DIY Finishing Recessed Drywall Joints

This page contains instructions for finishing recessed drywall joints with paper tape and ready-mixed joint compound. Recessed drywall joints are formed when two sheets of drywall are mated together along the finished edges, this forms a slight depression between the sheets that can be taped and filled with joint compound to create a smooth, level wall or ceiling surface.

bucket of joint compound

Use Ready-Mixed Joint Compound

Use ready-mixed joint compound for this job, this is a wet mud used straight from the container. It dries slowly and is soft relative to other types of mud like setting-type compound.

cutting paper drywall tape

Cut the Tape

Use paper drywall tape to cover the seam between the two drywall sheets. Unroll the tape along each joint to be finished and cut it a little longer than the required length. Cut the paper squarely using a joint knife as shown to press firmly while pulling back quickly on the tape to tear it.

applying a first coat of mud to a drywall seam

Apply a First Coat of Mud

Work on one joint at a time and cover it with a thick coat of mud. Use crossing strokes with the blade to coat the seam and drywall, from one end to the other, with about ½in of mud.

applying paper joint tape to a drywall seam

Apply the Paper Tape

Place a strip of tape squarely at one end of the seam, pressing lightly to stick it into the mud. Pull it out along the remainder of the seam pressing lightly along the length. At the other end cut the tape off squarely.

If the other end is at a floor, cut it so the baseboard molding will cover it. If it ends at a corner with another wall or ceiling cut the tape squarely so it butts right up next to the other surface.

skimming mud over drywall joint tape

Skim Off the Mud

Hold a 6 inch joint knife at about 30° and starting a few inches from one end, draw the knife along while holding the end of the tape down with your other hand. Press hard enough to squeeze out all but a thin coat of mud from between the wall and the paper to stick the tape down. The paper will become soft from the wet mud so be careful not to tear it with the knife blade.

skimming the end of a drywall seam

Finish Out the End

Stroke back in the opposite direction at the end to finish it to the corner before continuing down the seam to the other end. Go back over the whole seam a second time to squeeze as much mud as possible from under the tape and stick the tape down tightly.

Return the excess mud to the rim of the pan as it collects on the knife blade to avoid spreading it to unwanted places. Go over the edges of the mud coat to skim off any buildup there and avoid excess sanding later.

applying a second coat of compound over the seam

Apply a Second Coat of Mud

When the first mud coat has dried, apply a second over the seam using a wider joint knife. Work in crossing strokes to cover the tape and fill the depression between the drywall sheets with a thick coat of mud. Overlap the edges of the first coat to leave a wider joint that covers the first application completely.

floating joint compound over the seam

Float the Joint

Immediately skim off the excess mud from the joint. Rest the knife blade on the high point along each side of the depression, while "floating" the blade over the center to level it with the surrounding wall. Don't press too hard on the center of the blade, this will cause it to bow and create a perceptible dip in the finished seam. Allow the mud to dry and repeat this step as many times as needed to completely level the joint.

checking for a level drywall seam

Check for a Level Seam

Check to be sure the seam is level by holding the knife perpendicular to the wall surface, look for any gap between the blade and the wall that would indicate the depression is not quite level. Apply a third or fourth coat of mud if necessary to smooth the joint. Let the final coat dry for 6 to 12 hours and lightly sand with medium grit sandpaper to finish the job.