Drywall patching is one of the most common projects on the do-it-yourselfer’s list. Whether it’s the result of some intentional remodeling work, such as creating a hole in the wall to fish some electrical wires, or from something accidental, like a doorknob hole in a wall, sooner or later you’re going to have an unsightly hole in your drywall that you need to take care of.
And while it’s a common project, it’s still one that intimidates a lot of people. But there’s no need to be scared off. The materials are cheap and readily available, and the techniques are easy to master with a little practice and a little patience.
Get the area ready for the patch
The first thing you’ll need to do is prepare the damaged area to receive the new patch. Lay a tarp or some plastic sheathing on the floor under the patch area, to catch all the debris. Wear eye protection and a dust mask while cutting the drywall, and for the subsequent sanding operations.
If the hole is small — less than about 6 inches across, such as that from a doorknob — begin by drawing a square around the hole that’s large enough to extend completely past the damaged area. Use a small level to draw straight lines that are plumb and level. Next, probe through the hole to be sure there are no wires, plumbing or other obstructions that could be damaged by the cutting.
Cut out the damaged drywall along your lines. You can use a drywall saw, which is a type of handsaw with a narrow, tapered blade and large teeth made specifically for this use. Another option is to use an oscillating multi-tool equipped with a drywall blade.
Larger holes should be cut back to the adjacent studs, so that you’ll have adequate support for the drywall patch. Start by using a level to draw two horizontal lines on the wall, one above and one below the damaged area. Using your drywall saw or oscillating tool, cut along both of the lines until you encounter the edges of the studs.
From the stud edge, measure over three-fourths of an inch, which will bring you to the stud’s center. Using your level, draw a vertical line at the marks. Now use the oscillating tool — or a utility knife with a sharp blade — and cut down the vertical lines, as well as along the remaining parts of the horizontal lines. The end result will be a clean hole that’s centered over two adjacent studs.
Install the new drywall
Your new patch will need some support to hold it in place. If you cut all the way back to the centers of the studs, then the support is already in place. So the next step is to cut a new piece of drywall to the correct size. New drywall is available in full 4-foot-by-8-foot sheets, or you can buy smaller sizes that are intended specifically for patching.
Put the new patch in place, and secure it to the studs with drywall screws. Drive the screws in so that the head is recessed just into face paper, and just below the drywall’s surface; don’t drive them too deep. You’ll also want to resecure the existing drywall to the studs adjacent to the new patch.
If your new patch area is between the studs, then you’ll want to install some support blocking. Cut a piece of 3/4-inch lumber or plywood so that it’s about 2 inches longer than the width of the patch and narrower than the height of the patch. Drill a 1 1/2-inch hole in the middle of the wood.
Slip the wood strip into the hole, then center it in the cutout. Put your finger in the hole in the wood, and pull the wood tight up against the back side of the existing drywall. Secure the wood in place by screwing through the existing drywall. Finally, cut a new drywall patch to fit, and screw it in place against the wood.
Finish the patch
Using drywall tape and joint compound, apply a strip of tape to each of the four sides of the patch. Use a drywall taping knife to press the tape in place, making sure that it’s well adhered with no air bubbles behind it. Let the tape dry completely.
Finish the patch with at least two additional coats of drywall compound. With each coat, spread the compound out over a successively larger area, feathering and blending the patch into the surrounding drywall. You want to avoid creating a big lump over the patched area.
Allow the compound to dry between each coat, and sand each coat smooth prior to applying the next coat. Again, sand the edges of the patched area carefully so that the compound feathers out onto the surrounding wall.
When you’re satisfied with how smooth the patch is and how well it’s blended in with the adjacent wall, wipe it off with a damp cloth to remove any sanding dust. Let it dry, then apply a drywall primer to the patched area. This will seal it so that it absorbs paint more evenly.
Finally, apply texture to match. In the case of a texture that was machine-applied originally, such as a "splatter" type of texture, you can purchase patching texture in cans. The can comes with a couple of different sizes of plastic straws that attach to the nozzle, which lets you spray different sizes and weights of texture. Experiment on a scrap drywall or cardboard before actually spraying it on the wall.
In the case of a hand-applied texture, a little more experimentation and artistry is involved. Practice dabbing or rolling on small quantities of joint compound until you achieve the same appearance as what’s on the rest of the wall.
Everything you need, from drywall and joint compound to cutting and taping tools, is readily available at home centers, hardware stores or lumberyards.