DEAR TIM: I need some drywall tools for a large project I am tackling. One thing I learned long ago is that tools contribute much to the overall quality of a job, so I want to get good ones. What are the bare minimum tools I need to get by? What drywall tools would increase my productivity both in hanging the drywall and finishing it? Marc C., Frankston, TX
DEAR MARC: Your dilemma brings back fond memories of my first days in construction. I was so poor, I had to make my own drywall tools. Thirty-five years ago instead of using a drywall mud pan to hold joint compound, I used a traditional plaster's hawk. But instead of the nice aluminum plate with a comfortable wood handle, I had to use a square piece of particle board and a broom handle. It was pathetic, but it was all I had.
Professional drywall hangers and finishers may disagree with my following lists, but I am confident they will allow you to get the job done one way or another. You need to understand that there are many different types of drywall tools, some of which are very specialized. No matter what you decide to do, stick with your philosophy about buying quality. I agree 100 percent with you, and great drywall tools will help you each step of the way.
The short list of drywall tools, in my opinion, would be a simple utility razor knife, a 30-foot tape measure, a seven-inch long utility saw, a drywall hammer, a stainless-steel mud pan, a 6-inch joint knife, an 8-inch taping knife, a 10-inch taping knife, a pole sander and some assorted sponge sanding blocks with different grades of grit. A drywall lifter would also be nice, but a simple flat pry bar will work in it place.
The utility razor knife is the tool you use to score the drywall face paper to cut the drywall to size. You will find the small utility saw invaluable when it comes times to cut square and round holes for electrical boxes. The drywall lifter is a cool tool that is foot-operated. This tool is used to lift up the last piece of drywall that goes on a wall. The lifter allows you to snug one sheet of drywall up tightly against the other.
The small joint knife is the tool you will use to apply drywall joint compound (mud) to the seams and corners. It is also used to apply the finishing coats of mud over the tape in all corners. The taping knives are the tools of choice to remove excess drywall joint compound from the flat joints on walls and ceilings just after pressing the paper tape into the fresh mud. The taping knives will also be used to apply the second and third coats of finishing mud over all flat seams. Use the pole sander to sand all of the drywall places where you applied joint compound. The small sponge sanders are for any detail work in tight spots.
The deluxe drywall-tools list would include a t-square to help you cut your drywall faster and straighter. A mixer that connects to a power drill will save you time and back aches. It allows to rapidly whip drywall mud to the consistency of warm cake icing. This is necessary to get professional results.
If you have lots of drywall taping to do, it may well be worth the money to buy an aluminum drywall-tape banjo. These tools allow you to apply drywall tape in seconds rather than minutes. The hand-held banjo automatically applies the mud to the tape as the tape exits the tool.
Instead of using a drywall hammer and nails, I would recommend a screw gun that will drive screws to the perfect depth each time. An auto-feed screw gun would be even better. You will find many uses for this tool other than drywall hanging.
Another magical power tool you might consider would be a hand-held router that has a special narrow bit that looks like a drill bit. This tool allows you to cut electrical box holes out after the drywall is hung. The small bit follows the outside edge of the electrical boxes and gives ultra-professional results. This tool can be used to also cut drywall that covers door and windows.
Drywall stilts are a wonderful tool, but not for the faint of heart. They allow drywall finishers to do all of the high work without ever stepping on a ladder, but they can be dangerous for a rookie. Use stilts with extreme caution.
Remember to take a metal file to the corners of the joint knife and taping knives. These blades have very sharp corners that need to be slightly rounded. If you fail to do this, you will tear the drywall tape as you finish the drywall, especially in the corners.