How and when to use caulk and spackle

June 14, 2011

I haven’t touched the office redo in such a long time…it’s just silly. I still haven’t painted the board and batten walls. I’ve been procrastinating that fun job because I had another fun job that had to be done first.

“Fun” = sarcasm.

But I picked up a little addition to the space a couple of weeks ago and it’s spurred me on to get it done already!! (More about that in bit.)

I finally got the mdf wall treatment prepped for paint and it’s not my favorite part by any stretch. This stuff isn’t hard, it’s just time consuming. After caulking for so many years, I have it down to a science, so I thought I should share my process.

After a molding project, you’ll need a couple things to finish up the job:

caulk and spackle

Caulk, (and a caulking gun) and spackle.

The caulk also comes in tubes that you just squeeze, but for a job like this – use the gun. For reals. Your hands and arms will thank me. :)

This is what a corner of the office looked like before I started:

board and batten

It doesn’t look too bad far away, but up close you see the meeeeellions of nail holes, the gaps where the mdf pieces didn’t meet up perfectly, and the gaps where the wall and mdf aren’t flush.

When I install molding, I usually don’t caulk anything until right before I’m about to paint the last coat. But with this project there were some big gaps that needed to be filled, so I wanted to make sure they got plenty of coats of paint.

The reason I usually wait till I’m almost done is that MOST of the “gaps” don’t need caulk at all. A coat or two of paint will cover them just fine:

when to use caulk or spackle

That lower joint will go away with paint no problem. But the larger gap won’t, so it gets the first of my BFFs – caulk.

Before you start – listen carefully. Always, always, ALWAYS use paintable caulk. Alllllways.

Even if you think you’ll never paint it again…use paintable caulk.

You never know what you’ll do in the future – even white paint will need touch ups over the years. Unpaintable caulk does not take kindly to paint.

Believe me. :)

So, you’ve got your paintable caulk. To start, trim off the top of the nozzle at an angle – but don’t cut it too low down on the nozzle. (Up high is a smaller hole, lower is a larger one.)

You want a thin line of caulk in most cases, and if it’s not big enough you can make always make it larger later.

Make sure the angle of the nozzle is up against your surface:

how to caulk

Then squeeze out a small amount into the joint, from top to bottom:

This is why you want a small bead most of the time – if it’s too thick you’re just going to waste a TON of caulk, and you’ll have an even bigger mess on your hands than usual. :)

Did I mention caulking is messy? I’ve tried everything to make it not so messy and it’s failed every time.

Messy is good. Be at peace with the messy.

You’ll need lots of paper towels too. Grab a bunch, get them good and wet, and wrap it over your finger like so:

This is pretty intense huh? ;)

I know you are on the edge of your seat. I know.

Take the paper towel finger and drag it down over the bead like so:

You don’t want to dig in too much, or you’ll remove most of what you just put on. You don’t want to be too light because you won’t take off enough. I usually go over it a few times, folding the paper towel over again with each swipe. 

That’s it! If it’s not perfect, I swear it won’t matter. Especially if you are painting everything out white, you’ll never notice it.

It is an amazing material because it covers a multitude of sins. I know this. :)

The next miracle worker is my friend spackle.

I use this for the holes – and because I’m obsessed with my nail gun, I always have a ton of holes.

I get a little out of control. :)

Git yer tub of spackle, get a glob:

how to spackle

And smoosh it in there:

Random weird note – I always use my middle finger. Not sure why. I’m not mad at ya spackle. :)

Sometimes I’ll have a very large gap where my measurements weren’t quite perfect:

For those, you can either try cutting a sliver to fill it in, or you can just fill it with spackle or caulk. I do both. Sometimes larger gaps like this take more than one application of the stuff, but after it’s sanded and painted, you won’t even notice!

Speaking of sanding – that’s your last step. I pretty much always use sanding blocks:

sanding block

Love those with this shape because I can get into detailed areas.

Sand down your spackle after it dries (I love mine because it dries super fast) – but don’t sand the caulked spots. As far as I know they don’t make sandable caulk. ;)

It took a couple hours to do the whole space – including clean up. But it makes such a difference!:

before and after caulk and spackle

Better, yes?

My little addition that got this ball rolling is a chair I found at Homegoods – it’s a lot more streamlined and much smaller than the beast we had in there before:

That one is now in hubby’s basement office, and it’s perfect in there!

I was planning on recovering the cushions on both the chair and ottoman, but when I found this chair, I was smitten:

board and batten office

It’s simple, it fits the space MUCH better, and it’s super comfy! I threw the poof in there for now, but I’m hoping to find an ottoman I can recover.

When the drapes are up behind it, it’s going to look SO good.

They look like they were made for each other:

LOVE it!

I’m excited to get this ball rolling and have a finished office space. And now that the holes and gaps are gone, it’s finally ready for paint!

Got any spackle or caulk hints? Do share! And seriously, want to come paint my office? ;)

See a little tool that makes caulking easier here

P.S. You can see more of the office redo by clicking here.

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  1. Great post...caulk, my nemesis. I have learned the hard way also, using silicone caulk where I needed to paint several years ago. Yeeeaaaah. Not my fave HI job but definitely a necessary one!!

  2. Sarah I think we have the same BFF's. :) My hubby introduced me to the AWESOMEST tool ever for caulking-- have you seen it? It's like a mini-squeegee thingy.

    It is from HEAVEN.

    You can buy it right next to caulk, and you run it along your caulk bead, and it makes your caulk per-fect. I don't know what we did without it!

  3. Just had my first experience with calk on Saturday as I re-calked my shower. I like your tips on how to do it. Will keep the paper towel suggestion in mind for next time.

  4. I bought that same pillow in white! Thanks for the tips - I'm terrible with caulk!

  5. LOL thank you for addressing the middle finger pic. It was the first thing I saw as I scrawled down and then as i read had a good laugh when you addressed it!

    Always enjoy your fun writing style.

  6. oops talking about writing pardon my misspelling...scrolled down but you got the point right? lol

  7. I spent a good 3-hours this past weekend re-caulking my bathroom shower! It was a mess! I was trying to wipe away the caulk with a wet towel but I guess I got a little trigger happy- cause I had caulk everywhere!! LOL! I think next time I will try your tip with the wet paper towel.

    Oh, and a little tip for everyone...caulk does not wash out of towels!! I am a dork...I know! :)

  8. I hate spackling with a passion. I have SO many holes to fill in the walls because I move stuff around so much. I tend to ignore the holes which is crazy b/c I work so hard on all the pretty stuff. The ones I do fill I usually do a half-donkey job on and they are all bumpy. I do think the caulk and spackle makes such a difference with wainscoating though! Good for you for tackling the blah.

  9. When I caulk, I just keep a little cup of water by my side and use a wet finger (middle in your case) to run down the thin bead of caulk. I just wipe my finger off as I go and dip it in the water again. I feel like I have better control of the pressure and can use the water to smooth it out a little better. You can't really have long nails though using this method. Sometimes I'll use a cut up t-shirt in a place of paper towels, but usually my finger is easier for me.

    Your office looks fantastic! Nice Job!

  10. Looks great!

    How high is the top of your board and batten and how did you decide on it?

  11. Thanks for sharing your method to caulk. Hopefully we'll repaint our entire interior one day and then I'll put the info to good use!

    Just so you know... the link for the Pottery Barn pillows isn't working. When I click it, I get a message that that page doesn't exist.

  12. Hey there! This looks awesome!

    I was going to give a tip similar to Bethany's above, but just slightly different....

    When my hub's caulks, he keeps a rag damp with lacquer thinner to clean his finger and smooth the caulk. After smoothing it, he then wipes his finger on the rag and it's super clean! He was in the restaurant restoration business for awhile and picked this up there!

  13. Thank you soooo much for this. Now, to send it along to hubby!!

  14. I am a "wet finger caulker". I just keep a cup of water and a rag nearby and it isn't too messy. I also wanted to note that you used the best kind of spackling! There are many types but the lightweight, frosting stuff is so easy to use and it is dry in a flash.

  15. I keep my hands wet when I caulk. I'd come and paint your office- I HEART painting!- but I'm in the middle of painting a cement basement floor. (Incidentally, your spackle tutorial is exactly like my "how to fill holes in concrete" tutorial : ) )

  16. I always use too much caulk! Its such a huge mess...
    When I did B&B in my bathroom, I also learned that putting a thin layer of spackle on the exposed wall (between B&B slats) helped smooth out the wall texture and match with the wood trim. I probably only did it because it was a small space!

  17. I think armless chairs are just da bomb when it comes to style in a room. It's all going to look great as it comes together.


  18. Your office is my favorite of all your wonderful projects. I use the same caulk and spackle and love them both. I, too, found out the hard way many years ago to check to be sure the caulk is paintable. Does anyone have a suggestion for spray painting several pieces of wicker furniture? I will have to use Krylon Fusion spray I think. The wicker is covered in the clear vinyl stuff. I have not had good luck with the attachments you buy to attach to spray cans but I'm not looking forward to spraying without one. I will need at least 10 cans of Fusion! Sore fingers!!

  19. Spackle and Caulk seem like fine, helpful BFFs. Any girl would be lucky to call them "friend." The difference with and without really is remarkable when you show us up close. If I didn't think T would fa-reak out, I'd dig out the cracking caulk in the kitchen and try my hand at some new stuff....

  20. You're right, Spackle and Caulking is SOOOO important.
    I hate it, though! Ha! Mostly because it is so messy, but also because I get so impatient. And, I have to wait for a few hours for it to set up. (Um... Most of my caulk has finger prints in it from 'testing'.)

    Have you used one of those plastic scraper thingys for scraping the caulk? I wonder how well they work...

  21. You need to just invite me over next time, for some crazy reason I actually like this job! You can keep me entertained while I work. :)
    LOVE this room! Janell

  22. We use tons of caulk and spackle here too, and I'm always the designated hole filler.. we don't use spackle for tiny nail holes though, we use wood putty - white, paintable wood putty found in the painting section of HD or Lowe's, and I have a tip that I use to skip sanding.. I put some on my finger (I typically use my middle finger too! Ha!) then once it's on, I use my ring finger to wipe the rest away so it's clean, or if you're my husband he uses a wet paper towel to wipe the rest away, then wait til it dries and paint - no sanding!

  23. I spackle with a small putty knife. You still have to sand a tiny bit but there's much less "blobbage" that needs attention when you do it that way. I just goop a small amount of spackle onto the end of the knife and apply it to the hole at a downward angle which really pushes the spackle in then smooths off the top in one motion. The only hard part is learning how much spackle to get on the knife.

  24. Thanks for the tutorial. I feel confident to take this job on next time I need to! We have a joke around our house. When my husband gets the caulk gun out we get scared. He used to make SUCH a MESS. It was really awful. Now he does a GREAT job. We always laugh about it. Speaking of laughing...I just about lost it on, "I'm not mad at ya spackle." LOL


  25. Great tips. I just recently mastered the caulk gun and it was surprisingly easy to use, I guess it just looks scary. I'm starting to take over all the tools in the house... hubby could not be happier... lol. He did say that I was better at caulking than him! I posted about my tips here:

  26. My fil taught us an easy way to do caulk - no sticking, promise! Keep a small bowl of water beside you, and here's the secret: with a couple drops of soap in it (we use dish soap). Makes it slip and slide, so do thin layers - if you do it too thin, you can add another layer when it is dry!

  27. Love the chair and the drapes!

    Thanks for the tips on caulking and spackling! Any tips are always helpful!

    And the ottoman situation, why don't you just build one. When I wanted one a while back, I had just decided to get some scrap wood, foam, and faric and build a slipcovered one. And when have you ever not taken it upon yourself to build exactly what you want!??

  28. You are seriously my How-To guide!

  29. Spackling & caulking made a big difference! I love this room and the drapery material grabbed my eye right away! Love it and the round floor thingy!

    Question - will board & batten make a room look smaller? I really want in my bedroom (12ish' x 14ish' with 8' ceiling)and the 1/2 bath (tiny)

  30. Thank you for the advice! I'm HORRIBLE at caulk (and spackle - but moreso caulk). Now I just need a fun new project to try this out on...

  31. I don't know what happened to my post, so here we go again. Please, please may I have the name/manufacturer of the fabric you're using for your curtains. It is just what I'm looking for in my bedroom. Simply lovely. TIA Judi

  32. Painter's tape! If you need a straight edge (like if you are caulking baseboards against already painted walls), apply painters tape on one or both sides, caulk away, then remove the tape and voila! Perfectly straight caulk edge.

  33. BABY WIPES. Is there anything they cannot do? I keep a box of pop-up wipes out when I caulk so I always have a clean and damp one at my fingertips. Also comes in handy for the 1 billion interruptions I always seem to experience when I pull out tools and try to accomplish something. :)

  34. Ha. I got a good laugh at this post because I too am obsessed with caulk. I love it. Can't get enough of it!

  35. You seem to be a plethora of knowledge regarding caulking, so I have a question... I just built these barn beam ledges (from Ana White's site) and I thought I should caulk all the seams, but I wanted to stain these, then give them a coat of paint and rough them up to distress. Can you stain over caulk? Thanks. The B&B looks great!

  36. Hey! I saw you on Nate! Nice project!

  37. This comment has been removed by the author.

  38. I am loving your blog! I have read just about every post, but this is my first time to comment. I have just recently started getting more into thrifty decorating myself, and have just painted my first piece of furniture. Exciting! Pictures are posted on my blog. Any comments/critiques (positive!) are appreciated!

  39. I've actually never caulked. i can't wait to try. it does kind of sound like fun!

  40. I am so scared of the stuff, why, I don't does make all the difference. You better share the love with your spray paint soon :)
    Love the fabric...just beautiful :)
    Have a great week!

  41. My friend and I once used caulk to seal an rv window when I was supposed to use silicone. Ooooops! I had cauld running down the back window for weeks before I scraped it off and did it right! Then for Christmas that year, I gave my friend a shirt with a picture of a caulking gun that said "don't get caulky!"

  42. Caulking can be the least fun thing to do but it does make such a noticeable difference!

  43. I hope Spray Paint doesn't see the title of this post. It might gets its feelings hurt! ;D

    The room is coming along BEA-U-TIFULLY! And I still love that bedding!

  44. I meant fabric (the drapes) but it reminds me a lot of the bedding you just bought. And I am half asleep. So you know how THAT goes!

  45. We just posted an entry this week about caulk. It's really amazing stuff. However, we had a few issues with expansion on some original projects that left a fair amount of cracking. After that we discovered a brand of caulk that can stretch without cracking. Great for all of the moulding throughout the house.
    It's a few dollars more per tube, but that's nothing when you don't have to redo your work a year later.
    We're not endorsed by the company or anything, just like their product.

    Hope this tip is helpful.

  46. I love spackle and I love your blog!

    We nomintated you for a Versatile Blogger award. Check out our blog for your badge!

  47. I really enjoy reading/learning posts like this one. In fact, I love it how simple it is BUT if we have never done it we just learned great tips from someone who has! Thanks for posting.

  48. Just wanted to share...
    There is a little gem of an item out there called "Pro-Caulk"...
    imagine me calling the As Seen on Tv store to ask if they had any of the "Pro-Caulk" in stock!! Then quickly clarifying my needs. Needless to say, it led to the sales lady thanking me for the best laugh she'd had in a very long time.

  49. My husband and I are DEFINITE pilers!! It is the bane of my existance and yet I can't seem to make it stop!! lol !!!! We have a new cat and whenever she is doing something cute(which is most of the time...we are smitten!) I grab my camera BUT......I move all the crap out of the way so that it all looks nice and tidy!! We need a support group for this! PILERS ANONYMOUS!!! LOL!

  50. Last week I tried to re-use some caulk we had on hand to cover up some gaps on a piece of furniture I'm painting, but it was all goopy and nasty. Wah-wah.

    Thanks for the tutorial -- I've been crushing on board and batten recently and need to convince the hubby that we (meaning I) should do it. Can't wait to see yours all finished!

  51. Thanks so much for yet another great post! One question-- what is the difference between caulk and spackle? Why can't you just caulk the holes?

  52. First, your board and batten is B-E-A-U-tiful. Love it. Second, a small tip. I "push" the caulk gun - vice pulling it - and adjust my trigger pressure and rate of speed so that the caulk fills the "crevice" AND smooths out (pretty much) as I go. Saves a lot of time when it comes to the wet paper towel phase (which I also subscribe to). Really great job.

  53. I love to use the Pampered Chef stoneware scrapers when I'm caulking. Each corner has a different shape and it is super easy to use and wipe off. And they are pretty inexpensive. I've been stuck in a rut on my door painting project for months. I'm hoping to get back in the groove soon because Christmas is around the corner and I want it done before then.

  54. Oh thank you sooo much for posting this! You just saved a project I was working on. It started with a few slightly crooked cuts (made by Lowes) on my wood and ended up in a BIG gap. I didn't realize a bunch of little angles would add up to a huge one! I would have never thought to use caulk to fix it if I hadn't been reading up on what I've missed during my 3 month hiatus. Thanks again!

  55. Do you have a source list for the items in your home? I love the round woven pouf!


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