Tools for do-it-yourself drywall at home

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- More do-it-yourself homeowners are giving drywall a try.

It can save you money if you're finishing a room or basement.  Having said that, leaving it up to a professional is a good idea if you question your abilities.

Here are several tools I discovered that make a drywall job much easier for the average homeowner or even a professional.  First up: a drywall screw gun.  There are a variety of them, including ones that feed screws into the gun so you don't have to put in one screw at a time.  They make one-handed operation a snap.

If you're putting up drywall on a  ceiling, you could ask a friend to help lift and hold the sheets while you screw them in.  But that can be difficult, time-consuming, and could end your friendship if things go south.  Instead, rent a drywall lift for about $30 a day.  They adjust easily, are simple to use and can hold almost any size drywall sheet. It takes only one person to operate one, making it almost effortless to lift a piece of drywall into place. You can also buy a good drywall lift for about $150 if you plan to take your time.  They can be delivered to your home in a box and can be assembled in minutes without tools.

After screwing in your drywall, there's mudding and taping the seams.  It's necessary to make the seams flat so the drywall can be painted or finished.  After you've thinned your mud a bit with water, there's another device to help you out.  It's called a banjo and can be found in plastic or metal.  It doesn't look like a banjo, but it makes mudding and taping an easy, all-in-one proposition.

You put a roll of tape on the back part of the banjo wheel and thread it through the banjo and out the other side.  It leaves a space for the mud to be put right onto the tape.  The tape and mud come out together.  You then roll it over a seam and embed the tape and mud into the joint.  It's less messy and much faster for a homeowner and pros.  The cost is only about $30, so no need to rent one--just buy it.

The next step is covering those joints with another layer of mud, so it's close to flat.  That's where the pros make it look much better than most any homeowner can.  But you can get what are called "drywall boxes" that make the job much better looking than you can do by hand.  Many professionals use them as well.  They often come in a kit, with a mud pump and one or two drywall boxes for different widths.

You fill the boxes full of mud, lift them up to a wall or ceiling joint, then press and drag.  It fills the void to a consistent depth with mud and scrapes off the excess.  You may need to go both directions on the ceiling for the best coverage!   It's a tool you may want to rent as they cost more than $500 for the kit.   If you do buy them, just keep them clean after each use by spraying them down with a garden hose, and sell them when you're done.  They fetch a decent price on eBay.

Then there's the part everyone seems to hate: sanding.  It's a dusty, time-consuming mess.  But there is one tool that can almost eliminate dust.  It's a drywall sander that attaches to your small shop vacuum.   Connect the two, then turn on both.  Rub the circular sanding pad across the mudded part of the drywall.  It gets rid of high spots in seconds and the vacuum sucks up all the drywall dust before it's off the wall.  There are a variety of these products on the internet for under $150 with pads.  When I did my basement, I only used two pads for the entire basement and had virtually no dust, unless I forgot to turn on the vacuum.

The final tool I tried were drywall stilts.  They get you closer to the ceiling or high walls for touch-ups, taping or whatever.  I learned how to walk on them, but never really used them much.  I found standing on a wide aluminum bench or even a 5 gallon bucket was just as easy and there was far less chance of falling down!  The professionals make them look easy. If you want to give them a try, you can buy them for around $100.