PaintPRO , Vol. 7, No. 4
July/August 2005
PaintPRO , Vol. 7, No. 4

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Related Readings:
Primers & Topcoats
Coating Drywall
Drywall Priming
Priming Interior Woodwork
Effective Surface Preparation
Other articles in this issue:
Success with Drywall
Color Additives
Painting Historic Houses
Masonry & Stucco Maintenance
Painter Profile: San Francisco Local Color
Manufacturer Profile: Royal Design Studio
Paint Industry News
Product News
Product Profiles
Toolbox: Hand Tools for Painters
Tools for Vaulted Ceilings
Painting Tips
Faux Master Banner

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Drywall: Drywall Repair & Painting

Don't let bad drywall work spoil
your painting job

by Susan Brimo-Cox

If you paint the wall, you own the wall. That’s the prevailing attitude of general contractors and customers when a painting contractor tackles a job. Contrary to their beliefs, however, you know that paint can’t cover up poor drywall work. If you’re faced with an iffy proposition, do you know what to do?

Who’s responsible for the drywall?
Ron Franklin, owner of Ron Franklin Painting in Sacramento, Calif., does a lot of work in new construction settings, both commercial and residential. In this arena, there is typically a separation of responsibilities: The drywallers are responsible for their work and the painting contractor is responsible for painting. Still, based on his prior experience, Franklin always does a quick examination of the drywall before he begins his work.

“I’ll take a visual look and if I see there are some areas that need to be addressed — joints not feathered well or raised spots — and I’ll point them out to the general contractor. Someone has to address those before I start painting.”

Franklin writes out a statement for the job superintendent to sign that releases him, as the painting contractor, of any responsibility for wall preparation. “Then, after you paint, if they don’t accept the job, you can come back with the release.”

Some painting contractors may not want to cause a fuss, fearful of possibly losing future work. What you may not realize is that some of this may already be addressed in a job’s specifications. “A lot of painters don’t read the specs very well — somewhere there are specs on painting and drywall,” Franklin points out. “Often there will be a statement that the painter should not paint if the walls aren’t ready.”

Ron Saylor, president of Saylor Painting Co. in Eugene, Ore., suggests that painting contractors can use two established guidelines to help them in assessing drywall surfaces before they paint them: the drywall finishing standards based on GA-214-96 in the Gypsum Construction Handbook ( and PDCA Industry Standard P4-04, which addresses responsibility for inspection and acceptance of surfaces prior to painting and decorating.

In fact, Saylor recommends that the PDCA standard be incorporated into a contract to ensure the issue of responsibility is addressed. “When a painter is instructed to paint a surface, it’s understood that the general contractor accepts the surface. The painter is responsible for the painting only. But past practice has been: ‘You paint it, you bought it.’”
Rick Kilduff, a 20-year veteran in the industry and a superintendent at Soep Painting Corp. in Malden, Mass., likes to review all surfaces prior to applying a primer coat. But his problem-solving procedure is slightly different — he likes to prime first. “After the prime coat is applied, let the taper touch up any problem areas before finishes are applied.”
Sometimes, wall repairs may be a part of the painting contractor’s job. So, it behooves you to be knowledgeable in drywall repair and patching techniques.

Repairing holes is an art
“Wall repair, large or small, is one of the most time-consuming aspects of paint preparation,” observes Rick Farland, director of new product development at Hyde Tools Inc. in Southbridge, Mass. And, he adds, it’s a process that begs for innovation.

Painting contractors who find themselves faced with repairing holes in drywall — be they nail holes, dents from doorknobs or larger holes from, say, electrical or plumbing repairs — should remember that it is best to keep the patch as small as possible.

That’s simple with nail holes. However, “as small as possible” can cover quite an area for other repairs. For example, say you have a two-inch-diameter dent. In a textured wall, you might be able to hide that quite nicely in a small area. But on a smooth wall, you might have to apply mud over a two-foot wide area, skimming gradually from high points to low.

Also, it is important to choose the best repair method for the specific situation, especially if you have a hole of significant size. Just filling a large hole with joint compound does not make the repaired area stable or strong, and it can be redamaged easily.

One solution might be a flexible patch. Farland reports a flexible patch is simply cut to size, dipped in water and applied to the surface. “It dries in minutes, creating a stable, well-shaped surface for final finishing and painting.”

Barrett Dilger, sales administrator at Spraytex Inc. in Valencia, Calif., recommends perforated aluminum patches as an alternative. Like flexible patches, they save time and eliminate the task of cutting drywall to fit the hole. But perforated aluminum patches offer another feature: When you apply joint compound over them, the mud permeates the perforations in the patch, so the mud is not simply laying on the surface. “You achieve a bond on the inside as well as on the outside,” Dilger points out.

Repairing large holes using drywall patches
Proprietary patching aids are handy, but may not fit your needs. With some large repairs, patches can be fit from stud to stud and attached just like hanging new drywall. With some smaller patches the trick is providing backing support where no framing is available. Here are two patching methods that have proven effective time after time.

California patch (for patches up to about 6 inches square):
Cut a rectangular piece of drywall approximately 4 inches larger in each dimension than the hole. On the back side of the board lay out lines 2 inches in and parallel to each edge. With a utility knife cut through the back paper and snap the gypsum core on the line of the cut. Do not cut through or tear the face paper. Carefully peel the perimeter pieces of gypsum away from the face paper to leave a rectangle the size of the patch with a 2-inch wide flap of face paper extending from all edges. This flap will take the place of tape on the joint. Lay the patch on the wall and scribe around the wallboard body of the patch. Trim the hole in the wall to match the shape of the patch. (This is easier than cutting the patch to match the wall.) If the patch is snug in the hole the repair will be quite strong. Install the patch by buttering the edges of the patch and perimeter of the hole with mud. Place the patch and skim the top of the paper flap with a thin application of mud, just as you would a taped joint.

Reinforced patch:
Cut the patch, scribe its outline on the wall and trim the hole to fit. You can either cut a straight patch and use tape at the joint or use the California patch method and do without tape. Cut one or more scraps of wood at least 2 inches wide and long enough to span the hole with an additional 2 inches to 4 inches in each direction beyond the edge. Choose material that will grip a drywall screw well. Slip the wood into the hole spanning the gap from behind. Leave enough space so you can get a firm hand grip on the wood. Drive a drywall screw in each end drawing the wood tight up to the back side of the wallboard. Install the patch and drive two or more drywall screws through it into each piece of backing.

Source: Ron Saylor,
president, Saylor Painting Co.


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