Renovating and Remodeling My 101 Year Old Row House by Kevin – Weekend 2: What I Learned Finishing Drywall

Read Kevin’s previous post here.

When I said in my first post that the basement project will take about a month of weekends, I realize now that may have been a bit misleading. I should have said the project will take about a month with most of the work happening on the weekends. I have a full time job, and my father the contractor, has a schedule filled with remodeling jobs he is working on during the week. So while most of the big progress happens on the weekends, I work at night when I get home. Last weekend we got all the framing, electrical, and drywall rough-in work done, so my weeknights were devoted to getting the second coat of mud on the drywall so it could be sanded and primed.

I’ve been working with my father in his remodeling business since I was six years old, and while I have done nearly every aspect of a remodeling job, there are some things I don’t have a lot of experience with, and doing the second coat of mud is one of them. Every seam, corner and screw hole has to be finished. The first coat is to get the drywall tape on all of the joints and around the corner beads. Perfection is not vital because the mud shrinks and always requires more coats. The second coat however places a much higher value on quality workmanship, a skill that comes from experience. This “quality” is about the thickness of the mud you put on for the second coat which directly dictates the amount of time it will take to sand that second coat and much touch-up on future coats.

I mention all of this because while I was very aware of this “thickness to sanding ratio,” I struggled. Big time. And on Sunday I paid the price for my lack of experience by spending eight hours sanding. It was exhausting and my shoulders were on fire. But I learned my lesson the painful way. In many situations, seeing the results of your hard work are worth the pain. Drywall work is not one of those times. If you get into any big drywall projects, unless you want to skip going to the gym for a week, I suggest paying a professional the quality will be better, and they will be faster.

Continues after the jump.

My girlfriend Megan came over on Sunday and she primed the room behind me as I sanded. Priming is not only vital for future painting, it also allows you to more easily see imperfections in the drywall finishing that need touch up. And as you can guess, my week will be filled with that touch up work.

A little trick my father taught me about drywall touch-up is to mix some chalk dust from a chalk line into the joint compound to help the touched-up area stand out when it dries so you don’t miss sanding it since the joint compound dries white and is hard to see on the white primed surface; and the paint has no problem covering the chalk.

While Megan and I worked on the walls, my father finished up the electrical and started working on the built-in cabinet.

When put in the half bath in the old pantry area on the first floor, we saved the built in cabinet (see photo) because it was too beautiful to not use somewhere else. My father figured out a great way to use both the top shelving unit and the bottom cabinet unit. The shelving unit fit perfectly between the stairs and a support beam and will be a divider between the utility area and the rest of the room. We will back it with bead board paneling, and it will serve as one of several ties to the original home. The bottom of the built in was never more than the doors and drawers, so we will need to build it into a cabinet, which will be a bar storage area.

Next weekend we are going to work on leveling the floor on the half of the room that will get a composite floating hardwood floor. We will also start building the window boxes, preparing for the new hardwood stairs, and trim work. We are getting down to the finishing touches and I am excited to see the room take shape.

More photos here.

7 Comment

  • I have heard the advice about hiring someone to sand and tape drywall many times. Any suggestions for people who do this work in the DC area, particularly for smaller projects? For example, I want to build a small coat closet which will require only adding 2 small walls. Anyone have suggestions on who to contact who will tape, mud and sand such a small project for a reasonable price?

  • I think the lesson I’ve learned from these posts is “Don’t attempt any of this unless your dad is a career tradesman and you’ve helped with his projects since you were six years old.”

    Neat reading, though.

    • You are right, I would not recommend doing all of this work on your own without experience. But I do hope that the work I am doing may inspire others as they embark on projects, and there are many things that homeowners can do on their own to save money. There are contractors who are flexible in allowing homeowners to do parts of the work.

      But I’m glad you’re still checking in.

    • Exactly! Seeing as how I have problems painting in a straight line, there is no way I’m cut out for drywall work. I figure by the time I’m done doing (and fixing) it, I would have spent more in my time than I would have if I just hired a professional to begin with.

      But I do like reading these, even if it makes me feel like a total do-it-yourself klutz. 🙂

  • I need a recommendation for a contractor to finish my basement. What’s your dad’s company? I have an old rowhome like yours. it doesn’t need to be dug out, but it does need new floors, drywall, electric box upgrade and conversion of a half-bath into a full bath.

    Has anyone else done a project like this? budget?

    • I finished my basement for around 15k, estimates can run up to 30k if drastic things like drain and concrete work are added. I can’t recommend my contractor to you because he’s already booked up with me, but there’s a lot of drywall guys in DC, just Google them and check references thoroughly.

  • The pros use the 20 minute easy sand. In the pic there I can see the pre-mix stuff. It’s much easier to apply, and actually looks a bit better in the end, but it takes a ton of time. A professional drywaller will have an entire basement mudded and sanded in a day.

    For that reason, after renovating a rowhouse of my own, I highly suggest never doing drywall mudding oneself unless they’re an expert with the 20 minute setting stuff. Most people’s time in DC, who are doing these sorts of renovations, is usually worth more than what they’d pay for a day’s worth of drywall work.

Comments are closed.