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Jim Rooney

Tony P. of Edgewater recently wrote asking, "How can I get rid of nail pops in drywall? I'm getting ready to repaint our bedroom and the nail pops I thought I fixed last time before I painted have come back. The ones along the edge of the ceiling and wall seem to be the worst. Is there anything I can do?"

There is, Tony. The most common complaints I hear about painting interior walls and ceilings are the annoying nail pops which all the paint in the world can't hide. Unlike a fresh snowfall which hides a multitude of sins outside, often a fresh coat of paint inside only redefines sins there. Some pesky nail pops recur on ceilings and walls after having been fixed once before. That's a particular point of irritation for anyone trying to do the job right and it's the bane of amateurs and professionals alike.

But first you need to fully understand what a "nail pop" is. A nail pop is an imperfection which occurs in drywall when the point of attachment of drywall to the wood framing of the house fails. Average nail pops are usually about the size of a quarter and are either convex or concave, depending upon the cause. Sometimes the nail head becomes exposed and the spackle falls away. One of two things has happened to create this and it has to do with movement.

Either the drywall moved and the nail stayed still, or the nail moved and the drywall stayed still. The results are the same -- a nail pop.

However, the repair strategy is entirely different between the two nail pop types depending upon the cause. If the pop is convex and on the ceiling near a wall (especially if the ceiling is under the attic area) and you can see the nail head, then pull the nail out with a pair of pliers and spackle the hole over. If you try to hammer it back in then the nail pop will only reappear. And, since it's "popped", it's not doing the drywall any good as a point of attachment. Drywall manufacturers now recommend that installers not nail within 16 inches of a wall to prevent these types of nail pops from happening.

If the nail pop is more than about 2 feet away from the wall and looks like a dimple, stand on a step ladder or stool and push up on the drywall. If the "dimple " moves then the drywall has pulled away and the nail has remained still. Next, determine which direction the ceiling joist runs --usually they are set perpendicular to the front or rear exterior walls of the house.

Use a one and a quarter inch drywall screw placed in line with the joist, four to six inches from the dimple, to draw the drywall back into place. Spackle over both screw and dimple.

I use a 5 or 6 inch drywall knife to spackle over the pops. I also use a plastic "mud pan" to hold the gypsum compound (spackle) for ease of use and clean up. The pans are inexpensive and handy for small jobs.

To check your progress, take a drop light (sometimes called a trouble light) and shine it across the drywall surface when the room is dimly lit. You will see every minute imperfection in the wall or ceiling. This can be a humbling experience.

More Pre-Painting Tips

For seams that are visible, I use a 12 inch drywall knife, the same "mud pan", and a utility knife to cut the seam down if it's too prominent from the drywall surface.

Using the broad knife you "feather" the seam 18 inches to two feet away from the seam to "lose" the ridge over that distance.

It takes long strokes of the knife and after a bit of practice you'll get the hang of it. Don't try to be perfect with the knife and "mud" with each stroke. This job takes a lot of practice and you will only frustrate yourself. Sand out the little ridges and mistakes when it dries.

The last step prior to painting is sanding the dried spackle smooth with drywall sanding paper which is usually about a number 100 grit. Check your work by taking the light and shining it along the wall or ceiling. A good rule is that if you can stand about four to six feet away from the repair in normal light and cannot see it, then you've done a credible job.

A tip for controlling the dust of drywall sanding is to place a 24" electric floor fan in an open window blowing out and then open windows and doors on the opposite side of the room while sanding. This will divert a substantial amount of the dust to the outside.

The term in the trade for what I have just described is called "pointing up" the drywall before paint. Good pointing up truly makes for a first class job. We've all seen the opposite.

Thanks to Mr. Rooney for letting us use his article.

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