How to Finish Drywall for Clean Seams and Corners

Finish your drywall with an all-purpose compound and our easy-to-follow steps

Jacqueline Gualtieri
Updated June 14, 2022
Living room with view to the dining room
Photo: Westend61 / Westend61 / Getty Images


Only DIY if you know what you're doing.

Time to complete

3 hours

While working time may only take a few hours, the total time can reach up to six days due to the mud’s required 24-hour drying time between coats.



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What you'll need:


  • 6-inch drywall taping knife
  • 10-inch drywall taping knife
  • 12-inch drywall taping knife
  • Taping compound tray
  • Screwgun
  • Hammer
  • Tin snips
  • Drywall sanding block
  • Dust mask
  • Eye protection


  • Paper drywall tape
  • Premixed all-purpose taping compound
  • Paper-faced corner bead
  • Metal corner bead
  • Drywall nails
  • Drywall sandpaper
  • Dry cloths

Putting up drywall isn’t usually the challenging part of installing these thin panels—the difficult part is finishing them so that you have a clean wall. When finishing drywall, we use taping compound, also known as mud, to make seams crisp and hide those screws or nail holes that would otherwise be an eyesore. 

Now that you’ve put up your drywall, follow these steps to make drywall-finishing your newest home-renovation skill.

Prepping to Finish Drywall

Before you begin applying mud to your drywall, drag your taping knife over the surface of your drywall. Are there any nail or screw heads that aren’t below the board’s paper? While being careful not to break the board's surface, tighten the screws or hammer the nails further in. Those screw and nail heads should be able to disappear into the drywall to get a smooth finish.

Premixed All-Purpose Taping Compound vs. Other Forms of Mud

If you’re an experienced home renovator, you may be wondering why we specified using premixed all-purpose taping compound. Drywall mud comes powdered or premixed, but premixed saves some time and potential error. 

We suggest using an all-purpose taping compound because, as the name suggests, it’s all-purpose, making it a good choice for a DIYer. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can use the powered variety instead, but remember to add water to the mixture and a mud mixer to your tool list. 

Paper Drywall Tape vs. Fiberglass Tape

You have the option of using fiberglass tape instead of paper drywall tape. Fiberglass tape takes fewer steps to apply, but many pros believe that paper tape is less likely to crack or show through after painting. We recommend working with paper tape for a more long-lasting, cleaner finish.

  1. Apply the First Mud Coat

    Man using mud mixer to mix drywall compound
    Photo: AleksandarNakic / E+ / Getty Images

    Although you’re going to apply mud to the drywall before applying the tape, be sure that you have a strip of tape cut to the exact length of the joint you’re trying to cover. Give your all-purpose taping compound a quick mix, and then pour some of the mud into your tray. 

    Use your 6-inch taping knife to apply a smooth layer of mud to the joint. Place the tape over the compound immediately. Working from the middle to the joint sides, secure the tape by applying light pressure with the taping knife. Then, apply another thin layer of mud over the tape.

  2. Finish the Inside Corners

    Woman plastering drywall corner

    You can finish the inside corners with paper tape using a similar method to how you applied the mud coat, but because most DIYers prefer the simplicity of the paper-faced corner bead, that’s the method we’ll be using here. 

    Measure the height of the corner, and cut the corner bead accordingly with the tin snips. Apply a thin layer of mud on the corner using a 6-inch taping knife, press the corner bead over the mud, and apply another thin coat on top.

  3. Finish the Outside Corners

    For outside corners, we’ll use the metal corner bead. Measure the height of the corner and then cut according to the tin snips. Nail the corner bead to the wall. Then, apply mud to the bead, carefully covering the nails fully.

  4. Sand Any Bumps or Ridges

    Man wearing protective mask and goggles is sanding a drywall
    Photo: Fancy/Veer/ Corbis / Getty Images

    After letting your mud dry overnight, you’re ready to start sanding. While wearing your dust mask and eye protection, sand any bumps or ridges. After you’ve finished sanding, wipe any sanding dust away with a clean cloth.

  5. Apply the Fill Coat and Sand

    Using your 10-inch taping knife, apply another layer of mud over the joints. At this point, you should have fully covered your tape. Give the mud another day to dry. If you notice more bumps, you can sand again, but use a lighter touch this time to avoid exposing the tape again.

  6. Apply the Finish Coat and Sand

    Worker applying layer of mud to a drywall
    Photo: JodiJacobson / E+ / Getty Images

    Using your 12-inch taping knife, apply a very light final layer of mud, creating a smooth surface. Allow the compound to dry, which should take less than one day. Once dry, lightly sand again, remaining careful not to over-sand. 

    Although three layers are generally enough, you will have to apply another finish coat if the wall doesn’t appear smooth. Once you have the smoothness you want, you’re ready to wipe away the last of the sanding dust and start painting or wallpapering.

DIY Finishing Drywall vs. Hiring a Pro

It typically costs between $0.30 and $0.50 per square foot to install drywall, but hiring a drywall installer can cost $50 and $100 per hour. However, it’s worth considering the costs of the drywall installer’s tool that you likely won’t have laying around the house, like tin snips and taping knives of multiple sizes. 

It’s also worth considering how much time you have to complete this project. Professional drywall installers typically move much faster than the average DIYer, so if you choose to DIY, you could add significantly more time to your renovation. 

Additional Questions

What is the easiest way to finish drywall?

Some DIYers may find that using fiberglass tape is easier than using paper tape since it doesn’t require a layer of mud underneath it. However, most professionals recommend paper tape for its better and longer-lasting finish. 

How many coats does it take to finish drywall?

While we recommend using at least three coats, you may find that you need a fourth or a fifth. The number of coats needed depends on the straightness of the walls, the quality of the mud, the width of the knives, and if you over-sanded between coats. As a DIYer, you should expect that you’ll need additional coats, but a professional with years of experience will generally get the job done in three coats. 

Do you always need to sand drywall?

The need to sand between coats depends on the thinness of the coats. Do you notice any bumps after letting the mud dry? You will have to sand those away to get a smooth finish. Some professionals can apply mud without sanding, but as a DIYer, you should expect at least a little sanding.

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