Spackle vs. Joint Compound: What are the Differences?

Most houses built within the last 80 years or so have walls made almost entirely of drywall. Using drywall to build walls has become the norm as of late, and there are several benefits of using it, but the problem that many people face – especially those with children who feel the need to punch holes into drywall whenever they get the chance – is that it’s not very durable.

Instead of replacing panels entirely, there are several products you can use to fill up drywall damage. All you need to repair drywall is some spackle or joint compound. Either one of these products can do the trick; the tricky part is determining which of them to use.

For the most part, spackle and joint compound can be used interchangeably in almost every scenario. However, if producing a seamless finish on drywall panels is your aim (and it should be), then you should know in most cases, only one of these materials should be used. So which one do you need exactlyLet’s find out together.

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What is Spackle?

Spackle is a paste-like substance that has more in common with joint compound than you might initially have thought. The main ingredient used to manufacture spackle is gypsum.

The name spackle is trademarked by the Muralo Company. Most places in the world know of spackle as polyfilla, though there are minor differences in their compositions. If you come across polyfilla at your local retailer, you should know that it’s essentially identical to spackle in appearance and use.

Spackle Uses

If you’ve read this article this far, you should already know that spackle is a filler used to repair damage in drywall. After purchasing a small tub of the stuff, all that’s left to do is mix it with water following the manufacturer’s instructions until it becomes a smooth but thick paste.

Spackle has several uses for the average home repairman. Firstly, spackling paste is used to fill in cracks and minor imperfections in drywall panels. Using a trowel, simply apply the paste onto the damaged part of the wall and voila! After 30 minutes, it’ll be as good as new, though the spackled patch could use a fresh coat of paint.

Spackling paste dries extremely quickly, which is something that any home renovator should be aware of. After letting the paste sit for around 30 minutes, it should be ready for a quick sanding and painting to match the patch with the rest of the drywall panel.

The best thing about spackle is that when it dries, it does not shrink. Shrinkage is quite a huge problem in a joint compound as it can lead to cracking later on.

Downsides

It may seem that spackle should be the go-to material for basic wall repair tasks, and that’s exactly what it is. Spackle should be used for quick-fixing small drywall damage. Using spackle to cover an entire drywall panel or several hundred square feet of drywall just isn’t economical.

Spackle is sold in tinier containers than joint compound and thus will cost you quite a bit to cover a wider area. It’d be nice if you could use spackle for every drywall panel in your home, but if you’re working on a budget or doing contract work, this is not the most sensible thing to do. Other than the cost factor, there isn’t any downside to using spackle.

What is Joint Compound?

Joint compound is a compound consisting of gypsum dust, the same material that makes up spackle and drywall. Joint compound is typically sold in powder form in sacks, though there are pre-mixed tubs and buckets of the stuff available.

Like spackle, joint compound needs to be mixed with water to produce a smooth paste which should be about the same viscosity as frosting. When properly mixed, joint compound is extremely easy to apply to drywall and even plastered surfaces. The final result should be a smooth base, either indoors or out, ready for a fresh coat of color.

Joint Compound Uses

Although joint compound can technically be used to fill in small gaps in drywall, its main use is to cover large surfaces before painting. Joint compound gives a smooth surface that won’t create smudge marks or leave globs of paint to dry in one spot with proper painting skills.

Like spackle, joint compound can also be used to fill in cracks or damage to drywall. The main difference is that joint compound is cheaper to make and is thus cheaper to fill in larger cracks. This is what makes joint compound the perfect material for large wall repair projects.

Downsides

But with cheaper costs comes a greater downside: shrinking. In the section about spackle, we spoke how joint compound shrinks. This is a problem in the drying process that is entirely unavoidable. The best way to mitigate shrinkage is by applying multiple coats in thinner layers, but even then shrinking, especially when it’s exposed to moisture, can still occur.

In general, pre-mixed joint compound shrinks more severely than powdered joint compound that you mix yourself. This is something you should consider if you plan on undertaking a large-scale wall repair project and need to repair several tiny holes.

Another considerable downside of joint compound is that it hardens when exposed to moisture in the air, even before it’s mixed with water. This can become an expensive issue if you purchase bags of the stuff and place it in a moist room like a garage or basement.

Spackle vs. Joint Compound – Conclusion

Most homeowners and amateur wall repairmen will probably make the mistake of viewing spackle and joint compound as identical products. Although this may be true in a sense, finding distinctions between the two is rather simple if you’ve done your research.

Most wall repair jobs will call for the use of both spackle and joint compound – the former for fixing minor gaps in drywall and the latter for filling in larger damaged spots. Spackle is not suited for large-scale projects, mainly because of its higher price tag per tub. If you’re using joint compound for smaller gaps, your best bet is to get a tub of pre-mixed joint compound with a tight-fitting lid to prevent it from drying out.

If you’re not renovating a room or fixing drywall damage, it’s a good idea to have a tub of spackle on hand for just-in-case moments where your kids karate-punch their walls to oblivion.

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Joint Compound
Joint Compound
Joint Compound
Spackle Compound
Spackle Compound
Spackle Compound

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