Guide to Repairing Drywall Cracks & Holes

By HomeAdvisor

Updated March 29, 2017

Drywall with yellow paint

On This Page:

  1. Read This Before You Start
  2. Small Drywall Fixes
  3. Repairing Holes in Drywall
  4. DIY Finishing

Whether it’s an aggressive meeting between the doorknob and the wall, an over-enthusiastic child playing ball indoors, or just the normal wear and tear of age and a settling house, drywall cracks, holes and chips are all common issues in most homes.

Luckily for most homeowners, however, repairing these little bumps and bruises is actually not as hard as it seems, and your damage may not even need a formal drywall patching kit. In fact, basic repair can take as little as an hour or two of active work and costs only a few dollars — mostly spent on drywall compound and mesh tape.

Larger repairs may cost up to $100 for new drywall sheets or formal repair kits, but they generally don’t take more than a couple of hours of active work to complete, making this an excellent and useful DIY skill for you to possess. Plus, knowing the ins and outs of repair is important when you’re hiring a pro for larger jobs as well. This way, you can better anticipate costs and other factors and plan your time and budget accordingly.

Read This Before You Start

Safety is one of the most important aspects of drywall repair. Not only are there several hazards with the materials themselves, but any time you’re working in or on the walls of your home, you run the risk of encountering infrastructure systems such as electrical wires and plumbing pipes. Therefore, it’s important to make sure you (or a licensed electrician and plumber) locate the following before beginning your drywall repair project:

  • Wire and pipes – Don’t cut into a wall without first checking for wires. You can hire or consult a pro or even your home’s blueprints for this information.
  • Studs – If a patch needs to go over a stud, the repair becomes more complex. Use a stud finder to be sure what lies beneath the drywall before you cut into it.

Keep safety in mind when working with drywall and drywall supplies, too. For starters, large pieces are heavy — around 1.7 pounds per square foot for 1/2-inch drywall. Be sure that the area where you place the sheet is secure, and keep pets and small children away from the work area until the job is completely finished. In addition, those 5-gallon buckets of compound, though cost-effective, also pose a suffocation and drowning risk to small creatures and people, so secure the buckets’ tops when they’re not in use.

Finally, remember to always wear masks and safety goggles when you’re sanding down a wall. Drywall dust contains gypsum and silica particles, which can cause respiratory irritation when inhaled. Use a drop cloth to catch dust, and make sure to vacuum with a high-powered shop vac to remove all particles after you complete the job.

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Small Drywall Fixes

If you’re a first-time drywaller, starting with small fixes is a good way to get used to the behavior of drywall compound and the process for applying it evenly and effectively. Remember, though simple in theory, a botched job is also pretty easy to accomplish and leaves your space looking cheap and flimsy. To start, make sure you have all the basic small-patch tools and materials:

  • Drywall joint compound
  • Painter’s putty
  • 6- and 12-inch taping knives
  • Utility knife
  • Sandpaper

In addition, each different type of small drywall repair may require additional materials specific to the repair steps. They’re listed below under the relevant type of repair.

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Patching Dings/Dents

Whether from moving a large piece of furniture or a random flying object, dings and dents in drywall are some of the fastest and easiest repairs to complete. Simply scrape away any loose paint or debris from the area surrounding the hole using a utility knife. Then, patch it up with a dab of painter’s putty or drywall joint compound. Use a taping knife to spackle the compound in and smooth it out, and allow it to dry for 24 hours before sanding the surface. If the ding is deep, you may need to repeat the process a second time.

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Popped Nails

More common in newer homes, so-called “nail pops” happen when the nails used to secure drywall onto studs pop out of those studs and through the wall. This usually happens as a result of warped wood that may not have been dry enough when installed. It’s rarely a structural issue and usually just an aesthetic one. However, if you have an abnormally large number of nail pops or a bunch of nail pops confined to one area, it may be a good idea to have a pro come and check the structure of your wall before attempting a repair.

For this repair, you’ll also need drive in additional drywall screws to secure around or in place of the popped nail. There are two methods to use for this repair.

  1. Hammer or screw the nail back into place in the stud
  2. Take out the nail and replace it with a new drywall screw

Either way, once complete, you need to bracket the popped nail area with a new screw approximately 1 1/2 inches above it. Make sure that each screw/nail is recessed slightly into the wall, leaving a small dimple, and then follow the instructions for patching dings and dents to complete the repair over the screw heads.

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Usually, builders secure the outer corner bead of a wall with plastic or metal in order to reinforce the area and make it damage resistant. However, a strong knock can still cause the outer drywall to chip or crack, and a more forceful shock can even bend or dent that corner bead. There are different repair options depending on the damage sustained.

For cracked or chipped corners, follow the methods outlined for patching dings or dents, applying more than one thin coat of compound if necessary and making sure you cover both sides of the corner.

In the case that the bead is damaged, it’s necessary to cut away the damaged part and replace it with a new corner bead. To do this, you need additional tools and materials including:

  • Metal-cutting saw
  • New corner bead
  • Pry bar or claw hammer
  • Metal snips

Begin the repair process by cutting out the corner bead area above and below where the damage to the wall occurred. Depending on the size of the section, you may need to pry part of the corner bead off the drywall sheets. Once complete, measure and use the metal snips to cut a new section of corner bead and apply it using some joint compound on the underside. Once it’s secure on the wall, apply and additional 1–3 layers of compound on top of the new corner area to cover it and blend it back into the wall.

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Repairing Holes in Drywall

Though still quite simple, patching holes in drywall is a bit more of an involved process when compared to smaller repairs. This is because the holes need additional reinforcement. Therefore, you’ll also need additional tools to complete these repairs. They include:

  • Drywall saw
  • Tape measure or angle
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Wire mesh
  • Drywall tape
  • Drywall scraps (1/2-inch thick)

Each larger hole size requires more work to patch and, as these sizes increase, so too does the skill level you need. In some cases, a larger hole of more than 6 inches in diameter, or one that extends to or across wall studs, is better repaired by a pro. Improper application of large drywall sheets can lead to cracking and disfiguration of that wall over time.

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Small Holes

Small holes of up to 3–4 inches in diameter are actually the easiest ones to repair with a drywall patch kit. These kits provide all the materials you need to complete the job. Alternately, you can use the kit as a guide and purchase each element separately if you need to repair multiple holes.

These kits include a reinforced center mesh panel surrounded by self-sticking drywall tape. Alternately, you can use an old window screen and a roll of drywall tape to create your own patch. After securing the patch to the wall, simply coat over it with thin layers of compound using a criss-cross method and feather the edges. Allow the compound to dry for about 24 hours between coats and sand it to a smooth finish.

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Medium Holes

Medium-sized holes that are up to 6 inches in diameter but don’t extend to the wall studs are a bit more complicated to fix, but they still only require some basic skills and techniques. Because these holes are larger, they need a more solid reinforcement than mesh provides. Often, you can still get by with a simple patch. Rather than mesh, the California Patch method uses scrap 1/2-inch drywall to serve as a patch. Here’s how to fix a drywall hole:

  1. Measure the hole and cut out a square piece of drywall that is approximately 2 inches longer and 2 inches taller than the hole itself.
  2. Score the back of the drywall piece using a boxcutter so that there’s an excess 1-inch border all the way around the square. Snap off the gypsum at that score line, leaving the paper layer intact.
  3. Use this drywall piece as a stencil. Place it against the wall so that it covers the hole, and trace along the edges of the square.
  4. Use the drywall saw to cut the hole and fit the patch inside.
  5. Secure the patch to the wall with a thin layer of compound under the paper layer and press it into the wall.
  6. Layer compound over the entire patch, camouflaging the edges using a feathering technique. You may choose to add a layer of drywall tape around the edges for increased stability on larger patches.
  7. Wait at least 24 hours between applications of compound. Apply at least two layers to ensure the patch is secure.
  8. Sand after the final layer is dry.

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Large Holes

Holes larger than 6 inches cannot be securely fixed with a patch alone; they need the additional support of wood furring strips to hold the drywall patch in place. This method is understandably more complicated and generally best reserved for the intermediate to advanced DIY drywaller. It requires additional materials including 2×4 furring strips, drywall screws and mesh tape. The procedure is as follows:

  1. Measure the hole and cut out a square piece of drywall that’s slightly larger than the hole itself, leaving excess room on all sides.
  2. Use the patch as a stencil and trace around the edges of it over the surface of the hole.
  3. Use the drywall saw to cut away the excess material along the stenciled area.
  4. Measure the vertical sides of the hole and cut two 2×4-inch furring strips that are approximately 2 inches longer than that measurement.
  5. Align the furring strips on either side of the hole and drive a drywall screw into the top and bottom of each strip, taking care to sink each screw into the drywall itself and leaving a slight dimple.
  6. Set the drywall patch into place and secure it with four screws into the furring strips, again sinking each screw into the surface of the drywall.
  7. Tape around the borders of the patch with mesh drywall tape.
  8. Cover the entire patch with joint compound, adding extra into the dimples of the screws and feathering the edges.
  9. Wait 24 hours between coats, applying 2–3 total until the surface of the compound is even with the existing wall.
  10. Sand the final coat smooth.

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DIY Finishing

Whether you’re completing a repair yourself or trying to save money when working with a pro, the finishing work of drywall repair is a pretty straightforward and manageable task for the DIYer. Here are some best practices to keep in mind:

  • Always wait at least 24 hours from the application of the compound to begin sanding.
  • Use light pressure with a fine-grit sanding sponge to create a smooth, satin finish on the wall.
  • Always prime the area before painting in order to ensure color consistency.
  • Allow the primer to dry completely before repainting the patch area and blend it into the painted area of the wall for a smoother final look.

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