Flawless Finish

This weekend was all about making the walls and ceiling in the Powder Room look beautiful again. Patching drywall isn’t a difficult process, but it does take patience and attention detail to get professional results. It’s important to remember that any bulge, rough patch or flaw in the drywall compound will show through the finished coat. Paint won’t hide your mistakes. On the contrary, it will highlight every blemish. Below I have followed up on some of the electrical details and outlined how to get a flawless finish when patching drywall.


Plate cover

Let me first explain the mess above. The hole at the bottom of the photo is where I will install a new octagon box that will house the existing cables, which supply power to the light and fan. These cables were not long enough to pull up into the ceiling. By lowering the junction box it will be hidden behind the vanity mirror and the problem of dealing with an unsightly plate cover is solved. It is against building code to cover over any electrical boxes with building materials, such as drywall or paneling. But it is absolutely fine to tuck it behind a mirror. The hole at the top of the photo is for another junction box that will supply power to the new pendant light fixture. The other two holes were necessary to deliver the new cables up into the ceiling. You can see that I drilled an additional hole through the top plate to fish the cable through.

PatchTemplatesWhy I cut a hole in the shape of a baseball stadium remains a mystery. But I think my solution of tracing a template over the hole is brilliant — no measuring required! I found a scrap of drywall, put my little shapes all in a row and cut them out using the score and snap method.


Score&SnapScore along each straight edge using a metal rule and utility knife. The drywall will snap easily along the score line. Fold back and run the blade of the knife along the folded paper backing from the opposite side.

PatchingBraceTo support the filler piece I attached a strip of soft wood extending just beyond the opening on each side of the hole. Here I had to put my support at an angle due to the positioning of the stud.

SwitchShimI also took the time to shim below the wall switches. The opening for the electrical box in the original installation had been made too large. If I left it alone the bottom tab of the of the new switches would have no drywall support once tightened into place. This means that the switch would never sit flush with the wall plate and that would drive me crazy. Yes, I was annoyed to stop and take the time to cut this little shim, but by taking care of this detail now while I was getting the mud out would save me time and mess in the future. More importantly the alignment of the switches wouldn’t become one of those details that I would get around to—never!


With the new octagon box in place, the wires are bundled neatly inside and ready to supply the lights and fan. I used a box specially designed for retrofit applications.

Patching2The former junction box  location is patched and ready for mud. Here’s a video from that will run you through the basic steps of patching a hole in your wall. It also shows you the tools you will need to get the job done. However, I would caution against patching a hole with only one application of mud. Two will give you much better results. Keep reading to find out more …

PancakeBox2For the ceiling fixtures I used a pancake box to house the cables. I am sure you can guess how it got its name. When I cut the hole for my light I discovered a ceiling joist was running directly in my path—arghh!. By asking questions at my local hardware store I was introduced to this simple solution. It amazing how many solutions are out there. You just have to ask. With this box I needed to add a connector for each cable I ran into the box. (The funny looking clamps you see with a screw sticking out the side.)

FillingDimplesHere is the pancake box installed and ready to receive the pendant lamp. You can also see that I have applied a first layer of mud. I was sure to fill any nail dimples in the ceiling while I was up on the ladder. You can see there were a number to be filled. The darker areas are where the mud is still wet. It must be fully dry to add the second or finish coat.

MeshDrywallTapeIt is important to use drywall tape over the patches to prevent cracks from occurring where edges butt up against each other. As temperatures fluctuate over the course of the year materials expand and contract. The tape provides stability for the mud. I forgot to snap a photo before the mud was applied, but this is what the product looks like on the shelf (pic above). One side is sticky. You cut it to measure. Position it so that all edges of the patch are covered. Then apply the fist coat of mud on top of the mesh.

MudFirstLayer2You can see the pattern of the mesh tape showing through the mud where I removed the old outlet receptacle. The first layer of mud should go on relatively smooth but not to perfection. Incidental ridges can be knocked down with a medium grit sanding mesh, and small cavities will be filled in the during the second application of mud.

SecondLayerMud_SkimCoatIf you have any latent perfectionism in you, now is the time to let all it out. The application of the second coat of mud is crucial to a smooth finish. I like to run my hand across the surface before I begin to make sure I didn’t miss any rough terrain during the sanding process. Only when I am happy with the prep surface do I proceed to mud. Its a good idea to thin the mud slightly with water. This is called a skim coat. As your technique develops you can get away with almost no sanding after the skim coat. In other words, it should go on that smooth. I did sand here. Using 150 grit mesh.

I prefer using a pole sander like this one. Long sweeping strokes will result in a smoother finish. It will save your neck when working on the ceiling.

It was difficult to get this all done—and cleaned up—in one day. But I felt so satisfied in the end when I saw the beautiful, smooth, and clean painted finish on the ceiling. YAY!