How to Cut and Hang Drywall
By: Karen Nelsen
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.
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
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 is the easiest and least messy method of cutting drywall. Here’s how to go about it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Cutting Drywall Around Outlet Boxes (video)
- How to Repair Damaged Drywall (video)
- How to Repair Small Holes in Drywall (article)
- How to Patch a Hole in Drywall Using a Hot Patch (article/video)
- How to Repair a Popped Nail in Drywall (video/article)