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Nail pop repair


Eye protection, either safety glasses or safety goggles, should always be worn whenever preparing surfaces for paint. Respiratory system protection should be worn whenever you are creating dust or working in a dusty environment. Respiratory system protection should also be worn whenever you are applying solvent-based materials. Eye and respiratory system protection products can be purchased wherever workplace safety equipment is sold.

Before the widespread use of drywall screws, drywall was fastened with drywall nails. Early drywall nails had a smooth shaft (without grip-enhancing rings) and lacked the holding power of today’s drywall screws and ringed drywall nails. During drywall installation, drywall nails were hammered into place and driven approximately 1/8” below the surface creating a drywall nail “dimple.” The dimple was filled with two or three coats of drywall joint compound during the finishing process. The dried joint compound, when sanded, made the dimple flush to the surface and ready for priming and painting.

Nail pop definition

A nail pop is the loosening of a drywall nail from its dimple. Over time, the loosening motion will often cause the joint compound and paint directly over a nail pop to bulge and crack. Early drywall nails are prone to popping from their dimples during structural movement and settling. An unusually cold winter or rainy spring will often cause a few drywall nails to pop.


Before beginning nail pop repair

Repairing nail pops often requires the use of a hammer. Hammering causes surface vibrations that can dislodge pictures, artworks, wall hangings, ceiling hangings, shelf items and table items in the room where you are working and adjacent rooms. Dislodged items can fall causing damage to the item, other possessions, interior surfaces, furniture and flooring surfaces. Remove all pictures, wall and ceiling hangings, shelf items and table items from the room where you are working and adjacent rooms before beginning nail pop repair.

Nail pop repair

Nail pops that protrude just slightly may only need to be re-dimpled below the surface. Remove a popped nail with the claw on the back of the hammer or a Cat’s Paw tool if the nail has lifted far enough from the surface to dislodge the joint compound covering it. Rusted nails should also be removed. Place a paint stirring stick under the claw of your hammer or the claw or your Cat’s Paw tool to protect the surface during nail removal. A rusted drywall nail can indicate an ongoing water leak that needs repair.

If the nail was removed, use a drill driver with magnetic drive guide or dimpling bit to drive a 1 3/8” drywall screw into the nail hole. To provide extra support for the nail pop repair, drive a screw two inches on ether side of the repair along the ceiling joist. Drywall screws should be driven just below the surface. Remove the 1 3/8” drywall screw and use a 1 ¼” drywall screw if the 1 3/8” drywall screw can not be driven just below the surface. Drywall nails can be substituted for drywall screws in this step. If nails are used, dimple them approximately one-eighth inch below the surface with either a claw hammer or drywall hammer.

Use a putty knife to remove any cracked or loosened surface material after hammering or driving screws. Remove fine debris with a duster. Apply joint compound with a 6” taping knife to fill nail dimples or cover driven screws.
Allow drying. Apply a second coat of drywall joint compound. Allow drying. When the repair is flush to the surface, then sand with fine-grit sandpaper or a fine-grit sanding sponge. Remove sanding dust with a wiping cloth or towel before priming and painting. Slightly dampening the wiping cloth with help to control dust.

Note: Numerous nail pops on a ceiling may indicate the need to refasten sagging ceiling drywall.
(See article: Supporting cracked ceiling drywall and refastening sagging ceiling drywall)

More detailed coverage of this topic can be found in the book:
The Homeowner's Guide to Surface Preparation for Interior House Painting, on pages 124-129.

All content copyright Steve Broujos LLC