To Spackle or Not to Spackle

I keep seeing people directed to my site as they search for spackle guidance. I feel bad that I have absolutely nothing of value to offer, so I thought I would write something up for them. Especially since all I’m doing is painting trim in the hallway. It’s a sad day when spackle is more entertaining than what you are actually doing. That’s really sad actually.

When do you spackle?

You may have heard of both spackle and joint compound for patching holes in walls. When do you use one or the other? Spackle is best for nail holes or smaller (although I’ve used them on cable holes too). Joint compound is for larger patch jobs. Joint compound needs drywall tape or a mesh patch to help create some kind of foundation for the compound since you are using it for something that doesn’t have it’s own support; aka, the hole.

Spackle is kind of powdery while joint compound is smooth and goopier. Spackle usually dries quickly while joint compound can take a little longer.

How much spackle do I need? I’ve always kept a little 8oz container of spackle around and used it when I had small patch jobs like the nail holes from re-positioning pictures (Because I never hang something in the right spot the first time. Ever.). I’ve never had a hole that required joint compound until recently when the process of removing baseboard glued to the wall caused some dents. These dents are about 2 inches wide and 1.5 inches high.

How much does spackle cost? The little 8oz container of spackling paste cost me $3.98 at Home Depot. I’ve never managed to use up a whole container. I keep them for a few years and then replace it when it starts to dry out. The joint compound in the first picture cost $5.98.

How do you spackle? We’re just going to spackle in this post. Because I have so little experience with joint compound, I don’t feel like I’m in a position to be authoritative about that, plus there is already a great tutorial for that here.


  • Spackle
  • Palette knife (aka joint knife, aka drywall knife)

Big patch material on the left, small patch material on the right.

Step 1: Clean up the hole. There is often some paper from the drywall sticking out. Pull or tear it off so the surface is relatively smooth. You don’t want any bumps, only indentations that we’ll fill.

Step 2: Scoop a little spackling paste onto your knife. You will only need enough to fill the hole. Most of the time a scoop the size of a quarter is more than enough and you won’t use all of it.

Step 3: You will run the knife across the hole to press in the spackle paste. Take advantage of the flex your knife has and apply a wee bit of pressure. Not a lot. Your knife is at about a 20% angle. Don’t worry about the extra that will splooch out along the sides of the knife.

Step 4: Come back across and lightly scrape the surface taking up the extra spackle. I hold the knife at a slightly different angle for this; about 45 degrees. Don’t worry if you still see an indentation at the hole. It will take a few passes to get the right spackle ratio in there.

Step 5: Repeat steps 3 and 4 several times, changing directions, to work the spackle in until it looks like no more spackling paste can go in the hole.

Step 6: If you feel like your feathering needs a little help, you can gently wipe your patch with a barely damp sponge (wet the sponge and then squeeze ALL the water out of it). You can also go back and lightly sand if you feel the surface is uneven. I find that spackle is soft and dusty enough that just lightly brushing my fingers across the patch will often feather it enough that I almost never use a sponge or sandpaper.

For really small holes such as from tacks or a really thin nail, I’ll just fill the hole with spackle and I don’t even worry about the feathering. I’ll just scrape and wipe off the spackle outside the hole. For these super small ones, you won’t even notice the spackle. This is great in apartments or somewhere the wall may be white already and you may not be painting.

When it is dry, run your hand across it to see if the surface feels smooth. Sometimes, when the spackle dries, it will shrink into the hole a little so don’t worry if you come back and there is an indentation again. Just spackle again using the same technique and let it dry.

Spackle does not take a long time to dry so you can paint over the patch very quickly. Check the drying time on your spackle container. I have one that says 30 minutes and the other says 3 hours.

When this patch dried, it shrank into the hole a little. Just go back and repeat the process and it will fill in nicely.

If you have a hole in wood, such as a nail hole in trim, it is better to fill with wood filler. The consistency will be a closer match which makes the patch less visible. This is a great resource for more information on wood filler.

Spackling holes is a great project for non-DIY people. It is very inexpensive and easy to do.

Sites I used as references:


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One Response to To Spackle or Not to Spackle

  1. Sue says:

    Beautiful! Hubby placed a nail on a lovely piece of white, glossy painted molding (SP?) for ease of use. It is ugly. I need spackle and more white glossy paint!

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