Do You Need To Use Drywall Tape?

Drywall is used pretty much everywhere. Quick and relatively easy to set up, this durable material has made a reputable name for itself. There are important steps to be aware of when dealing with drywall, and learning about these makes working with this material even more enjoyable.

What happens if you don’t use drywall tape? Do you need to use drywall tape? What is the purpose of drywall tape? If you don’t use drywall tape to reinforce the seams between drywall panels there is a higher chance for cracks to form at these points. Drywall undergoes a good deal of stress and the tape is used to add additional integrity and smoothen out the finish. 

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What is Drywall?

While you’re likely familiar with the concept of drywall it is good to properly investigate the material involved when attempting to work with it. At its most basic level, drywall is made up of multiple panels that can be fitted together piece by piece. Each of these panels consist of gypsum plaster sandwiched between two sheets of thick paper (source).

Gypsum itself is a heat resistant mineral mined from the seabed. Its scientific name is calcium sulphate dihydrate. Coupled with the paper sheets on either side this drywall structure allows for relatively easy construction as well as durability and cost-effective repair. There are also slightly different types of drywall suited to different environments.

The standard size of a drywall sheet is four by eight feet, but there are other sizes available, and you can cut your own. There is also a variety of thicknesses for drywall; the most common is half an inch wide. This makes planning and applying these panels straightforward.

To apply drywall, the panels are glued to the studs that make up the wall’s frame. Each panel is then screwed or nailed in to add more support. Connecting each panel leaves a seam between them which must be covered up to create the smooth finish to the wall.

Risks of Drywall

While drywall has many advantages, there are of course limitations to this sturdy building material. Like any supporting structures there are going to be weak points that develop over time and require some maintenance. Drywall is susceptible to the natural strain that walls will endure over their lifespan. 

Cracks may form in the drywall after extended use or if subjected to extensive knocks. The most vulnerable parts are the seams in between the individual panels of drywall. When shifting or settling causes strain on these points they can bulge or crack, creating visual scars and a further loss of integrity.

Like most construction work it is also important to follow safety precautions. Modern day drywall is a lot safer than it was in the past but still requires some level of care when handling extensively (source). Follow the instructions carefully on any materials you use and ensure you air out your workspace regularly. 

Causes of Drywall Cracks

We’ve discussed the risks of drywall, so now let’s look at what causes most cracks to begin with. When drywall is installed it is glued to the studs of the wall frame and then fastened further with nails or screws. These are essential to the support of the panels and points of significant strain for them as well.

Over time and from the building settling these points will bear a good deal of stress, increasing a likelihood of cracks forming here (source). This can also cause the nails or screws to push out causing damage to the compound covering them up. If not installed properly or the drywall is too thin this problem can quickly cause further damage as the other points bear a greater load.

Probably the most likely place for damage to occur is the seams of a drywall. The points where each panel meets another will always be under strain as each is independent of the other. Knocks taken to one panel will apply that force primarily on the joining edge. Any compound placed here is at a risk of cracking under this pressure.

Another cause of cracks to drywall is the compound itself that covers up the seams. If the application of this was not done properly then cracks are much more likely to occur. This can be from applying coats on top of still wet compound, or even from applying too thick of a layer of compound. Overall, this compound can be susceptible to damage.

To Tape or not to Tape

You’ve seen the possible damage drywall can incur so it makes sense to add as much extra protection as you can. Drywall tape is a prime example of this and a useful tool in preventing some of the risks discussed above. Exploring the benefits in more detail will paint a better picture of this impact.

Quick and Durable Connection

Perhaps the most important benefit of using the tape is that it can provide additional support to the most vulnerable part of the drywall. The seams between each panel will likely be the first parts to show wear and tear. The drywall tape will provide a uniform and resilient barrier against this damage (source).

Due to the natural flexibility of the tape, the shifts between two adjoined panels will not break it, unlike the drywall compound which could crack under the strain. This tensile strength affords limited movement while still holding everything in place. The speed of application is also a big factor in why it’s so often used. Drywall projects are usually quite extensive so any improvements on the time taken will likely be appreciated.

Shrinking Compound and Heat

The drywall compound that glues the panels together and covers the seams is strong once solidified. However, as the paste dries to a solid state it also shrinks slightly. This means that any seams or large cracks will reappear as the compound sinks into it. The drywall tape prevents this by creating a buffer layer between the compound layers that won’t shrink as it cools.

By ensuring each layer of compound is thinly applied to the seams the natural shrinking is dramatically reduced. Due to the shape of the tape and the crease in the middle it also fits in between the seams of drywall perfectly, creating a flush connection. This provides a smooth finish to the wall.

As the drywall warms and cools throughout the changing seasons, there will also be a continuous strain on the compound. This will tend to cause cracks in thicker layers of the stuff and again requires tape to provide an additional support layer. The tape means less compound is used and in thinner layers.

Cheap and Flexible

The cost of drywall tape is minimal relative to the rest of the components involved in a drywall project. Added to this there is the versatility of drywall tape and the different types of tape available. Each type supports various uses better, making an all-round tool for drywall builds.

Types of Drywall Tape

Hopefully by now you’re sold on the benefit of tape in a drywall build. There are two main types of tape for this sort of job: paper tape and fiberglass mesh tape. Both of these have different advantages over the other.

Paper Drywall Tape

Paper tape is a popular choice for many drywall builders because it doesn’t stretch as much as other tapes, providing a sturdier connection between the panels (source). Any jostling from neighboring panels gets contained by the tape. In certain positions of the drywall this makes a considerable difference.

The unique thing about paper tape is that it doesn’t have any adhesive of its own. In order to attach it you must first apply a layer of compound to the surface. This makes paper tape usable with any type of drywall compound which is a versatile benefit.

The corners of drywall are notoriously difficult to tape down and secure. Paper tape is easier than others when it comes to crimping corners together. The smooth finish this creates in the corners is worth a lot to most drywall builders.

Fiberglass Mesh Tape

As the name implies this tape is made from interwoven fiberglass for added strength. The advantage of this is self-explanatory and makes it a firm contender to the more adaptable paper tape. Unfortunately, fiberglass mesh tape is more elastic than its paper version and can cause problems with regular strain or impacts on the panels.

Unlike the paper version this tape has its own adhesive which makes attaching it to the seams an easier process. It is also more resistant to moisture and as a result mold and similar degradation too. When it comes to choosing which tape to go with, it may be best to examine the situation and environment it will be in and match accordingly.

Final Thoughts

Drywall tape clearly has advantages to it. Just how beneficial it is comes down to knowing how and when to apply it. Armed with this information equips you to better deal with any drywall projects you encounter. Time to start getting creative with your walls.

Related Questions

What can I use instead of drywall tape? You can use mesh tape or fiberglass mesh tape instead of drywall tape.

Can you finish drywall without tape? For best results you should always use drywall tape. Not using tape will result in cracking in the drywall seams.

Can you use caulking instead of drywall mud? You should never use caulking over drywall mud. They each are used for their specific reasons. The gypsum in the caulking will not bond to drywall the way drywall mud will.

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