How To Spackle and Sand Walls For A Smooth Finish

Spackling and sanding drywall is fun! Ask anyone that’s done it and they’ll look at you and smile real wide.

OK…so the big smile may not mean they had fun spackling and sanding! What their smiling eyes are really trying to tell you is… “You really don’t know what you’re getting yourself into, do you? But go ahead and knock yourself out.”

Spackle is so versatile that you would be surprised at the many ways that people put it to use. For example, check out this crazy video for “Crack Spackle” from The Man Show. You’ll never look at spackle in quite the same way ever again. WARNING: Plumbers crack on display!

See… spackle is amazing stuff!

Anyway, back to reality and how most people put spackle to use. Well…I’ve got news for the DIY-type out there that hasn’t tackled this particular project yet but is willing to give it a shot with good advice and is not afraid to get dirty.


In my recent post about the best way to remove wallpaper I mentioned that spackling and sanding was stage 2 of our bathroom remodeling project, so with putty knife and respirator in hand, it’s time we dove right in.

I was not looking forward to this step of our project, although I knew what needed to be done to prep the walls for painting.

Rather than that, it was due to the sheer number of drywall anchor holes that needed repair combined with the fact that the wallpaper we removed was not pre-primed before it was applied and that our enthusiastic little helper had a grand time with the Paper Tiger (a scoring device) by applying just a bit too much pressure.

TIP: Priming the walls before the wallpaper is applied will allow for much easier removal.


How To Spackle Drywall Holes

P1130221.JPGFirst things first. You must buy a good, tight dust mask or respirator to protect your lungs while sanding. The brand I bought was made by 3M (model 8210plus). It worked very well and I had no ill effects from the dust during or after sanding.

By the way, the dust you see in my hair (what’s left of it) in the photo has aged me a decade, or so. There was a lot of dust!

Buy a quality brand of spackling paste, a couple of different widths of putty knives and a sanding block (or sponge) — preferably the type with a medium grit on one side and a fine grit on the other.

That’s all you need to repair drywall anchor holes, nail holes, slight imperfections and wherever the backing paper on the wall board may have torn if you removed the wallpaper.

P1130225.JPGThere’s really nothing to filling the holes. Put a little on your small or medium putty knife and fill all of the holes and even out any chips or imperfections you see.

Now is your chance!

The spackle in the deeper holes will bulge out initially, but don’t worry about it. Deeper holes may have to be spackled and sanded 2-3 times for a proper repair. You really need very little spackle for the tinier holes so smooth over it and scrape off as much as possible. Remember…you have to sand off any excess later which translates into more dust.

The deeper holes and divots will take a few hours to thoroughly dry and you can’t rush it. Be patient and take advantage of a little down time to work on some of the other honey-do items on your list… or play with the kids for awhile.


Sanding Technique is Key to a Smooth Wall

P1130228.JPGTime to start sanding.

I used a multi-grit sanding sponge that fits in the palm of your hand made by Norton. It worked beautifully and we were able to sand the entire bathroom with only 2 of them — although I was beating the dust out of them frequently to keep the grit raised.

I’d highly recommend a sanding sponge due to cost, convenience and ease of use. It fits in the palm of your hand so it gives you excellent feel while applying varying degrees of pressure. I did not use the sanding sheets you see in the photo. I thought I would need them but I liked the sponges so much that there was no need for it. You may prefer a sanding block to the sponge. It’s up to you.

In order to get the walls to the smoothness of the original wall, I used the medium grit side of the sanding sponge to sand away the majority of the excess spackle. I then turned the sponge over to the fine grit side to smooth it down. I smoothed it out with steadily decreasing pressure to leave no trace that it had been sanded. The result was spectacular if I do say so myself!


Prime Before You Paint

Stir the primer with a paint stick and then close the lid tightly and shake it up thoroughly. Gravity separates primer quite dramatically so take your time here and mix it thoroughly.

Open all of the windows in the vicinity for fresh air to circulate. The fumes from the Kilz primer that I used were profound, so I took a few quick breaks to get fresh air in my lungs. Bathrooms are infamous for having no windows and ours is no exception. I didn’t use a respirator, but you certainly could for this step of the operation.

P1130257.JPG  P1130259.JPG
Tape off any areas you don’t want painted and begin by painting the borders of a wall and around obstacles with a cheap, 2″ angled brush.

Why cheap? It’s quicker and easier to throw away a $2 brush rather than thoroughly cleaning it with mineral spirits, etc. (…especially at 1 o’clock in the morning when I finished priming). Save the expensive brush for the paint.

Finish it off with the (cheap throwaway) roller and wait an hour or two for it to dry.

You may then begin to paint.

Randy Boerstler

Randy Boerstler

Writing a home building blog that chronicles new homes during different phases of construction from a consumers' point-of-view is rather unique and loads of fun. Basically, my tips are a collection of checklists for what I think should (and should not) go into building a quality home. So let's have fun seeing what's new in the housing market these days!

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  • Upthedubs

    i tried to put dimples on my ceiling put came out in blobs and patches in differant places whit can i do to fix this mess

  • Pelican

    I have used a round orbital palm sander
    on sanding, you have to careful to keep the sander moving evenly and smoothly.
    Don’t press down hard use a lighter touch because it does work faster.
    Due to the motor fan it does throw the dust around.

  • Lil Eddie

     Great post! What a very interesting one. Actually, I really have problems regarding on my house flooring and wallpaper. Hopefully, this blog will help me a lot. Thank you so much. I really, really appreciated it.

  • Marielibassi2

    Hi Randy, 

    Great blog post (and very helpful!) I’m a college student getting ready to transform my childhood bedroom on my summer off, but I have a few questions. and I’m wondering if you have any tips. My bedroom was an addition that my parents put on the house a few years back, since the wood has started to settle from the addition, the paint on my ceiling has started to crack where a sloped part of the ceiling meets the level part. Is there anything I can do to get rid of the crack before I repaint the ceiling? Sand it maybe? Also, as a little kid I decided I wanted to paint the walls a bit but left some clumps of paint on some parts of it. Years later, my dad and I just painted over my childhood masterpieces but the clumps are still present. How would you go about fixing that? 

    Thank you!!

    • Randy

      Marielibassi2…depending on how deep the masterpieces are, you might want to “re-mud” the entire wall, or the area that is surrounding it and sand it smooth. Check with your local home improvement store for details. Be sure to take photos with you.