If you have ever attempted to install drywall, the first question you probably had was whether to use nails or screws. Originally, drywall was installed with nails, but as time and technology improved, screws became the go-to for professionals. Today, we’ll delve a little deeper into why most professionals use screws to install drywall, and why you might want to as well.

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Can I Install Drywall Myself Using Drywall Screws?

If you have average do-it-yourself skills, installing drywall with drywall screws is within your skillset. Installing drywall is as much art as science, so the pros spend years learning the small details. Simple drywall repairs are well within a DIYer’s abilities, but the job will require patience, and consistency. Drywall is installed in stages, so make sure you have the time and resources to finish the project.

Installing drywall also involves handling awkward materials, sharp blades, and sometimes ladders, so get help if you need it. Installing materials like corner bead and joint tape takes practice. The professionals spend years training to install drywall overhead wearing 48” stilts, but those new to the practice should start with the basics. Here are a few quick tips from the pros:

  • Drywall should always be carried vertically, never horizontally.
  • Don’t break the paper strip between two sheets of drywall until the drywall is in its final location.
  • Even if you have a helper, rent or purchase a drywall lift. A drywall lift takes most of the work out of the job, especially if installing the drywall on a ceiling.
  • Keep the floor clean. We tend to look up when we install drywall, so it is easy to trip over an obstacle. Always have a designated path that remains free of debris and cords.
  • Even if the wall or ceiling is out of square, always install drywall as square as possible. The drywall fasteners usually share a stud or ceiling joist, so if the panel is significantly out of square, fastening the drywall will require additional lumber.

Do I Need Special Tools to Install Drywall?

Tools designed for drywall installation make the job much easier, but the work can be done with simple hand tools. The professionals will use tools that do a great job very quickly, but you can achieve the same results with extra time and elbow grease. If you are planning a larger drywall project, consider renting drywall tools like a panel lift, scaffolding, and screw guns.

Here is a list of required tools, and a few special tools that can make installing drywall easier:

Required Tools For Installing:

  • Drywall square or carpenter’s square and a 4’ level
  • Chalk Line
  • Utility knife
  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil
  • Hammer (or power tool)

Required Tools For Finishing:

  • Drywall trowels (also called drywall knives) in 8”, 10”-12”, and 16”
  • Corner trowel
  • Mixing bucket
  • Drill with a mixing paddle
  • Drywall trough
  • Sandpaper (150 grit) with sanding block

Of course, you’ll also need a way to get to the surface, so if your project is usually high, plan on building scaffolding, setting up ladders and walkboards, or even renting a powered lift.

Handy Tools That Make the Job Easier:

  • Keyhole saw (for cutting small irregular shapes)
  • Compass (for drawing around electrical boxes)
  • Sawhorses and 10’ x 2” x 4” lumber (allows the installer to stand up)
  • Rotary cutter (for cutting around any obstacle)

Why Do Professional Drywall Installers Use Screws?

Most professional drywall installers use screws for a project because screws are fast, hold very well, and leave a small blemish. Drywall installation, also known as drywall hanging, was originally done with a hammer and nails. The technique required the hammer to put a small indentation into the panel, forming a shallow trough over the nail. The drywall finisher could then easily fill the indentation with drywall compound, effectively hiding the nail.

However, not every installer used the same technique, so some indentations were shallow and some were deep. In addition, nails tended to lose their gripping power on wooden structures (like houses) when the temperature changed. In some cases, this resulted in the nail protruding from the drywall. Professionals know this as a nail pop.

Drywall screws, on the other hand, are not as vulnerable to temperature fluctuations as nails are because the screw cannot be simply pushed out. Another benefit is the small indentation left by the screw gun, which requires less repair. Since essentially all drywall screws are fluted, it draws the screw, allowing it to countersink into the drywall. Drywall screws are also fast, especially when a screw gun is used.

However, if you do not have access to a screw gun or cordless drill, you can still install drywall using a hammer and nails. As mentioned earlier, keep the drywall panels as close to square (assuming the studs are plumb) as possible. If a panel begins to encroach on the available nailing area on the stud for the next panel, it is possible to slightly angle the nail to achieve good contact. Avoid breaking the end of the panel whenever possible, as this will lessen the work required for finishing.

What Is a Drywall Screw Gun?

A drywall screw gun is similar to a corded drill, but a screw gun has a clutch that is pressure activated. To use a screw gun, a professional will simply put a screw on the bit and press it into the wall. The clutch is activated by the pressure, driving the screw. Most electric screw guns are designed to run continuously, so the installer can drive screws as fast as they can be loaded. 

Can I Use a Cordless Drill to Install Drywall Screws?

Absolutely. There are a couple of changes you’ll want to make for driving drywall screws. The first is to use a driver bit designed for the screw you are installing. For example, if you are using #2 screws, use a #2 bit. 

Another useful change is to purchase a magnetic bit, ideally with a sleeve. Several manufacturers offer them in various configurations, but they all magnetically hold the screw as it is driven in. The included sleeve also surrounds the screw keeping it straight, preventing the bit from sliding off.

Lastly, if your cordless drill has a clutch (most do), set it to just countersink the screw without breaking the paper. The indentation will be enough space for the compound, but sanding will likely be unnecessary. Setting the clutch will give you much more control and reduce accidental damage to the panel if you drive the screw too far.

Are There Different Kinds of Drywall Screws?

Yes, there are dozens of types of drywall screws, depending on the application. Most drywall screws are dark charcoal in color, and will have a flat, phillips head. Drywall screws also come in lengths up to several inches, but most will be between 1 ¼”-1 ¾” long. Drywall screws are also available with fine and coarse threads, depending on whether the surface is metal or wood.

Can I Use Fewer Drywall Screws Than Nails?

Always follow the manufacturer’s directions, but generally, no, you should use the same number whether installing screws or nails. A few considerations go into deciding how many fasteners to use on a panel. There’s always a trade-off between adding more fasteners and increasing the finishing required. More fasteners equals better connection, but also more work for the finisher.

Editorial Contributors
Matt Greenfield

Matt Greenfield

Matt Greenfield is an experienced writer specializing in home improvement topics. He has a passion for educating and empowering homeowners to make informed decisions about their properties. Matt's writing focuses on a range of topics, including windows, flooring, HVAC, and construction materials. With a background in construction and home renovation, Matt is well-versed in the latest trends and techniques in the industry. His articles offer practical advice and expert insights that help readers tackle their home improvement projects with confidence. Whether you're a DIY enthusiast or a seasoned professional, Matt's writing is sure to provide valuable guidance and inspiration.

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