

Mark the drywall on the face with a straightedge and make the shorter of the two cuts with the drywall saw. Next, score the other line and snap off the cut piece.

Electrical Box Cutouts

The holes for electrical boxes need to be a tighter fit than those around windows and doors. The most common method is to measure and mark the location of the cutouts, then draw the outline on the sheet using an extra electrical box as a guide.

Another method is to rub a tube of lipstick around the edge of the box, hold the sheet in place, and press it against the box to transfer the outline to the drywall.

Step 1: Mark Drywall for Cutout Using Electrical Box

Marking drywall using extra electrical box as pattern
After determining the location of the electrical box on the drywall sheet, use an extra box as a pattern for the cutout.

Step 2: Cut Electrical Box Opening with Drywall Keyhole Saw

Cutting out a hole for an electrical box in drywall using a keyhole saw
After marking the location of the electrical box, use a course tooth, drywall keyhole saw to cut out the opening.

Once the location has been marked, cut around it with a keyhole saw by plunging the sharp point into the sheet. Hold the blade at an angle so the cutout is slightly larger on the back than on the front.

Put the sheet in place and use a utility knife to adjust the fit around the box if needed, keeping the gap 1/8” or less.

Hanging Drywall

Drywall can either be nailed or attached using drywall screws. While nailing is faster, nails tend to work out over time, leaving unsightly bulges in the finished wall. Drywall screws not only stay put, but hold better, so not as many are needed.

Drywall screws and drywall nails

Use 1¼” ring shank drywall nails when nailing 1/2” drywall. A crown-head hammer is used to drive the nails below the surface and denting the drywall without tearing the paper. Position nails 1/2” from the edge and every 7” for ceilings and 8” for walls.

When attaching drywall with screws, use 1¼” bungle head drywall screws. A drill equipped with an adjustable clutch is used to drive the screws just below the surface without breaking the paper.

Using a cordless drill to screw drywall in place

Locate screws ½” in from the edges and every 12” for ceilings and 16” for walls. Construction adhesive can be applied to the studs first to give an even stronger bond while reducing the number of screws or nails.

Hanging drywall on a vaulted ceiling

Drywall Tips

Here are a few helpful tips to make your drywall project go more smoothly:

  • Have a helper on hand to help with the heavy lifting.
  • Use a pencil for marking, since a pen or marker may bleed through paint.
  • Keep a sharp blade in the utility knife to cut the paper cleanly.
  • Have a trash can nearby for scraps.
  • Take breaks and don’t try to do too much, since most mistakes occur when you’re tired.

Doing a good job hanging the drywall will result in less work finishing and a better looking completed project.

Further Information

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6 Comments on “How to Cut and Hang Drywall”

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  • Aria Wellington Says:
    March 29th, 2016 at 7:50 pm

    My husband and I are doing some remodeling to our loft upstairs and we are going to be doing a lot with drywall. I would love to do something really unique so we will have to look at some different projects for inspiration. Having these tools on hand for the process would make things go much more smoothly, thank you for sharing!



  • Beth Says:
    October 30th, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    What brand is that drywall keyhole saw?

    Thanks!



  • carmen Excobar Says:
    May 5th, 2013 at 8:26 am

    I have a patio set that has rusted. I have tried to contain the rust by painting it with rust proof paint but it has not worked. when it rain since it is exposed it accumulates rustic water which stains the deck. Any recommendations other then throwing the chairs away which are fairly new? Thank you,



  • sunny Says:
    April 16th, 2011 at 8:01 am

    i did suspention ceilings in the past about 25 years ago,and seems to have forgotten dementions bit .i am at this time remodeling my home and would like to adry wall ceiling,but have no dementions of framing up for dry wall,could u show me adrawing or video on how to do this?



  • Gotchabuilder Says:
    March 31st, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    Great drywall tips.



  • Melissa Says:
    June 29th, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    Great tips and advice!


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