Drywall lifts are tools that assist hangers with placing drywall in high areas. Ceilings are an example of high areas that benefit from drywall lifts. Trying to drywall a ceiling without one is nothing short of frustrating. Some hangers swear by drywall lifts, while others insist that a delicate balancing act with drywall placed atop the head performs the job just as well.
But let’s face it. If you have a large ceiling that needs to be placed ten to twelve feet into the air or higher, the “head technique” just isn’t cut it. Not only that, but repetitive use of this technique can cause permanent damage to your neck. So let’s talk a little bit about drywall lifts.
Drywall lifts are basically devices that transport drywall into the air. To use one, secure a sheet of drywall onto its cradle and raise it to the ceiling by manually cranking it. The lift will keep the sheet secured while you use a ladder to reach pertinent areas and nail or screw the sheet into support beams (joists).
With Or Without Drywall Lifts?
As you attach a ceiling to a ceiling’s beam, either with or without drywall lifts, you’ll want to nail the drywall into place (support beams) while walking backward. This way, you can monitor your progress and ensure that you’re placing those nails in a straight line.
Ceiling nails should be about seven inches apart. When nailing is complete, you can reinforce the ceiling with a second set of nails placed two inches from your earlier nails. This reinforcement will counteract natural gravity, which will attempt to loosen the drywall from the beams that it’s attached to.
Working Alone and Without A Lift
Without access to drywall lifts, you might have luck with rigging up one of your own with the materials you have around you. You’ll need a short ladder, a T-brace, a plank, and a box (or another short ladder). Set a plank in-between the rungs of each ladder to build a “catwalk.” Use the T-brace (2 x 4s nailed together in the shape of a tall “T”) to prop up one side of the drywall and move the T-brace along with you while you walk across the plank nail the drywall into the ceiling’s support beams.
The danger with this strategy, and consequently why drywall lifts are preferable, is that the T-brace is prone to slip while you hammer away. This danger doesn’t exist when using drywall lifts because T-braces aren’t even part of the equation.
Another strategy is to make or purchase drywall jacks. These guys are constructed similarly to how T-braces are made. They’re used two at a time to hold up a panel of drywall while a ladder-supported construction worker nails it.
Working With Others Without A Lift
When several workers place drywall onto ceiling support beams, they may use something similar to what’s described above rather than drywall lifts. But instead of using a T-brace, they use a partner to hold and prop up an end of a drywall panel. In addition, they place planks on horses and walk along them while they secure the drywall onto a ceiling.
Tips on Using a Drywall Lift
Installing drywall on a ceiling is usually at least a two-person project, but a drywall lift can serve as a second or third set of hands, letting one or two people work the job. You can rent a drywall lift for around 40-90$ a day or buy one if you will be doing lots of drywalling.
You lift a sheet onto a horizontal cradle, which then tilts vertically, then jack it up to the ceiling with a manual crank. The lift retains the drywall sheet in the proper location, leaving you free to screw or nail it to the joists/studs.
The only hard part left for you is lifting your sheet of drywall a couple feet to load it on the lift cradle. Gypsum sheetrock panels can weigh up to 120 pounds each. Here are a few tips to make using a drywall lift easier and safer.
- Lift only single sheets at a time- separate loads before lifting.
- Lift one end of the panel and slide it onto the cradle rather than lifting the panel in the middle and bearing the whole weight. Most drywall lifts have rolling casters to allow you to load where your panels are and transport them to the installation location.
- Several drywall lift manufacturers supply lift loaders, which will mechanically load the panel onto the lift cradle. Tel makes a nice one.
- For common ½ inch drywall sheets, the maximum length that should be lifted by one person is 12 feet for 5/8 inch panels, max. The length is 10 feet.
- When you take delivery of the panels, store them propped up with the bottom edge on a half dozen 2x4s spaced along the length. This leaves room for you to get your hand under a sheet easily, and you also have 2 inches less distance to lift- every little bit helps.
- Never support overhead panels during lifting with use head or hardhat- use your hands and arms or a lift. Do not risk a neck injury.
- Avoid lifting drywall sheets vertically with both hands on the bottom of the sheet. You are at greater risk of losing your balance and falling. Use a lift or two sets of hands at the edges of the panel.
As you can see, nailing up a ceiling is no easy feat and working without drywall lifts has the potential to make it harder than it needs to be.