Nearly every house built since the 1940s has drywall covering the interior walls. Before that, walls were made of plaster over lath. Drywall was invented to eliminate the need for expert plaster finishers, and to save time and money on construction. Although drywall finishing still requires some skill, it doesn’t require the level of skill that finishing plaster does.
Before Texturing, Finish the Drywall
Texturing a wall or ceiling is a great way of disguising imperfections in the finish. However, it won’t hide major imperfections; nor can it hide nails, screws, and seams. So, the drywall must be properly finished before the texture is applied. The better a finishing job is done, the better the texture looks.
Finishing drywall means covering up the nails, screws, and seams with drywall finishing compound, often called "drywall mud," and tape. The goal is to create a perfectly smooth surface, where the fasteners and seams are invisible, making the wall look like one solid sheet.
This is a multi-coat process. The first coat consists of filling the nail or screw holes and applying the tape. There are two types of drywall tape manufactured, paper and fiberglass. The fiberglass tape looks like a screen. It is slightly sticky, allowing it to be laid onto drywall seams and stuck there. Paper drywall tape is stuck to the drywall with finishing compound. All seams must be covered, preferably by unbroken runs of tape. A 5 to 6 inch drywall finishing knife is used to smooth out the mud.
Once the mud dries, it needs to be sanded smooth, before a second coat is applied. This can be accomplished with a pole sander or quarter sheet vibratory sander. In addition to normal sandpaper, there is a drywall sanding screen, which can be attached to either a pole sander or electric sander. The advantage of the screen is that it doesn’t become clogged with dust as easily as sandpaper does.
For the second coat of drywall mud, an 8 or 10 inch drywall knife should be used, creating a wider swath of mud than the first coat. The goal is to apply as thin a coat as possible, "feathering" or tapering the edges down to the surface of the drywall.
Once again, when this coat of finishing compound dries, it needs to be sanded. Then the third and final coat can be applied. This third coat should be applied with a 12 inch drywall knife, once again feathering the edges. When this dries and is sanded, the wall should be smooth and ready for texturing.
Types of Texture Applicators
Drywall texture can be applied in a number of different ways. The most common method of application is with an air powered drywall texture gun. To use this type of applicator requires an air compressor. The drywall texture gun sprays the texture directly onto the wall or ceiling. It is the fastest method of application.
In cases where a drywall texture gun is not available, the texture can be applied with a paint roller or even a wide paint brush. These methods don’t provide the same textures as spraying. If it is necessary to match existing texture, the same method must be used as was used originally.
Types of Textures Patterns Used on Drywall
There are a number of common texture patterns used for drywall. Of these, the most common are orange peel and knockdown. However, those aren’t the only types of textures to choose from.
- Orange Peel - A slightly bumpy appearance, like the skin of an orange. The size of the individual bumps and their frequency can be varied.
- Knockdown - A modification of orange peel, which flattens the tops of the bumps, making them look like a landscape of mesas.
- Slapbrush - A pattern of random, short, crooked, overlapping lines; looks like a whole flock of birds with crooked feet have walked on it.
- Sand Swirl - A swirling pattern, like curved brush strokes, with grit in it.
- Mud Swirl - Semicircular swirls in a pattern. This is more often used for ceilings than walls.
- Popcorn or Acoustic Texture - Used for ceilings, it looks like someone splattered the ceiling with broken up little pieces of popcorn.
- Rolled Texture - This is done with special foam rollers, which have a pattern cut into them. The pattern is "embossed" into the mud as it is rolled out.
Applying Textures to Drywall
Whatever type of texture pattern is applied, the mud needs to be mixed. Standard drywall joint compound is too thick for texturing, so it has to be thinned with water. This can be mixed in a five-gallon bucket, with either a drill mounted mud paddle or by hand with a mud masher (which looks like a giant potato masher). For texturing, the mud needs to be smooth and about the consistency of pancake batter.
It is always best to try the intended texture on a piece of scrap drywall before applying it to walls and ceiling. This provides a chance to experiment with thickness, settings, and density of the texture. This piece of drywall can be saved as a gauge to compare all the work to, ensuring that the texture is consistent throughout the project.
In case the texture does not go on as desired, it can easily be scraped off with a wide drywall knife and reapplied. Even dry texture can be removed by sanding, providing a fresh surface to try again.
Orange peel is the most basic and common texturing method used today. It is a sprayed-on texture, made with a drywall texture spray gun. The size of the individual "splatters" can be varied by either changing the size of the orifice on the texture sprayer or by changing air pressure. The higher the air pressure, the smaller the individual splatters are.
The compressor used for powering the sprayer should be set for about 100 pounds of pressure. At the texture gun’s regulator, this should then be set to 30 to 40 pounds of pressure.
Density of the texture is controlled by how fast the texture sprayer is moved while applying the texture. Moving it slowly applies more texture mud to any given spot on the wall or ceiling. This is a matter of personal choice and styling more than anything else. However, at no time should the texture be so thick that the drywall can’t be seen through it. Applying too much texture causes the drywall to sag and run.
Knockdown is a modification of orange peel. In fact, it is started the same way. After the drywall texture is given about 15 minutes to start drying, the knockdown knife is drawn lightly across the texture, flattening the tops of the texture droplets. This can be done with a wide taping knife, but it is best to use a rubber knockdown knife, which looks like a squeegee.
The knockdown knife does not need to be cleaned off after each swipe, but only when there is a buildup of texture mud on it. If protruding lines of mud are formed at the edges of the knife’s path, it indicates that the texture isn’t dry enough for doing the knockdown. If the lines are indented into the texture, it indicates too much pressure on the knife.
The larger the droplets, the larger the plateaus of the knockdown will appear. When trying to match existing texture, such as adding an addition to a house, this is important. Experimenting on a scrap piece of drywall is highly recommended.
The name "slapbrush" indicates how this type of texture is applied. Although it can be used for walls, it is more commonly used for ceilings. Before applying, it is necessary to mask off adjacent surfaces with masking tape and masking paper. Using a hand masker makes this easier, as it will apply the tape to the edge of the paper and stick it to the wall, all in one operation.
The texture needs to be applied to the wall or ceiling with a paint roller. A three-quarter inch nap roller works best, although a half-inch roller can be used for a lighter texture. The texture mud should not need to be rolled out, just applied. By alternating rolling directions, a thin, even coat is almost guaranteed. Once an adequate work area is rolled out (about six feet square), it should be rolled over again in the opposite direction. If the roller won’t spin while rolling out the mud, it means that the mud is too thick and needs more water mixed into it.
A special brush is used for this, which is coincidentally called a slap brush or stippling brush. Before using a dry slap brush, it needs to be covered with a coat of texture mud. As the bristles on a slap brush are splayed out, this is best done with the roller.
The actual texturing is accomplished by slapping the texture mud with the slap brush in random directions. This isn’t a brushing action, but rather a slap. Once the brush hits the mud, it shouldn’t move, but rather be picked up off the surface for another slap. To help maintain the randomness of the pattern, the brush needs to be turned about one-quarter to one-half turn between each slap. This turn needs to happen while the brush is in the air, between slaps; it should never happen when the brush is in contact with the texture mud.
If mud starts building up on the slap brush, it indicates that the slapper isn’t using enough force. Enough force needs to be applied to prevent this buildup, while not applying so much force to start cracking the taping mud and making screw heads appear.
Sand Swirl texture is painted on, and is then gone over with a brush. This type of texture is not done with drywall mud, but rather with a product called "Perlite" This not the same perlite used in gardening, but rather a paint primer product, with sand already mixed in. Perlite must be thoroughly mixed before application to ensure that the sand is fully suspended in the paint.
The Pearlite needs to be applied with a six or seven inch wide paint brush. To create the pattern, it is best not to hold the paintbrush by the handle, but rather by grasping the ferrule (the metal part around the base of the bristles). The brush needs to be thoroughly loaded with paint before every stroke. This is best accomplished by dipping the brush about two inches into the paint, then slapping both sides of it lightly on the inside of the bucket.
In this pattern, each swirl overlaps the previous and the row above. So, it must be applied from the top of the wall down. A tight half-circle is painted with the brush, ensuring that the center of the circle touches itself. This can either be done slowly and carefully, ensuring that every swirl is consistent, or quickly and haphazardly, providing some randomness to the pattern, depending upon individual taste.
Subsequent swirls must overlap their neighbors enough to ensure that there is no place where the bare drywall shows through. This generally means about a four inch overlap to the sides. Each row must overlap the row applied above it, once again indicating about a four inch overlap.
Mud swirl and sand swirl look very similar. The major difference between them is that sand swirl has grit in it, while mud swirl doesn’t. The swirl texture on mud swirl is more pronounced than that of sand swirl.
Applying mud swirl requires a brush and roller. The texture mud is applied with the roller, then the swirl pattern is applied with the brush. There is no special brush on the market for this type of texturing. However, a wallpaper brush works very well. To make it easier, riveting or screwing the wallpaper brush to an old drywall knife provides a handle to the brush.
Mud swirl is applied and textured one row at a time. Each row of swirls must overlap the previous, and each swirl must overlap its neighbor. No exposed drywall should be visible between the swirls.
One row of texturing mud is applied with a three-quarter inch nap roller. These rows must be applied straight, as that will determine how straight the rows of swirls are. The swirls are formed by brushing a half-circle in the freshly applied mud with the brush. This half-circle must touch itself in the center and overlap the previous row slightly. Each row should be offset one-half swirl from the previous row, so that the top of the half circle is at the center of the overlap between swirls on the previous row.
Popcorn or Acoustic Texture
Popcorn texture is a sprayed-on texture. It does not come pre-mixed, but is available only in dry form. It must be mixed with water before spraying. However, it is mixed slightly thinner than ordinary texture mud. When mixed, it should look something like slightly watery oatmeal. The texture has chips of styrofoam in it, which is what creates the "popcorn."
This texture requires setting the orifice on the texture spray gun to one of its largest settings and using a low air pressure. Too much air pressure will cause the popcorn to hit the ceiling and bounce off. Since this is sprayed on the ceiling, the hopper on the spray gun should only be filled about one-third full. More than that will cause the texture to drip out, as the gun needs to be held at an angle.
When spraying, the gun should be kept moving constantly, to apply a light coat. For a heavier acoustic texture, the area can be gone over again; it is best to apply a couple of light coats, rather than a heavy coat.
Popcorn ceilings are generally not painted, but left their natural white. Painting them requires an airless paint sprayer, as painting with a brush or roller will dislodge the popcorn.
Rolled Textures are created with special drywall texture rollers. These rollers are available in a variety of styles, with different patterns cut into them. Drywall texture is "painted" directly onto the wall with the roller. A firm pressure must be applied to ensure that the texture pattern is pressed into the mud.
The roller can be moved in a systematic up and down pattern for a more consistent texture or in a random pattern for a more freeform texture pattern.
Buying Tools and Materials for Drywall Texturing
You can find all the tools you need for texturing drywall on eBay. Due to the weight of drywall mud, you might want to purchase that locally. Drywall tools can be found under the Home Improvement section of the Home and Garden category, or under the Construction section of the Business and Industrial category.
Texturing drywall is a simple project that any do-it-yourselfer can quickly master. While a bit messy, it can be a fun project that the whole family can work on together. Little investment is required in tools and equipment to create a number of textures in any home. A little bit of practice on a scrap piece of drywall can make anyone proficient in accomplishing any of the textures mentioned in this buyers’ guide.
Since drywall texture is applied wet, it can always be scraped off and redone, if the quality or consistency of the work is not satisfactory. Even when dry, it can still be sanded off and redone, although this requires more time and effort. As a handyman project, the ability to redo the work, makes it almost foolproof.