How to Tape Drywall Like a Professional

how to tape drywallDrywall Taping Step by Step

(With tips the pros will never tell you)

For most do-it-yourselfers, the least exciting part of a renovation project is doing the drywall—and specifically taping the seams and joints. But that’s only because most DIYers don’t know the tricks of the trade or understand how the right materials, tools, and techniques can make it easier.

That ends now.

I’m here to walk you through this very important part of your drywalling project. You’ll want to pay special attention to these taping tips because they are going to totally change how you approach this part of the project. Proper taping will make your drywall look like it was hung by a pro!

Check out my other articles on drywalling:

Hanging drywall

Sanding drywall

Drywall finishing

Applying knockdown texture

One of the reasons people typically dread drywalling is because it’s extremely time-consuming and taping is one reason why. In fact, 90% of the cost of a professional drywalling is labor, so taping your walls yourself can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars, even on small jobs. Taping your wall correctly will also reduce the amount of sanding you’ll have to do (which is awesome), and it will make your walls look outstanding!

One of the biggest reasons drywall projects don’t turn out well is because people overlook the importance of taping. Taping is actually one of the single most important parts of any drywalling project, because it hides the seams and joints. If you choose to skip the drywall tape and just use joint compound to fill the seams, the ugly truth is the seams will become visible again after the compound dries. That can be frustrating, even more time-consuming (because you’ll obviously need to redo it), and frankly, embarrassing.

So, let’s get to it, shall we?

Materials You’ll Need

  • 1-5/8-inch drywall nails – I recommend using 5/8-inch drywall sheets. While 5/8-inch sheets are slightly thicker than the more common 3/8- or 1/2-inch sheets, it is better for retarding the spread of flames and is used in garages and walls adjacent to furnace rooms. It’s also great for soundproofing in buildings like condos and commercial facilities. When using 5/8-inch drywall, you’ll need to use 1-5/8-inch drywall nails.
  • All-purpose compound – All-purpose compound is a pre-mixed mud sold in buckets and boxes. It can be used for all phases of drywall finishing including embedding joint tape and filler and finish coats, as well as for texturing and skim-coating.
  • Corner beads – Since outside drywall corners have traditionally been protected with nail-on metal corners, a paper-faced corner bead is simpler and resists cracks and chips better. You’ll want to cut corner beads to length with tin snips and hold them in place to make sure the beads meet perfectly at the corners.
  • Paper tape – I prefer this type of tape to mesh tape. I’ll explain why below.
  • Setting compound – Setting-type compound is perfect for pre-filling gaps because it hardens quickly and doesn’t shrink as much as regular joint compound.
  • Joint compound – This is the compound you’ll use for most of the project. You can use pre-mixed compound, but you’ll probably need to water it down a bit (see Pro Tip #2 below).
  • Topping compound – You’ll want to use this as a finishing compound, but you’ll discover most topping compound is too thick right out of the bucket. You’ll want to thin it down with water to get it to the right consistency.

Choosing the Right Tape

Before you get started, it’s important to make the right choice when it comes to the tape you use. There are a few choices when it comes to join tape, but I really only recommend you choose between two (and frankly, just one).

  1. Paper tape – While paper tape is not as strong as fiberglass mesh tape, it is nonelastic and will create stronger joints. This is especially important at butt joints, which typically are the weakest areas in a drywall installation. Another reason to choose paper tape is it can be used with either drying-type or setting-type compounds. Paper tape is also the tape most often used by professionals, because once you get the hang of it, it’s actually easier and cleaner to use, and it’s cheaper than mesh tape.
  2. Self-sticking fiberglass mesh tape – The one advantage of fiberglass self-sticking tape is that it eliminates the need for the first coat of compound—and that’s a big deal. But tape manufacturers say the fiberglass product should be used only with setting compounds, not with drying ones. In my opinion, the difficulties of working with a setting compound outweigh the advantage of using the fiberglass tape. Fiberglass-mesh tape is self-adhesive and is more popular with people who tape only occasionally.Onetime Fiber Mesh Crack Tape

When you are getting the area ready, make sure you are ready as well! Wear a hat and protective eyewear (drywall compound can really hurt your eyes and it stings like crazy), and old clothing that you can toss when you’re done. Remove furniture from the room, and be sure to cover the floor with a canvas drop cloth.

The Best Tools for Taping Drywall

  1. A Banjo Taping Tool: Basically, a banjo makes short work of covering drywall seams with paper tape. But speed isn’t the only advantage a banjo offers. It practically eliminates the common problem of loose or bubbling tape that plagues many beginning tapers. My favorite is the Delko ZUNDER—it’s a little pricier than other models, but it definitely makes life easier thanks to an inside corner applicator that lets you easily mud and tape the inside corners of your drywall quickly and efficiently. If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, the Wallboard Tool is a popular taper that works for novices and pros alike.
  2. A Corner Clincher: Made from steel, a drywall clincher features a 90-degree inside angle that fits over an outside wall corner. By striking a button on the clincher with a rubber mallet, the clincher aligns the metal corner bead and drives the corner bead tightly to the drywall. Goldblatt has a nice one, and it comes with a mallet, too.
  3. A Hawk: A hawk is a tool used to hold compound, plaster, mortar, or a similar material, so that the user can repeatedly, quickly and easily get some of that material on the tool which then applies it to a surface. Many people prefer to work with a pan, but I think you’ll have an easier time taping drywall if you use a hawk, because you can get more compound on the wall faster—especially as you get to the wider joints.
  4. A Taping Knife: A taping knife or joint knife is a drywall tool with a wide blade for spreading joint compound, also known as “mud”. It can be used to spread mud over nail and screw indents in new drywall applications and is also used when using paper or fiberglass drywall tape to cover seams.

So, are you ready to get to it? Now that you’re armed you with the materials you’ll need, the best tools to use, and the type of tape you want, it’s finally time to start taping some drywall!

Drywall Taping Step by Step

Step 1

Prefill gaps from top to bottom with setting compound. Setting-type compound is my preference for prefilling because it hardens quickly and doesn’t shrink as much as regular joint compound. Don’t mix too much though! Like I said, setting compound hardens quickly, and if you mix too much, you’ll wind up wasting a lot of it. If you prefill the gaps and let it dry before you apply the tape coat, the compound in the gaps will not negatively affect the tape. When it has hardened, but is not yet completely dry, scrape off peaks and lumps with a taping knife.

PRO TIP #1: Before applying the setting compound, break or cut off any broken or crumbling areas of the drywall, then remove any bits of paper left around the edges (peeling it away works best). This will make the prefill application smoother.

Step 2

Apply the first coat of compound. I recommend using an all-purpose, heavyweight, drying-type joint compound for embedding paper tape. The heavyweight, all-purpose material (the original type of all-purpose compound) is stronger than lightweight or other weight compounds. I like covering the butt joints first, and highly recommend turning your taping knife sideways to apply the compound. That way you get just enough on the knife and there is less chance of excess compound running down the wall.

PRO TIP #2: If you’re using pre-mixed mud right out of the box, you’ll notice that it’s pretty thick—like cookie dough. Trying to run mud of that consistency into a straight line, or worse, a corner, is next to impossible. It’s thick because it lacks moisture, which makes it more difficult to bond to the tape, causing bubbles to form. If you thin out the pre-mixed mud with water until it’s about the consistency of soft-serve ice cream, the application will be much easier. This may seem counter-intuitive (because it’s pre-mixed, after all), but think of it like frozen juice concentrate. You buy the concentrate at a certain consistency, and then you water it down until it’s your desired consistency. It’s no different with joint compound.

Step 3

Embed the tape. This is the single most important part of the drywall process. Some people think that the sanding or the finishing coats are most important, but if you get the tape embedded properly in joint compound to begin with, you create a strong foundation. Once the compound has been applied, center the tape over the seam.

PRO TIP #3: This is one tip that no professional will ever tell you (except me). Remember how I said you need to have sufficient moisture to make sure a proper bond forms between the compound and the tape? Try dipping the tape in water and then squeezing the excess water out between your index and middle fingers. Moistening the tape will allow the bond between the tape and the mud to form more quickly. This is less of an issue in humid climates, but it makes an enormous difference just about everywhere else. 

Step 4

Press the end of the paper tape into the compound. Use your hand at one end of the seam and center it over the rest. Press it lightly into the compound every 18 inches or so to hold it in place. The tape has to be kept tightly pulled as it is centered over the joint. Once the end of the seam is reached, the tape can be cut. If you are taping seams close to the floor, use a vertical motion to push out any bubbles from the floor to the end of tape to avoid getting compound on the floor (or your shoes—ugh).

PRO TIP #4: Be very careful when using your knife to smooth out the tape! You don’t want to use too much pressure. Doing so can cause bubbles to form, because you’ll end up squeezing out too much compound. Also, despite what you might see on the Interweb, it’s OK to cut the tape into smaller sections using your drywall knife. Most pros will show you one full-length piece of tape covering the entire length of the wall, and while that’s ideal, it’s not a necessity. In fact, if you’re new to drywalling, trying to run a full-length piece of tape along a wall can quickly become a mess of wasted tape and dried compound. Just TRY embedding tape into dried-up compound! Go ahead … I’ll wait.  

Step 5

Cut the tape at the end of the seam. Push the edge of the blade tight into the compound with your taping knife, then pull the tape across the blade, tearing it crisply. When you are taping an entire wall, start wiping with the knife in the middle and work your way out to the corners.

Step 6

Tape the corners.

    • Inside corners: If you’re using the paper tape (as I recommended) it is pre-creased so it can be used in corners, as well. Place the tape so the crease creates a valley, rather than a peak. If you can still see the drywall tape after embedding it and going over it with the compound, your mud is too thin (remember—soft serve ice cream!). If you are not using paper tape with creases in it, you’ll have to fold it yourself. Then cover about a 1-inch area of mud on one side of the inside corner and 1-inch on the other side of the inside corner.
    • Outside corners: Start by attaching a metal or plastic corner bead to the drywall corner. Then you’ll want to scoop some pre-mixed joint compound onto your hawk and then apply the compound to the wall corner with a 6-inch drywall knife. Smear the compound down the wall, completely covering the wall corner and corner bead. Scrape excess compound from the wall. Once the joint compound hardens, sand lightly with 120-grit sandpaper, then apply a second coat of compound using a 10-inch drywall knife. Wait for the second coat to dry. Sand lightly and apply a third and final compound coat with a 12-inch knife.

Step 7

Apply two more coats of compound (at least). The first coat of mud is the tape coat, then comes the filler coat, and lastly, the third and final coat. Keep in mind that the tape actually should show through the filler coat. If it doesn’t, that means that your filler coat is too thick. Covering the tape comes only with the final 2 coats. If your first final coat doesn’t cover the tape, apply more coats, but keep them thin.

Pro-Tip #5: Be sure to use a topping compound instead of the normal mud when you do the final (third) coat. Topping compound is typically creamier/smoother, and sands easier. This makes for less work when you’re finishing the final coat and who doesn’t want less work at this point?!

What Happens If You Make A Mistake (Or Don’t Like the Look)?

Even if you follow each step perfectly, there are issues that can arise when you are taping drywall. You might not like the finished look, and even though you may not be thrilled about it, there are some things you can do to fix what you don’t like. Here are some common issues you might see after finishing your drywall project (and how to fix them):

Air bubbles

This is one of the most common issues new drywallers face. The main reason air bubbles form under drywall tape is improper installation and/or an inadequate bond between the drywall compound and the drywall tape. You’ll need to fix the air bubbles before finishing the joint, because ripples in the tape that are left unfixed will be glaringly apparent after the wall is painted.

Here’s how you can fix the unsightly air bubbles:

  1. Cut above and below the bubbled section with a utility knife and remove the tape between the cuts. Remove the entire section of tape if air bubbles are present throughout.
  2. Mix the drywall compound to a creamy consistency, if you didn’t before (see Pro Tip #2 above).
  3. Apply a layer of drywall compound to the joint or the area below the removed tape, and make sure it’s slightly wider than the width of the tape.
  4. Cut or tear a piece of drywall tape the required length. Center the tape over the area and place it directly on the drywall compound. Hold the top edge of the tape and pull the drywall knife down the tape. Press evenly with slight pressure to embed the tape in the drywall compound and remove any air bubbles. Allow the mud to dry thoroughly before proceeding.
  5. Dip the long edge of an 8-inch drywall trowel in the drywall compound. Apply a thin 1/16-inch layer of drywall compound over the strip of drywall tape. Allow the drywall compound to dry completely and repeat this last step one more time.

Exposed paper tape on butt joints

Butt joints are difficult, even with paper tape. The biggest mistake with butt joints is too much mud under the tape. This creates a hump that is hard to hide with all the thin final coats. Applying some pressure to the knife when smoothing the tape out over the initial layer of mud helps to squeeze excess mud from behind the tape.

Ragged-looking inside corners

Even with paper tape, you can run into trouble on the inside corners. One remedy you can try is metal-reinforced corner tape. It combines a metal angle with paper flanges for a perfectly shaped and smooth inside corner. The metal also gives your drywall knife a smooth, rigid surface to ride along when taping the corner. I don’t recommend metal-reinforced tape for the entire job, but it works well for taping corners.

Drywall tape showing through the mud

Did you remember that it’s three coats of mud (at least) that you need? If this problem occurs even after applying the third coat, make sure your mud is thin (but not runny) and try again.

Wrapping Up

Hopefully, this step-by-step guide helps you tackle your next DIY drywall taping project like a pro. Again, doing it yourself will save you hundreds, if not thousands, and we could all use a little more jingle in our pockets.

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