Joint Compound vs Spackle: What’s the Difference?

A few things annoy homeowners quite, like unsightly holes in the walls. Whether it’s a small spot when a nail is removed or a large hole caused by an item bashing into the sheetrock, finding a solution is typically a top priority. However, many people wonder, when it comes to joint compound vs. spackle, what’s the difference, and is one better for you?

Both joint compound and spackle are used for wall repair and construction. However, spackle is generally designed for smaller holes in drywall or plaster, while joint compound is typically needed to distinguish between sheetrock boards during construction.

But both spackle and joint compound have uses beyond those outlined above. If you want to learn more about joint compound vs. spackle and when you should use each product, here’s what you need to know.

Joint Compound vs Spackle

Joint Compound vs Spackle: Key Differences

Joint compound and spackle do have quite a bit in common. However, there are also some crucial differences. They’re designed with different purposes in mind. Additionally, their drying times, durability, ease of use, shrinkage, and price vary.

Understanding which option is best for your product means learning how the two stand apart. With that in mind, here’s an overview of the key differences between joint compound and spackle.

  Joint Compound Spackle
Uses Covering drywall seams, sheetrock repair, plaster repair Covering small holes in sheetrock or plaster
Texture and Consistency Thinner and spreadable Thicker
Drying Time Up to 24 hours 30 minutes to 1 hour
Durability More durable Less durable
Ease of Use Moderate to difficult Easy
Shrinkage High Little to none
Price Moderate to high due to the size of the containers Low to moderate since its sold in smaller quantities

What Is Joint Compound?

What Is Joint Compound

Joint compound – also referred to as drywall or sheetrock mud – is a putty-like compound made of gypsum, limestone, and other materials. It is most commonly used when installing sheetrock to seal seams. It’s also used to repair dents and fill medium-sized or larger holes in drywall or plaster.

Four primary types of joint compounds are designed for a specific function. All-purpose joint compound is useful for nearly any patching, while quick-setting is best for larger holes or deeper cracks. Taping joint compound goes over the seams during sheetrock installation to ensure the paper tape sticks, while topping joint compound is applied over the tape to create a smooth surface.

What Is Spackle?

What Is Spackle

Spackle is a putty-like material comprised of gypsum powder and various binders, most commonly used to fill small holes in sheetrock. In some cases, it can also disguise tiny dents and dings.

As with joint compound, there are several spackle formulas. Lightweight spackle is designed for small holes, cracks, and dings, while all-purpose spackle is a bit more versatile, acting closer to joint compound. Vinyl spackle is more flexible, outdoor-safe, and easy to sand, while acrylic spackle has similar characteristics and works well on stone, wood, brick, or plaster. Epoxy spackle is an oil-based version mainly used for wood.

What’s the Difference Between Joint Compound and Spackle?

Difference Between Joint Compound and Spackle

When it comes to the difference between joint compound vs. spackle, the overviews above give you a solid starting point. But to make the unique aspects clearer here’s a deep dive into joint compound vs. spackle.

Uses

Generally, joint compound is used in the construction of new walls or the installation of new sheetrock. It’s applied over the tape to cover the seams between the drywall pieces, giving the wall a smooth, even appearance.

Joint compound is also used for various drywall and plaster repairs. Since it’s easier to spread, it can fill larger dents, cracks, and holes with greater ease. However, you can also use it on smaller holes if you choose.

Spackle is mainly used for minor drywall damage, such as filling nail holes and can also cover minor dents and dings in the sheetrock.

Texture and Consistency

Generally speaking, both spackle and joint compound have putty-like consistencies. However, spackle is typically a bit thicker – not unlike toothpaste. Additionally, it’s reasonably easy to smooth since its texture gives it some support.

Joint compound is thinner than the spackle. Since it’s thinner, it’s typically harder to apply evenly, particularly if you’re inexperienced. As a result, homeowners who aren’t familiar with it may have difficulty applying it evenly.

Drying Time

When comparing joint compound vs. spackle, the drying times are significantly different. Joint compound can take up to 24 hours to dry. That means you’ll potentially need to wait a full day before applying an additional coat, sanding, or painting.

With spackle, drying is typically closer to 30 minutes to one hour, and may even be faster for tiny repairs, like a nail hole.

However, it’s important to note that drying times do vary by product. Review the manufacturer’s directions to see how long it is recommended.

Durability

Overall, joint compound is more durable than spackle. Once dry, it’s incredibly dense. Additionally, its composition gives it greater strength.

However, spackle is reasonably durable when used for its intended purpose. Once applied and painted over, you won’t see any issues in most cases if you only used it for a minor repair.

Ease of Use

Overall, spackle is easy to use for small repairs. In many cases, it comes in ready-to-use tubes with application tips. Since that’s the case, you can often fill a small hole, crack, or dent without needing extra tools. However, even without an applicator, you can smooth it quickly with a gloved finger or putty knife.

Joint compound is thinner, which can make it a bit more challenging to use if you aren’t familiar with its consistency. Additionally, it comes in larger containers, and you typically have to stir it before use. You’ll also need a separate spreader – like a putty knife – as it won’t come with an applicator.

However, joint compound is easier to sand than spackle. As a result, if you apply too much of the resulting surface is uneven, correcting it isn’t overly burdensome.

Shrinkage

When it comes to shrinkage, spackle comes out ahead when comparing joint compound vs. spackle. Spackle experiences little to no shrinkage. As a result, a single application is typically enough to address issues.

Joint compound noticeably shrinks as it dries. Multiple coats are typically necessary to finish a wall or tackle a repair.

Price

From a price perspective, spackle is usually less expensive per container, as it comes in small containers. However, when you look at the same volume or product and not individual container prices, joint compound is less expensive.

How to Apply Joint Compound When Installing Sheetrock

Remove Loose Drywall and Check Screws

Before you begin, take the time to remove loose drywall to create the smoothest possible starting surface. Additionally, check and screws to make sure they sit slightly below the surface of the drywall, tightening them if needed.

Apply the First Layer

Take the joint compound and fill a mud box about halfway. Use a 5-inch putty knife and load it with compound. Begin in the corner, holding the putty knife at a 25-degree angle to force the joint compound into the seams.

Along the way, remove the excess joint compound with the knife. Once the seams are done, swipe joint compound over the screws using the putty knife.

After that, you’ll also want to fill inside and outside corner seams on walls. Cover approximately two inches past the corners.

Apply Paper Tape

Once the joint compound is in place, you’ll apply paper tape. Work in 3-foot sections without tearing the paper from the role. Center the tape over the seam and press it into the compound.

Then, when you reach the end of a joint of corner, you can tear the tape. Use the putty knife to give you a straight edge and clean tear.

Smooth the Tape

After all the tape is up, take the putty knife and smooth it, going right to left or bottom to top. Keep the putty knife at a 25-degree angle and apply moderate pressure. Use a single stroke and remove any excess joint compound that collects. Then, repeat that process going left to right or top to bottom.

Let Dry

At this point, you want to let the joint compound dry overnight.

Sand the First Coat

The next day, you can sand the first coat. Use a sanding block for corners and a pole sander for the rest, applying even, gentle pressure to smooth rough areas. Just make sure you don’t sand down into the paper tape.

Apply Additional Coats

For additional coats, use a 10-inch putty knife; otherwise, use the process outlined in step two.

After the second coat, let it dry and sand it the next day. Follow that with a third coat, let it dry, and then sand.

Wipe Clean

Once the final sanding is complete, use a damp microfiber cloth to wipe away dust. At that point, you’re ready for primer.

Patching Small Holes with Spackle

Remove Loose Drywall

Before you attempt to patch the small hole, remove any loose drywall around it. This gives you a smoother starting surface, ensuring you don’t have protruding paper when you’re done.

Apply the Spackle

Take a small amount of spackle and apply it. If you have a built-in applicator on the tube, you can use that. Otherwise, go with a plastic putty knife.

As you apply, keep the applicator at a 45-degree angle. Gently pull it in a downward motion over the hole, using extra passes until the hole is filled.

Remove Excess Spackle

After filling the hole, take a clean putty knife and run it across the area. This will also smooth the edges and feather the spackle slightly, blending the repaired hole into the wall.

Let the Spackle Dry

Once the hole is filled and the excess is removed, let the spackle dry. Usually, this takes 30 minutes to one hour. However, drying times can vary from one product to the next, so refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for precise timelines.

Lightly Sand the Surface

While spackle is harder to sand than joint compound, that doesn’t mean it can’t be sanded smooth. Use a small piece of fine-grit sandpaper to carefully smooth the surface and blend the edges.

Wipe Away Dust

After sanding, take a clean, lightly damp microfiber cloth to wipe away any dust. Follow that up with a once-over with a dry microfiber cloth.

How to Patch Small Holes with Joint Compound

Remove Loose Drywall

Before you fill the hole, make sure to remove any loose drywall that gives you the evenest surface possible, making the process easier.

Apply Joint Compound

Use a putty knife to pick up a small amount of joint compound. Run the joint compound over the hole using a smooth, downward motion. Hold the putty knife at a 45-degree angle as you work, applying only light pressure.

Continue applying joint compound using that process until the hole is filled.

Remove Excess Joint Compound

Clean off your putty knife. Then, use the same approach above to remove excess, smooth the surface, and feather the edges.

Let It Dry

After filling the hole, let the joint compound completely dry. This process can take up to 24 hours, though it’s usually shorter for small repairs. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions to see how long you need to wait.

Apply Additional Joint Compound

After the joint compound dries, check the hole and look for shrinkage. If you see any, repeat steps two through four before looking for shrinkage again. Repeat the process as required until the hole is filled and the last coat is dry.

Sand the Surface

After the final coat dries, take fine-grit sandpaper to sand the surface. This lets you smooth the edges and ensure the final result is as flat as possible.

Wipe Clean

After sanding, take a damp microfiber cloth to remove any dust, then follow that up with a pass or two using a dry microfiber cloth.

Patching Medium-Sized Holes with Joint Compound

Remove Loose Drywall

The first step you need to take is to remove any loose drywall. This ensures pieces that may come detached over time are addressed and gives you the smoothest starting surface.

Sand Around the Hole

Use fine-grit sandpaper and gently sand the wall around the whole. This roughs the surface a bit, making it easier for the backing material to adhere.

Apply Mesh Tape

Medium-sized holes (typically up to two inches in diameter) need a backing material to ensure the joint compound adheres. Usually, mesh tape is the simplest solution, available at most hardware and home improvement stores.

Cover the hole and the sanded area with mesh tape. Make sure to press firmly to ensure it adheres to the wall. If you have adhesion issues, remove the tape, sand a bit more, and try again with a new piece.

Apply the Joint Compound

Once the tape is in place, you can start applying joint compound. You want the joint compound to fully cover the holes, the seams and extend a bit beyond them onto the wall. Usually, around ¼-inch to ½-inch is sufficient, though you’ll want to check the manufacturer’s directions to see what it recommends.

Take a putty knife and use it to scoop up some joint compound. Keep the putty knife at a 45-degree angle and gently pull it downward. Continue applying joint compound until the tape and hole are no longer visible.

Remove Excess

After the hole and tape are covered with joint compound, clean the putty knife and use it to remove any excess. This also lets you feather the edges and smooth the surface a bit.

Let the Joint Compound Dry

After applying the first coat, let the joint compound dry completely. This can take up to 24 hours, depending on the product. Make sure to check the manufacturer’s directions to see how much time is typical.

Apply Additional Joint Compound

Once the first coat dries, check the repair to see if there’s any shrinkage. If the mesh tape or hole is visible, repeat steps four through six before checking for shrinkage. If needed, repeat steps four through six until the hole is filled after drying and the tape isn’t visible.

Sand the Surface

After the final coat dries, use fine-grit sandpaper to smooth the surface and use wide, side-to-side movements to get an overall finish.

Wipe Clean

When you’re done sanding, take a damp microfiber cloth and wipe the dust off the wall. Then, use a dry microfiber cloth to remove excess moisture.

Can You Use Joint Compound Instead of Spackle?

If you’re in a bind, you can use joint compound instead of spackle to make small repairs. It will fill small holes, cracks, and dents, leaving a clean surface.

However, joint compound is more prone to shrinkage. Since that’s the case, you may need to apply several layers to ensure a hole, crack, or dent is filled. For small issues, this can feel a little cumbersome.

Additionally, joint compound takes far longer to dry. You typically can’t paint over it for up to 24 hours. If you were hoping to refinish a room quickly, that could make joint compound a less desirable option when compared to spackle.

Can You Use Spackle Instead of Joint Compound?

In most cases, spackle isn’t a good substitute for joint compound. Its consistency and quicker drying times make it ill-suited to cover drywall tape or handle larger dents, cracks, or holes.

Spackle is also sold in much smaller containers. If you’re installing new sheetrock, the number of containers of spackle you’d need would be incredibly high.

Plus, spackle isn’t easy to sand. As a result, you might be unable to quickly smooth it out after using it to fill sizeable holes, cracks, or dents. That could leave you with some noticeable unevenness, harming the overall look of your project.

Joint Compound vs. Spackle: Which Should You Choose?

Ultimately, when it comes to joint compound vs. spackle, the best option depends on your project. For small holes, dents, and cracks, spackle is the better choice. For sealing drywall seams and larger holes, cracks, and divets, stick with joint compound.

Did you learn everything you wanted to find out about joint compound vs. spackle? If so, let us know in the comments. Also, if you know someone who needs to choose the right product for their project, make sure to share the article.

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