Drywall 101

Can I use a cordless drill to install drywall?

photo of an orange cordless drillMost Drywall Hangers use drywall screw guns to install gypsum panels. A screw gun in many ways is basically and electric drill with some added features. These features make it well suited for installing drywall. If you don't have a screw gun you can use a cordless drill to install drywall. However, you need to be aware of a few important drywall hanging techniques, most importantly, screw head depth.

Don't allow the screw head to puncture the paper

Drywall is made up of compressed gypsum squished between two thin pieces of paper. The gypsum is strong when wrapped with paper but easily crumbles on its own. A screw or nail exerts force on the surface of the paper. The paper layer distributes some of this force across a section of the gypsum below thus holding the sheet of drywall to the wall. If the head of the screw or nail penetrates the paper and rests directly against the gypsum within, the fastener loses its ability to hold because the gypsum simply crumbles under to the pressure of the fastener.

Take an ice cream sandwich as a crude yet helpful example. The entire sandwich is supported by the surrounding graham cracker layers. The ice cream between has little if any strength. You can hold the ice cream sandwich between your fingers only because of the cookie layers. The pressure of your fingers against the sandwich is distributed evenly over the surface of the ice cream layer between by means of the cookie layers.

If a screw head punctures the paper layer the drywall will move slightly in this area. Screw-pops, a term that refers to a certain type of imperfection in the painted surface of drywall, are the common result of improperly sunk screws. Drywall finishers or even painters usually get the blame for these types of imperfections; however the cause is directly related to the techniques used in drywall installation.

With this in mind using a cordless screw gun means you must be extremely careful when sinking screws into drywall. While screws cannot be left above the surface of the drywall paper the head of the screw should not completely puncture the paper. There are some drill bit accessories out there that have a guard built-in to the Phillips head bit. These bit accessories are referred to as drywall screw setters or drywall screw dimplers. The purpose of a screw dimpler is to prevent the screw from sinking too deeply through the surface of the drywall.

Drywall screw sunk to the proper depth Drywall screw left too far from board Drywall screw puncture drywall paper

Choosing a Drywall Screw Dimpler

drywall screw dimpler molded

There are a couple of types of drywall screw dimplers on the market. The less expensive ones have the guard that is welded or molded directly to the Phillips head bit. Since the guard is part of the bit it spins at the same rate as the bit. When the dimpler guard comes in contact with the drywall paper, it can dig in or scuff the surface of the paper causing drywall tearout. This can cause problems for the drywall finishers when they coat the screws. If the finished surface will be textured the problem may not be as noticeable, however in smooth wall applications the torn paper will be visible after painting. This type of screw dimpler can be found in online stores for between \$2.00 and \$7.00.

drywall screw dimpler spring loaded

The second type of drywall screw setters or dimplers are spring loaded. They are preset to sink screws to the proper depth. Included is a clutch release that reduces drywall tearout. In other words, when pressure is placed against the Phillips head bit the clutch engages allowing the bit to spin and drive the screw. The guard does not spin, therefore it reduces the risk of drywall tearout. Once the Phillips head bit has reached proper depth, the clutch disengages the bit and prevents it from driving the screw any deeper. These range from \$18.00 to \$22.00 from online stores.

Using a Drywall Screw Gun

Drywall screw guns are the best option for installing gypsum panels when your fastener choice is screws. These specialized electric drills have a few options specially designed for drywall. The RPM rate is higher than most drills generally between 5800 and 6000. They have a switch located somewhere near the trigger switch that allows the operator to lock the drill in the on position reducing fatigue. The most important feature is an adjustable depth guard. Because of the different properties of wood vs. metal studs, the screw gun may tend to sink screws slightly differently. Operator applied pressure when installing screws can also affect the depth; therefore the adjustment on the screw guns is critical to attaining proper screw depth as outlined above.

You can buy a good quality drywall screw gun at most big box stores or many online retailers. On average a new gun is around \$90.00 to \$100.00. Many places run special deals even selling two screw guns for the price of one. For most small DIY projects you may be just fine buying a screw dimpler to compliment your cordless drill. If your project is slightly larger you may want to look for a deal on drywall screw guns. You may be able to find one for around \$50.00. There is a learning curve when first using a screw gun, therefore if you are not interested in taking the time to familiarize yourself with it you may be better off using a screw dimpler or even hiring a professional.

In conclusion, yes you can use a cordless drill when installing drywall. The most important thing to remember when sinking screws in drywall is the proper depth. Screw dimplers can help ensure proper depth however drywall screw guns are the professional choice in this area.

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