How to Patch a Hole in Your Drywall

by A Manly Guest Contributor on May 1, 2012 · 43 comments

in DIY Home Maintenance, Manly Skills


Editors note: This is a guest post by Ethan Hagan from One Project Closer. If you missed it, check out Ethan’s last contribution about building an all-purpose workbench.

How to repair drywall is one of the most common questions on a home improvement website, and here’s the reason why. It’s tough to successfully patch a wall so that you can’t even tell it was ever damaged. With drywall covering just about every square inch of your house, condo, or apartment, it’s bound to get messed up so take my advice. Learn the right way to repair holes in your drywall or make friends with someone who can.

This article is going to walk you through the process of repairing a medium-sized hole in drywall. Once you master this skill, it’ll serve you well for the rest of your life (or until people quit hanging drywall in their homes).

Materials List

Here are the materials you’ll need before you get started.

  • Drywall (see below)
  • Mesh tape (see below)
  • Setting compound (see below)
  • Backer boards (see below)
  • 1-1/4″ Drywall screws

Drywall: A typical sheet of drywall measures 4′ x 8′, and that’s way more than we need for this project. Most home improvement centers sell smaller 2′ x 2′ sections which are great for making repairs. Plus, you can save the “leftovers” for the next time. Drywall is available in several thicknesses. Most interior walls utilize 1/2″ drywall, and ceilings are usually 1/2″ or 5/8″.

Mesh tape: If you look around online, you’ll see lots of debate over paper tape vs. mesh tape. I think mesh is easier to work with, and I have total confidence using it for repairs. If you talk to enough contractors, you’ll learn that it really comes down to personal preference more than anything else.

We need to screw the new piece of drywall into something, and a backer board gives us that surface. Size your backer board so that you can finagle it inside the hole.

Setting Compound: Setting compound (a.k.a. hot mud) is a powder that you mix with water. Unlike joint compound which dries through evaporation, setting compound dries through a chemical reaction, shrinks very little and dries very hard. Setting compound is differentiated by setting time (in minutes), and you’ll find 5, 20, 45, 90, etc. Pick a setting compound based on your skill level. For instance, if you’re new to patching drywall, 45 gives you a nice window in which to work.

Tip: It’s important to understand that mud that has “set up” isn’t completely dry. Once the mud has set up, it’s safe to apply another coat. Let the mud fully dry overnight before you attempt to sand it.

Backer Boards: To repair a medium-size hole, you’ll need some sort of backer board, and I used a small piece of 1/4″ plywood.

Tools

  • Drywall saw
  • 6″ Drywall knife
  • Drill / driver or screwdriver
  • 100 grit Sandpaper

Tip: A good drywall knife is made from stainless steel, and has a metal heel for pushing defects into the surface of the drywall.

Step 1: Square the Hole

The first thing you need to do is cut the hole into a square or rectangle. It may seem counterintuitive to make the hole bigger, but cutting a circular (or other oddly-shaped) piece of drywall is more work than it’s worth. Grab your drywall saw and square up the hole.

Step 2: Add the Backer Board

I like to fit the backer board inside the hole and then start a screw to give me something to hold onto.

Put four screws in to hold the backer board in place, and be sure to countersink the screws just below the surface of the drywall. See below.

Step 3: Cut a New Piece of Drywall

Use your drywall saw to cut a new piece of drywall that fits into the hole.

Step 4: Cover the Joints with Tape

Mesh tape has adhesive on one side which makes it easier to position. Use the tape to cover all the edges.

Step 5: Mix Compound and Apply First Coat

Mix up your first batch of compound. You’re looking for thick, “mashed-potato” consistency so keep adding powder/water until you find the right proportions.

Grab your 6" drywall knife and apply your first coat.

Make sure you embed all the mesh tape, and try to eliminate any air pockets. Smooth it out as best you can, but remember that this is only the first coat.

Step 6: Second Coat

While the first coat set up, I mixed another small batch of compound. The goal for your second coat is to feather out the edges so that the drywall makes a smooth transition over the repair, and if you're really good, you can achieve this with two coats of mud.

Step 7: Final Coat

For the final coat, feather out the edges even further, and try to make it as smooth as possible. It'll save you from having do a lot of sanding.

Step 8: Sand Smooth

Use the sandpaper to smooth over all the edges and remove any dimples or ridges. Feel everything with your hand to make sure it's all even.

Step 9: Prime

It's a rookie mistake to skip priming the repair because compound will absorb paint differently, and without the primer you'll be able to see the difference.

Step 10: Paint

Break out the paint you've been saving or head to the local DIY center with a sample that they can color-match. I like to roll the paint on because it matches the texture of the rest of the wall.

____________________________________

Ethan Hagan is the primary editor at One Project Closer. Ethan spends most of his days shadowing real contractors on actual job sites and most of his nights writing about the experience. To see what I mean, check out their expert guides like How to Install Beadboard Wainscoting and How to Install Radiant Heated Flooring. If learning and interacting with pro contractors sounds like something you’d enjoy, sign up for OPC email updates.

{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mack May 1, 2012 at 6:55 pm

I totally read this as “How to Punch a Hole in your Drywall.”

2 Brandon May 1, 2012 at 7:05 pm

Mack, I did, too. We’ll just call punching the hole in the wall “Step Zero” or “Step Negative 1.”

3 Brad May 1, 2012 at 7:07 pm

I’m with Mack… this instantly brought back memories from college of punching holes in drywall.

4 Scott May 1, 2012 at 7:17 pm

Still, best tutorial I’ve seen and I researched a few about a year ago when i had to repair a few walls in my last rental.

5 Roberta May 1, 2012 at 7:18 pm

“I like to roll the paint on because it matches the texture of the rest of the wall.”

Wrong. At least if you have a textured wall. What you’ll end up with is a shiny spot that stands out from the textured wall surface and is very noticeable (unless you have a flat paint; my experience is with semi-gloss paints and you could so easily tell where the patch was because it was smoothed flat while the remainder of the wall had the texture. A problem.)

6 Kyle May 1, 2012 at 8:32 pm

Roberta

Since just about every wall is painted with a roller the new paint has to be applied the same way to match. So you roll it on.

7 Ben May 1, 2012 at 8:36 pm

There is a much easier way to do this with a hot patch. YouTube it

8 Aaron May 1, 2012 at 9:29 pm

for a hole this size:
cut the hole square
cut a piece of drywall to a near fit
put a pin hole in the middle of the drywall piece
out thread through the pin hole
tie it around a pencil
put the pencil in the wall with the drywall piece in place
pull the pencil tight against the back
apply mud
cut the excess string
sand to finish
if you ever see a pencil on the inside of some drywall, now you’ll know where it came from

9 Justin May 1, 2012 at 11:02 pm

@Roberta & Kyle,

I’m with Roberta on this one. Almost every wall I’ve ever dealt with had an orange peel texturing to it that a roller just won’t match. Not to mention, many walls (esp. in houses that were investments purchased for flipping during the real estate boom) were done with a paint sprayer, not a roller.

Grab a can of spray on orange peel and apply it before priming/painting. Even if it doesn’t match perfectly, it’ll still be better than the smooth, flat texture joint compound creates.

10 Justin May 1, 2012 at 11:06 pm

Tip I learned from a pro:

Don’t sand to smooth. You’ll just get dust everywhere. Use a damp sponge. It’ll remove just enough material to smooth it out and you won’t look like a Selsun Blue commercial.

11 Native Son May 2, 2012 at 12:43 am

An excellent post.

12 julio May 2, 2012 at 6:48 am

There are things in life a man should know and this is one of them (I’ve had done this in the pass). For its easier to fix a hole in a wall, then to fill a void in the heart. Be a man.

13 Bruce Williamson May 2, 2012 at 8:27 am

Good article. Pretty much the way that I do it on any holes in the few places that we have dry wall. Most of my house is plaster and lath. The procedure is almost the same except I put the mesh directly on the lath.

14 Anthony May 2, 2012 at 9:12 am

For a hole this size, wouldn’t it be easier to just apply several layers of mud until the hole is filled in? It will take several layers to close the hole, but you have to apply several layers anyway, and as long as you keep the blade flat against the wall, the patch will still be flush.

That said, this hole is about the biggest that I would try to patch without cutting a new piece of drywall. For that kind of hole, this is a great how-to, and better than I would have done it before reading it (I would have just stretched the mesh over the hole and applied mud).

15 Aaron May 2, 2012 at 9:24 am

I prefer the pumpkin patch for holes that size:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aiGjG4aPJiU

16 Eric May 2, 2012 at 11:29 am

As a former professional drywall company employee and having been raised by a professional drywall installer, the technique described above is exactly the correct and recommended method. There are some minor short cuts that can be used, for smaller holes, but they can be tricky. For holes that are larger or nearly span from stud to stud, I would recommend removing the drywall to the point of exposing 1/2 of each stud, at that point a “roughly” 16″ wide piece can be cut to fit from stud to stud. At that point following the instructions above is recommended. Good post! Nice job Ethan!

17 Zach May 2, 2012 at 11:45 am

Ha. This is funny, because I literally just fell through my ceiling trying to remove attic birds, and will have to be doing this soon.

18 Susie Lloyd May 2, 2012 at 12:31 pm

I already liked this blog. Now I love it. Today my husband sent me this link – not to teach me this skill but pledging to fix the busted up drywall in one of the upstairs bedrooms. Not that I mind learning this skill but just having him do it makes my heart go pitter-pat.

19 Ethan@OPC May 2, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Hey everyone,

Thanks for all the comments. I’ll attempt to address a couple of them here.

@Mack, Brad, Brandon – that’s hilarious and probably a better title too!

@Roberta – the walls in my house have been painted with a roller, and I recommend painting the patch with a roller too to match the existing “texture”. If you have orange peel or some other application, obviously you’ll want to do things differently.

@Justin – For holes this small you won’t have much dust at all. I sanded with a vacuum nearby. For larger jobs, wet sanding is an option.

@Anthony – Filling in the hole w/ mud would result in a weak patch and you might see some cracks form. For holes this size, you need something more substantial.

There’s obviously more than one way to “skin a cat”. This is how I always patch holes, and it’s never failed me yet.

20 JP May 2, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Just in time. I was thinking about looking for a tutorial this weekend and bam! AoM delivers it. Thanks

21 Wiley May 2, 2012 at 2:44 pm

For a hole that small this is serious overkill. Square the hole, hot patch it (cut a replacement piece of sheetrock about an inch larger on all sides than the hole, cut away the excess material from the back leaving the front paper intact, apply mud, stuff in hole and press out the excess mud with your knife), wipe with damp sponge rather than sand, texture to match (for something as small as this sand some topcoat and use skip trowel or just get creative with your knife), lightly sand, prime, paint, done. All of backer board stuff is overkill and will almost certainly make a mess of the vapor barrier in any insulation that might be in the bay.

22 Alex May 2, 2012 at 4:53 pm

What Wiley said. This makes sense for much larger holes. You don’t need that kind of structural integrity for something of that size, in that location.

23 Fred @ One Project Closer May 2, 2012 at 6:55 pm

I’ve hot patched a few holes in my day. The method here takes about the same amount of time +/- a few minutes. Preparing hot patches can be messy and you can make several attempts before getting them to the exact right size. They are weaker than the method described here, especially when the surface mudding is too thin. As far as wrecking a vapor barrier – a potential concern in a basement that has polyethylene plastic just beneath the drywall, but in that case it’s probably already been ripped with the damage to the drywall…

I like the method Ethan describes here for 95% of patches this size. It’s reliable.

24 Laurent May 2, 2012 at 7:30 pm

I don’t have drywalls, my whole house is made of bricks. Never had holes in it.

25 Jordan May 2, 2012 at 10:34 pm

Strange… I punched a hole in my drywall the same day that this article was posted. I covered it temporarily with a paper towel and cornstarch.

26 A6 May 3, 2012 at 1:39 am

I sometimes get the urge to take on a weekend project…. It’s either this or watch the paint dry. (Pun intended) I’d rather the latter.

27 Joel May 3, 2012 at 8:37 am

I’ve patched lots of holes, and this is a pretty good article. There’s one thing that I do differently; instead of cutting a square hole in the sheetrock, and then trying to cut a patch to fit inside exactly right, cut the patch first. Then, put it on the wall over the hole and trace the shape, and cut out the outline. It’s much easier (no measuring or anything required – just eyeball the size of the patch you need and cut!) and it guarantees you an exact fit.

28 Denny May 3, 2012 at 2:54 pm

This is an extremely complicated and unnecessary process for fixing a hole of this size.

Materials:
Sanding Sponge
Spackling Paste
Drywall patch
Putty knife

1. Slightly sand around the area the size of the patch.

2. Apply the patch to the hole (they come 4×4, 6×6 and 8×8 at Home Depot)

3. Spackle over the top of the patch.

4. Sand smooth.

I teach this class at the Home Depot. Ask any associate in the paint dept and they will show you how to do it.

29 Russ Davis May 3, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Great post, Ethan. Here’s my method: move couch or other furniture in front of the hole.

30 Pete May 3, 2012 at 11:42 pm

Mack, I clicked this hoping to find out why anyone would want to punch a hole in their drywall.

31 Kirk May 6, 2012 at 11:50 am

Good post I cut out the first few layers of the paper on the drywall to the point where the mesh or tape is flush. That way you don’t have to feather out your mud so far. Also if you have a orange peel or splatter type of finish you can take a whisk broom dip it in thinned out mud and flick the mud on the wall by running you hand over bristles.

32 Seano May 6, 2012 at 8:46 pm

Use plaster. Setting compound is for hacks.

33 Ladd May 7, 2012 at 6:46 pm

I’m a contractor by trade and this is the correct way to patch a hole. Well done tutorial.

34 Jogden May 8, 2012 at 12:26 am

Instead of feeling the edges with fingers try this Before you prime/paint.

1. Get yourself a flashlight and kill the lights
2. Shine the light from every angle to see the edges by the shadow
3. Sand/sponge until smooth/matching the rest of the wall

I’ve done entire rooms this way and people wonder how my walls are so smooth! Like glass!

35 Dave May 16, 2012 at 12:16 am

Or, just screw in a light switch/power point. Who cares if it’s not connected?

36 Rob May 27, 2012 at 2:05 pm

I keep a box of Popsicle sticks and use four of them for any patch required. From running wiring of course, not due to any anger management issues. Use hot glue or fast drying glue. Put one Popsicle stick in each corner of the hole at a 45 degree angle so that each end of the stick is glued behind the existing wall and the middle of each stick is exposed in each corner. Then glue in your drywall square and patch as you’ve described.

37 Jerry July 19, 2013 at 4:19 pm

Another easy way of repairing small holes in drywall is to cut the backside of the drywall insert the size of the hole leaving the surface side(front side) paper approx.three inches larger than the hole on the height and width. Insert the piece and cement the overlaying(front side) paper. Recoat for smoothness.
Regardless, I like your article, particularly the many photos showing each step of the process.

38 Lydia July 23, 2013 at 5:26 pm

How much to do all this? Cost for all the materials?

39 Tim September 29, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Thanks for posting this. I just had to patch a hole that was about 4 inches big. I just finished applying the first coat of compound.

To Lydia, it cost me around $35 to pick up everything I needed except for screws, the drill and a piece of wood. I have enough extra material to patch another 5-10 holes, if I ever need to. I purchased all my stuff from Home Depot.

40 Mark October 12, 2013 at 3:17 pm

I bumped into my bathroom tissue holder and ripped the arm out of the drywall. Seems like backerboard is the best way to go for strength.

41 Nate January 7, 2014 at 1:32 pm

Very helpful and quick

42 cp February 28, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Great! This method works for me because I need to put an anchor/screw to support a shelf exactly in the same place where the drywall was damaged. The plywood backing will do that.

43 MattP April 7, 2014 at 10:05 pm

I really have a conceptual problem regarding most solutions I have seen. Most of them end up with a “crown” because the compound must be feathered. For example ,in the solution presented here–in theory the drywall patch ,when put in , is even with the surrounding sheetrock. Adding mesh and compound brings it out the thickness of the mesh and compound. And it must be feathered all around –resulting in an inevitable crowning. And some delicate working.

I believe someone was saying –at the point of inserting the backer board– why not then put in several coats of compound –with the intention of winding up with a completely even plane to the immediately surrounding materials. Wouldn’t this work well and need no delicate feathering skills?

Now I have filled in a similar size hole without using any screws and haven’t had a problem at all. Would like comments on my procedure.

I used some metal screening. The screening when flat is larger than the area to be patched. I put a string through the screening and “back” to the point I have the two ends of the string together . I insert the screening into the hole. I pull the string to the point where the screening is flush up against the back of the hole. I tie the ends of the string together . I put a small stick or say a chopstick in the string and twist it till the stick is against the wall–taut. I use a piece of masking tape to hold it there .

I then put compound where all edges meet the screen. I wait for that to dry and then do a few coats. My finished job will fill on the same plane as surrounding sheetrock with no feathering at all.

I would like to hear comments on the above procedure(s). If I wind up with a flat surface with no feathering –and no inherent failure of the compound –is this not a superior result??

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

Site Meter