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A Complete Guide to the Different Drywall Finishing Levels

A Complete Guide to the Different Drywall Finishing Levels

If you’ve been in the contracting business for a while, then you probably know all the basics of drywalling. But even though the same principles apply, sometimes, new methods come into play to make the job easier. Let us provide a refresher on some of the different drywall finishing levels with an overview from this complete guide.

What Is Drywall Finishing?

Drywall finishing is the process of mudding, taping, and coating drywall to fortify walls and prepare them for paint.

Prefill Preparation

Prefill any joints or gaps in the drywall with a thin coat of hot mud. To accomplish this, use a powdery joint compound mixed with water before applying. When you prefill, ensure you’ve positioned all your joint screws correctly, then smooth and cover uneven surfaces. Prefill also helps hold all your screws in place.

Tape Your Mud

Apply taping mud along the joint, then place and press drywall tape over it. Taping the covers separates drywall panels and smooths the wall surface while reinforcing exposed areas like the corners and helping them hold their shapes.

Consider using an automatic taping tool to help make your job easier. The taper applies the correct amount of joint compound to all flat and internal angle joints on the walls and ceilings.

Coat the Tape

Coat the tape with a layer of topping compound. Use powdery mud mixed with water after the taping mud has dried.

After completing the coating process, you can prepare and complete the drywall finishing levels. Depending on the finishing level and the size of your job, start collecting the proper tools you will need.

Drywall Finishing Levels

Drywall finishing requires a great deal of craftsmanship. Because finishing is the last step in the drywall process, you have no room for error or opportunities to fix previous mistakes. You must get it right the first time. So going over a refresher before you begin is wise.

Level 0

Contractors consider level zero a temporary construction, meaning you don’t need any drywall taping or finishing. You can also use this level when you haven’t decided on a finish yet. You only need to fasten your drywall to the walls and ceiling at this level.

Level 1

In level one, you embed joint drywall tape in a joint compound. The drywall joints and angles have the tape in the mud, but the joint compound doesn’t cover fasteners. You need to tape your flats, butts, and angles for this level. Coat your screws with coating mud.

Level 2

You’ll use level two drywall finish when using a water-resistant board as a tile substrate. You skim a coat of joint compound over the tape during this level and cover the drywall screw holes. The joint compound covers the fasteners and accessories, but you can still see tool marks and ridges.

Level 3

Level three, like level two, includes having the tape embedded in a joint compound and wiped to leave a thin coat over the interior angles and joints. Contractors refer to this level as a skim coat.

Level three requires an extra coating of joint compound applied over the joints and interior angles while covering the fasteners and accessories with two layers of compound coatings.

There are no tool marks and ridges at this level. After properly preparing the surface, finish off with a drywall primer before the final decoration.

Level 4

In level four, repeat the previous steps, apply another coat of joint compound to the tape and screws, and sand the dried compound. Make sure you conceal all joints and fasteners so that they won’t show under a wall covering’s flat or glossy paint or light pattern.

Coat everything three times to remove all shallow or hollow sections on the drywall sheet. You shouldn’t see any tool marks or ridges of any kind. Contractors refer to this level as the smooth finish.

Level 5

Level five is the highest level of drywall finishing, which involves applying a skimming coat. You need to conceal all imperfections flawlessly.

Ensure you concealed the fasteners and accessories with three coatings for best results. Lastly, finish the entire surface with a skim coat of joint compound to ensure the smoothness of the surface. You can apply the skim coat in three different ways:

  • Use a roller: Roll thinned joint compound onto the wall with a thick-nap roller. Scrape off any excess.
  • Use a taping knife: Apply a series of six or eight dabs of mud 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Scrape off excess mud.
  • Spray finish: Professional contractors use spray equipment to spray on drywall compounds.

Drywall Finishing Materials

Drywall finishing requires materials and tools to complete each level correctly.

Joint Compound

When completing your finishing levels, you can either choose a powdered mud joint compound or a premixed mud. The powdered mud dries in about 20 minutes after you mix it with water. This mud expands as it dries, which helps during the prefilling process.

Premixed mud is made from gypsum and other materials. This compound comes mixed with water and takes longer to dry than powdered mud. Use this compound for taping, coating, and texturing.

Drywall Tape

You can use paper tape or mesh when working on a drywall job. Use paper tape for general taping needs because it’s sturdier and holds shape well. Mesh tape is stickier than paper and does not require taping mud.

Finishing Knives

As far as knives go, you have a variety of drywall finishing blades to choose from. We can set you up with some of the most durable and reliable drywall taping knives at Timothy’s Toolbox. The blades seal the tape to the wall and scrape off any excess compound.

Jobs That Require Certain Drywall Finishing Levels

Certain jobs require certain drywall finishing levels. Here are a few examples of common jobs you might complete:

Garages and Attics

Use finishing levels one and two for garages and attics to achieve a successful drywall job. You won’t need to worry about mudding and sanding an area of the home that people rarely see.


Kitchen cabinets cover a large portion of this room, so when working on this area, you only need to focus on finishing levels one through four. Five is not required here.


Ceilings get raked with natural light, and you don’t want to see any bumps or pops. They require a level five finishing to them.

For any more refreshers or guidance on drywall finishing levels or projects, visit our website.

A Complete Guide to the Different Drywall Finishing Levels
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