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Rule #1: Don’t push on that funny-looking section of drywall next to the light switch in the MBR. As you can see from the picture above, I did not follow Rule #1, and must now invoke Rule #2: If you violate Rule #1, ask Toolmongers about the best way to repair drywall. I’ve successfully fixed larger, doorknob-sized holes in drywall before, so I’m not a complete idiot — which leads us to Rule #3: Never, ever again, say in presence of smart-aleck wife “I’m not a complete idiot” because she always replies “That’s right dear, you’re not a complete idiot.”

Anyway, my previous drywall repairs used the “standard” method of cutting a round or square section of new drywall, making that piece the template for cutting out around the hole, and then “gluing” the piece into place with joint or patching compound, often with something like a furring strip first installed as backing. However, I’m not sure how well this approach would work here where the repair is fairly small and right next to a switch box. The local big box has peel-n-stick 4″ × 4″ metal drywall repair patch thingies (thin aluminum with a plastic mesh overlay from Wal-Board Tools) that look promising, but I’ve never used one. I suppose I could always resort to the “just throw a bunch of joint compound at it” method.

What do Toolmongers recommend in this case? Extra credit will be given for the best way to handle the textured plaster finish (a “mild knockdown”?) on the wall. I’ve used spray cans of blobby texture stuff for similar situations in the past.

Drywall Repair [howstuffworks.com]

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19 Responses to How-To Question: Repair Drywall

  1. KMR says:

    Get something like Durabond 90. The stuff is a chemically setting joint compound that dries in roughly 90 minutes. (Your wife will love that you can repair, finish and PAINT all in the same day on a repair like that) Very good strength, hardness combined with excellent bonding it is ideal for “heavy fills.” Some fiberglass mesh or paper joint tape spanning the repair area will also further strengthen it. The fiberglass mesh is easier to work with, but has 50% less overall strength than the paper tape.

    The nice thing about a repair like this, using Durabond, is that you can mix up a small amount of the compound – just enough to do the repair. You’ll be left with the rest of the bag, which you can use for something else.

  2. tedknaz says:

    I would steer clear of the metal plate for this situation; I’ve used a plate like that to cover up an unused switchbox in my house and while it does the job it leaves a noticeable bump on the wall. This isn’t a problem for me as the patch was pretty low on a wall that doesn’t receive a lot of eyeballs. I think that @KMR’s recommendation is the way to go. Also, a little bit of that canned knockdown like you’ve used in the past is really the only way to go on a small job like this.

  3. paganwonder says:

    For this small break I would- remove plate, gently push break open, apply SMALL amount of painters caulk, gently pull break into proper alignment, wait for caulk to set, apply spackle in small amounts and sculpt spackle to match texture, paint to match.

    Might seem kind of a “getto” repair but you will have to make a square foot size repair to hide it right next to a cover plate. Also, texture matching can be a….. challenge?!

  4. paanta says:

    Gosh, I bet that would be an excellent spot for a larger, more decorative plate.

    • Gulmariyam says:

      Patches done this way are usually too thin; like a wall that was eaten by temeitrs. Better to put a blob of spackle right in the center of the patch and push it through the hole when you put the patch on. Another trick is to coat the hole, then wrap a blob of spackle with a piece of paper towel (the way you’d use cheesecloth) and shove the whole thing into the hole before putting the patch over it. The more spackle, the less tempted people will be to put their fingers through the patch.

  5. fred says:

    There are several plasterers’ tricks that we regularly employ for patching.

    For larger holes in the middle of a field – we often resort to a “blowout” patch. We first enlarge the hole to a regular square or rectangular shape. Then we cut an oversized piece (patch) of matching drywall that is 2 inches wider and 2 inches higher that the hole. We next cut away an inch all around the patch from the back side – being careful not to score the facing paper. Knocking the gypsum away from the face paper – we’re left with a patch with paper wings that we bed in a thin coat of joint compound that we trowel around the edges of the hole. Let it set a bit then come back and overlay the face with a thin coat of compound. Sand when dry – and its hard to spot the patch.

    For tiny hole and cracks – particularly overhead – we often resort to using regular Plaster of Paris. This sets rock hard and can be modified to speed the setting time. For quicker setting – add a bit of ground-up already set plaster – for slower setting you can use retarder – or a drop of white vinegar.

    For spots at edges of boards or openings – where we want some support structure – we often open the hole enough to insert a piece of thin plywood scrap. We drill a hole or 2 in the plywood to hold a cord loop – which we use to pull the inserted scrap up to the back of the drywall. A few drywall screws driven in from the front – around the edges of the scrap hold it in place more permanently – allowing is to cut away the cord loop. We usually use Plaster of Paris for these – again because of its fast-set and “no-sag” qualities.

  6. David Bryan says:

    I had a guitar player who believed in never making the same mistake once– if he hit a bad chord he’d make sure to hit it again, because if he did it once it was wrong, if he did it twice it was jazz. So in that vein, I think what you should do is make similar holes at every electrical box in the house and create the impression it’s supposed to be that way.

  7. river1 says:

    i would combine pagenwonder and paanta’s ideas. simple and effective.

    later jim

  8. rama says:

    +1 on paganwonder’s suggestion.

  9. Rich says:

    MH Ready Patch as an adhesive, after removing plate and gently coaxing broken section out so you can get to the edges. Remove all patch compound from face of wall and broken section, leaving only the crack with visible compound. Add more compound–sparingly–in a second coat if needed. Sand to match.

    If you end up with only a sliver of compound at the face, you don’t really need to worry about texture matching as much–or if you do you can do something with a small brush. The idea here is not to make a large completely flat surface you have to texture match. After painting it blends in well.

  10. bob says:

    I’d patch it as KMR suggests; HD sells this (diff brand), I’ve heard it called ‘hot-mud’ (it warms when it dries). It is probably a bit too big for larger switch-plate.

  11. Kevin says:

    for a crack that small, a little liquid nails, the waterbased stuff used for panel would do fine, use it like painters caulk, fill crack,wipe with damp cloth, let dry , paint. No need to make it into a big project.

  12. Bob The Drywall Guy says:

    Quick setting compounds are very useful materials. But there is a wide variety of them and they are all very different. KMR’s suggestion of Durabond 90 is a dangerous one. Durabond is meant to be a basecoat material, and as such doesn’t sand very well (without 80 grit sandpaper). You really…NO REALLY… don’t want to use a high density or high bond compound when you’re finishing.

    CGC, the company that makes the “Durabond” line also makes a “Sheetrock” line. You can get their products in 90, 45 or 20 minute set times. Home Depot usually sells both lines in small 1 lb boxes aswell as the big 30 lb bags, it’s much more convienant for a home owner. Also the big bags, if left on a concrete floor, or generally moist area, will draw in moisture, and cause clumping and shorten your set times.

    Certain-teed make similar quick setting products, their ready-mix is garbage but I find their quicksets work very very well, with more consistent curing times and better pliability.

    Plaster of Paris would work, quite well.

  13. Bob The Drywall Guy says:

    As far as doing the actual repair. There are a few ways to go about it. from least work to most work….

    1) simply apply a small amount of compound over the broken piece, coating tight to the switch plate, and using the edge of the switch plate as a bit of support for the compound to hold over the broken area. it’s not very durable, but it’s quick, and it’s small. you’ll want a 4″ or 5″ knife for this, and with a good touch can easily do it in 1 coat. Kinda like coating a screw, but leaving about 1/16th of an inch of compound. This is great if you’re moving out…. or if the area doesn’t see heavy use (dryer plug sorta situation)

    2) use some mesh tape, or a mesh patch, and then applying 2 coats of quickset over top. This is probably the most effective way, you’ll gain some strength out of the mesh, which will prevent it from cracking again (option 1 won’t) obviously now the plate has to come off. The first coat should be quite thin, and simply embed the mesh tape on the wall. you want to be about 5″ from the edge of the box, and about square. And thick enough that you can barely make out the grid of the mesh. The second coat should be feathered out another inch all around, this coat should be a bit thinner then the last.

    3) Go big or go home. This looks to be overkill for what you’re working with, but if your going to ask for advice, I’m going to give you lots of it.
    Pull the plate, remove the loose piece, and square off your hole. Try to keep it small, but big enough to slide some backing in. you’re looking at probably 2″ from the edge of the box, and about 3″ in height (about the same size as the box. If you’re lucky, the box is mounted to a stud, which happens to be on that side, and you’ve got backing waiting for you. otherwise, you could look at frog clips:


    Those guys are great to have around, but don’t work well on plaster walls.
    (I get’m in boxes of 200 from Preston, CGC is a little pricey, but readily available)

    Freds suggestion involving the cord-loop is an awesome one, and it went into my tool box. And I know those ‘blow out’ patches as “California’ patches.

    don’t be shy on the length of your backer, you want a good two inches each top and bottom, so for my suggestion of a 2″x 3″ hole, you’re best to go with a 1.5″ by 6” piece of backing. Screwing too close to the hole can cause another crack, or cause your patch to rip the backer right off your wall… and fall into the wall… it’s not good times.

  14. Bob The Drywall Guy says:

    I’m trying to minimize the walls of text, but provide a comprehensive drywall patch resource… Silly me…

    After your patch is in, mesh tape it, and coat it a bit bigger then before, 5″ from the joint on all sides for your first coat, and about 7-8″ for your skim coat. Don’t apply too heavy! it’s as bad to have a speed bump by your switch as it is to have a crack… it will push your plate off and not look right..

    Finally… you’ve got a textured wall. so after you’re satisfied with your fairly level and fairly smooth handy work, take a couple pea sized blobs of compound and smear them with your knife. recreating texture is a pain, but for such a small scale, with a little patience you should be able to do a decent job. And you want to take the time to do a good job, the area’s around switches are noticed quite a bit. Ready mix would be best here, or a 90 min setting compound. you’ll probably scrape the wall bare a couple times before you get your texture right.

    😛 If you happen to live near Toronto, Ont, I work for beer :p

  15. bryan says:

    “Paganwonder” has by far the most sensible solution to this fix.

  16. Matt says:

    AND the creepiest callsign.

  17. BAD RAT says:

    I was a drywall contractor for 35 years, Not to contredict Paganwonder’s idea,, but painters caulk will not stick to the gypsum edge of the break,, it will stick to the paper face, fine ,,

    If this was my project, I would follow KMR’s sugestion first remove the trim plate ,and see if you can slip a piece of stiff cardboard , or thin wood venier with a dab of mud on it to stick it to the backside of the break, use the hotmud [Durabond 90,,] to secure the broken piece, use a DAMP rag to remove any access mud from the face fo the repair,, to avoid having to try and match the texture,, paint and have a beer

  18. gary says:

    Go to the electric store and buy a apprentice plate ( a larger switch plate) and replace the standard plate.

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