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Drywall finishing with setting-type joint compound

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joint compound
When finishing drywall, most DIYers stick with the ready-to-use stuff sold in buckets and shy away from the powdered stuff sold in bags. That’s often a smart choice. “Setting” compound is a hassle: You have to mix it with water, it's harder to clean up, and you don’t get one of those nifty buckets. Still, setting compound is sometimes worth the trouble.

When to use it 

Setting compound is perfect for deep gaps before you tape the joints. It hardens fast, so you don’t have to wait all day before you tape over it. And because it barely shrinks, you don’t have to apply several layers to fill deep voids.

If you use mesh joint tape, use setting compound to embed the tape. Mesh isn’t as strong as paper tape, but the extra strength of setting compound provides a strong joint. There’s no need to use setting compound after the first coat.

What to buy
Buy “lightweight” setting compound. Never, ever buy regular setting compound; it gets rock-hard and is almost impossible to sand.

Setting compounds have brand names that include a number to indicate roughly how many minutes of working time you’ll get before hardening begins. Two examples are Quick Set Lite 5 and Easy Sand 210. For deep filling, 20- or 45-minute compounds are a good choice. For embedding mesh tape, choose 90 minutes or longer.

Mixing and cleanup
You can mix small batches with a putty knife, but for larger amounts, a powerful drill with a mixer is best. Either way, the key to a smooth mix is to let it sit or “slake” for a minute or two after the initial mixing. That gives the chunks time to absorb water. Then mix until the compound is free of chunks.

Clean your tools ASAP. Don’t just toss them in a bucket of water. Unlike standard joint compound—which softens after a good soaking—setting compound continues to harden even under water.

— Gary Wentz, Senior Editor

For more great information about finishing and sanding drywall, check out these articles:
- Tips for Finishing Drywall
- How to Sand Drywal
- How to Repair Holes in Drywall

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  • Comments
    • by posted on

      Good Post.. I use the above Sheetrock product almost exclusively. Not that hard to work with once you get the hang of it. A neat little trick I learned is if you need any of it to set faster than the published time, mix in hot water. You will definitely notice the faster set time.

      Also a warning, do not be fooled into thinking just because it set fast you can paint it right away. You must allow it to dry completely before you paint, other wise the paint will not adhere and will peel off in sheets. Wait for it to change colors from gray to all white usually in 24 hrs except in high humidity locations



    • by posted on


      Here's another fact about what happens when using setting compound to embed tape. This type of compound doesn't shrink so when applied behind paper tape it sets up holding the tape farther from the surface. As all purpose compound dries it pulls the tape flat making a tighter bond and flatter surface. Applying tape is easier with the proper tools such as a banjo or tapebuddy tool. Banjos are bulky, heavy to work with and the learning curve... well not easy. These work great for drywall crews but the tapebuddy is a great DIY tool. It stays on the bench or bucket and you just work with the tape. I've heard some call it a tabletop banjo. It's so easy and clean to use. It takes all the work out of taping drywall and there are no blisters in the finished work. You should try one on your next taping project. We love using it.

    • by posted on

      I mix 45 minute 50/50% and I'm using everywhere even on brick. :) I do perfect walls with it.

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