Three Drywall Patch Methods

In the following video, I test out three common methods of drywall patch repair: a patch kit; a butterfly or “California” patch; and the classic support board patch.

The text that follows is essentially the narration of the video, for those that want to follow along or just read it instead of watching.

Here are some of the products I used:

Patch Kit

Up first is using a patch kit to fix the smallest hole in the wall, caused by too much weight on a coat hook.

This starts with fast drying DryDex spackling. This tiny container goes for $6 locally and won’t cover very much, hence its use on this small hole.

I slather it on using a small putty knife, making sure to fill in the hole and to also get some underneath the drywall “flap”. This is mostly just to get a base coat, though.

Next up is the self-adhesive aluminum mesh repair patch. These go for $4 or $5 locally. I picked a size such that the metal portion completely covers the hole with maybe an inch or more all the way around. I press it onto the wall surface making sure the hole is centered. The adhesive on it sticks fairly well.

The patch is a mesh mostly to give some “tooth” to give the spackling something to hold on to. Therefore, I just use my putty knife to completely cover the patch, ensuring that it’s pressed into the mesh.

After the patch is entirely covered, I go over it with a 6″ drywall knife to smooth it out. The goal is to create uneven pressure on the blade as it goes over the patch. That is, I put more pressure on the outside edge than the inside edge. This results in less material being on the outside and more on the inside and contributes to the feathering effect that I’m going for.

I don’t go crazy on this first coat, though. It’s very much a rough coat.

The beauty of Drydex is that it can be dry in as little as an hour and at worst will be dry within 4 or 5 hours. That allows multiple coats to be applied in a single day.

I make sure to sand in between coats to make sure I have a smooth surface before the next one. In this case, I’m using a normal sanding block with some high grit sandpaper and am trying to capture all of the dust using my Shop Vac. This works pretty quickly but will generate a huge amount of dust without the vacuum. Even with the vacuum, you have to expect some dust to escape and cover anything nearby.

The next coat is going to be my finish coat, since it will be textured later. I use my 6″ drywall knife and am concentrating more on a smooth finish with gently feathered edges than anything related to coverage. The concept is the same as earlier, though, as I’m putting more pressure on the outside edge than the inside edge.

When this dries, I do a final smoothing using a wet sponge. This is an alternative to sanding at any stage, actually. The sponge leaves a super smooth surface and leaves no dust whatesover, which is pretty sweet. It’s not quite as aggressive as sandpaper, though, so I typically only use this as a finish step… and even then, if it’s a much bigger job than this, then I will still use sandpaper since this method is notably slower.

And that’s it for the patch.

The final steps in the repair are to texture the surface to match what is already there and then prime and paint.

Pros:

  1. The super quick drytime means that I can go from hole to finished wall in a single day, substantially faster than the other methods
  2. The patch and kit make this a very easy and convenient method

Cons:

  1. This is the most expensive method, costing about $10 for even a single little hole. Each hole you fix will cost at least that much.
  2. This is really only suitable for small holes, as the patches won’t go above a certain size and get prohibitively expensive.

California Patch

The next method I’ll try out is the California patch or Butterfly patch. It might technically be called the latter but I’ve almost exclusively heard it referred to as the former.

It starts with a piece of scrap drywall that is roughly 3″ to 4″ wider and taller than the hole. In my case, I have two holes that I will eventually combine into one… but not yet. I will create that combined hole later.

Mark off some lines 1-1/2″ to 2″ from the edge on all four sides. The inner part will dictate your final hole size so it needs to be at least as big as the existing hole.

In my case, the existing holes are covered by a roughly 4″ x 8″ patch, so that becomes my inner size.

Note that my lines aren’t even remotely perpendicular to each other. The scrap piece I was using wasn’t at all square and I essentially just made my lines parallel to the existing ones. It doesn’t matter at all in the end.

The very next step looks just like you’re going to snap the drywall to some size. I start by scoring along the back a couple of times on each side.

Then, I apply a sharp blow to the edge to snap off the gypsum and leave it hanging by the outer finished paper. Again, this is just like how you’d noramally snap drywall to size with the typical next step being to use your utility knife to slice the remaining paper.

But don’t! This is where the California patch becomes its own unique thing.

That is, instead of cutting off those edges, I’m going to instead peel off the gypsum from the glue holding it to the paper on the finished side. The end result is a “wing” of sorts made up of the continuous piece of paper on the finished side.

I repeat for all four sides.

Now, this was the first time I’ve ever tried a California patch and it definitely didn’t go as well as I would have liked. One lesson learned is that 5/8″ thick Type X drywall is a poor choice for the patch since the embedded fibers in the gympsum prevent it from crumbling away as I roll it off the paper. It also has a stronger glue than typical drwyall does. After this patch was done, I experimented with different types of drywall and the easiest to work with turned out to be just bog standard 1/2″ drywall.

That’s one of the benefits of this patch approach — it doesn’t matter at all what the thickeness of your patch is compared to the thickness of the original drywall since your patch will essentially be floating in the hole.

But yeah, the wings on my patch ended up being thinner and with more ragged edges than I’d prefer.

Next up is using my patch to mark up the precise size of the hole. This is why it doesn’t matter what precise shape or size the patch is since whatever it is will become the precise shape and size of the hole.

I used my osciallating tool to cut out this hole. It’s quick; doesn’t generate an excessive amount of dust; and creates a very clean hole. It also doesn’t cut very deep so if there are wires behind it, they are reasonably safe.

I did need to fine tune the hole size with my utility knife to give the patch room to breath. A better way would have been to just cut out my hole just to the outside of my lines rather than to the inside.

I took the time to sand down the peaks on the texturing just around the hole, but that step isn’t strictly required. I’m not sure it made any difference in the end.

To install the patch, I first apply a liberal amount of joint compound to the edges of the patch — not to the wings, but rather all four of the gypsum sides.

The patch is then pressed into the hole. Since the joint compound is on the edge, a little of it will be squeezed into any voids between the patch and the wall but most of it will coat the back of the wings and then be squeezed out. This simultaneously fills in any little holes and saturates the paper.

For this first coat, I just concentrate on spreading it out and then ensuring that the patch is level with the wall. It’ll have a tendancy to want to “float” out at first, so I did need to push it in and squeegee out the joint compound a few times.

I let this dry overnight and then sanded it before adding the second coat. This is a more traditional second coat of compound like you’d apply on the joint of two joined drywall sheets.

I apply it with my 6″ drywall knife but after it’s there, I almost immediately switch to my wide knife. This does a much better job of feathering out the compound using the same technique of more pressure on the outside than the inside. That’s because there’s a lot more pressure variance over the much wider edge.

For sanding, I use my normal drywall sander, which uses mesh sandpaper and is hooked directly up to a shop-vac. The mesh sandpaper is relatively aggressive and allows the dust to be sucked up very efficiently. The suction also help keep the sander stuck to the wall which makes it mildly easier and mildly harder to use simultaneously. One big benfit of this is that there is essentially no dust that escapes while still having the typical benfits of sandpaper.

Pros:

  1. This is the cheapest method of the three since it just requires a scrap piece of drywall and some joint compound. Joint compound is $5 for a huge bucket of it compared to $5 for a tiny container of Drydex
  2. The wings become their own joint tape and create a smooth transition from patch to the wall
  3. The thickness of the drywall patch doesn’t matter at all, since it’s just floating in the hole you created
  4. Can handle non-rectangular holes
  5. 5. Arguably the most slick method for fixing for medium to large holes

Cons:

  1. Creating the wings on the patch take practice
  2. May be the hardest method to learn to do well

Support Board

The third method is arguably the most traditional and it’s suitable for any size hole but really shines for larger holes that may require extra support.

The start of this method is very similar to the California patch style in that I cut out a piece of scrap drywall that’s just slightly bigger than my original hole. The big difference is that instead of peeling off the gypsum and creating wings, I follow through on the snap procedure by cutting through the paper. Thus, my patch has no wings on it at all.

Like before, I use my patch to draw out the exact size of the hole. It’s far easier to just make the hole the size of the patch than to somehow make a patch that’s exactly the size of an existing hole.

I use a jab saw to cut it out, this time. Jab saws are obviously much cheaper than either oscillating tools or zip routers or anything like that. They also aren’t notably slower to use. That said, they do require a lot more room in the wall cavity; are quite a bit messier; and create a less precise hole.

In general, more fine tuning is needed for this style of patch than for the California style since it’s not going to be floating. Oh, and since it won’t be floating, it also needs to be the same thickness as the existing drywall. In this case, it needs to be 1/2″ thick.

Now is time for the step that makes this a unique method. I take a scrap piece of wood and insert it into the wall so that it straddles the hole. In this case, I put the piece of wood at an angle to maximize the surface area inside of the hole.

I then drill some pilot holes through the drywall and into the wood. Normal coarse drywall screws are used to secure it into place. I’m using one of those bits specifically made for driving in drywall screws that will dimple the paper just enough to seat the drywall screw head just under the finished level. Cheap but effective.

This method uses joint compound as well. Compared to spackling, it’s much MUCH cheaper and so can be used for much larger patches. But on the other hand, while the spackling dries in 1 to 5 hours, the joint compound takes a full 24 hours to do the same. That means that neither the California method nor this method can be compled in a day. At a minimum, you’re looking at three days.

I apply some compound directly to the support board and the edges of the hole and then press the patch into place. The compound works essentially as a glue to hold the patch into place pretty securely. But no, I don’t leave it at that and also predrill and drive in a couple of drywall screws.

Now a hole this size may or may not require joint tape along the seams. I likely would have used it here if I had more space… but, well, I’m constrained by the outlets on both sides of this hole and so I didn’t bother taping it. This does leave a higher likliehood of eventually cracking so I may yet regret that.

Literally everything that follows is exactly like the California patch, so I’m not going to show it again.

Pros:

  1. It has the strongest support for larger holes
  2. It doesn’t require any special skill or practice, like the California patch method does
  3. It uses inexpensive joint compound and tape

Cons:

  1. It does require having a piece of scrap wood that fits behind the hole
  2. The wall needs to be open enough to fit the wood support
  3. It really should use tape, which is another step
  4. The tape requirement makes it difficult to patch non-rectangular holes
  5. The thickness of the patch must exactly match the thickness of the existing drywall

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