How to Build and Use a Drywall Lift

two people installing drywall pannel on ceiling with wood support
  • 1-3 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 20-100
What You'll Need
20-inch folding work platform
Measuring tape
#8 1-1/4” screws
#8-10 2-1/2” screws
Screwdriver bits
What You'll Need
20-inch folding work platform
Measuring tape
#8 1-1/4” screws
#8-10 2-1/2” screws
Screwdriver bits

The most commonly used drywall for ceilings is the 5/8-inch thick Gyprock. It's popular for its soundproofing qualities, its fireproofing function, and its rigidity, which keeps it from sagging. Since a 4ft x 8ft sheet of this material weighs over 70 lbs (over 51 lbs for 1/2-inch), it helps to have some kind of lift or stand to support it while you mount it to a surface especially one above your head.

You can rent or buy a special drywall lift to accomplish this, but one or two unipods are all you need to hold up the sheets. You can easily put these together in just a few minutes, temporarily using lumber materials around the job site. The T-shaped unipod is designed to carry most of the weight while you screw in the sheet of drywall.

Step 1 - Get the Right Measurements

Measure the height from the floor to the ceiling so you can build the unipod to the right length. The easiest way to get that measurement is to extend your measuring tape against a wall starting at the floor and stretching/sliding/unrolling it up to the ceiling while holding it tight against the wall at around the 4-foot mark to stabilize it.

Pull out enough of the tape to have at least an extra foot out longer than the height of the ceiling, then push the tape in tighter to get it as close as you can to the wall/ceiling corner. You can now check the height measurement right up into the corner. It won't be exact, but you'll get close enough to allow a little extra room for the drywall to bow slightly when installed, creating just enough pressure to push it up against the ceiling joists.

Step 2 - Cut the Pieces From SPF Strapping

narrow lumber boards

The unipods can be built from 1 x 3 SPF strapping or any other lumber available at the site. It will only be a temporary assembly taken apart as soon as the drywall is all applied to the ceiling(s). You can make them with other lumber, just keep in mind that bigger boards will be stiffer, and less flexibility will require more accuracy when cutting for height.

2.1—Put on your safety glasses or goggles and choose the best available tool—preferably a handsaw, a portable circular saw, or a miter saw.

2.2—Get two pieces of 1in x 3 in SPF strapping and mark them to the length you measured in step 1.

2.3—For your cross pieces, mark two more lengths at around 30 to 40-inches if they’re longer than four feet.

2.4—Use your saw and cut all the pieces to the right length.

Step 2a - Build the Stand Using Larger Lumber

If you have to build the unipods with bigger lumber (eg, 2 x 4-inches lumber), cut the vertical pieces about 1-1/2 inches shorter than the height you just measured from ceiling to floor. This will create a gap with the unipod standing loose under the gyprock.

The slack can then be picked up by placing a piece of lumber flat on the floor and sliding it underneath the unipod while it's leaning at a small angle, then sliding the bottom end vertical while tightening the fit and applying pressure up against the ceiling joists. The cross-pieces forming the “T” can again be from any lumber cut 30 to 40-inches long.

Step 3 - Assembling the Unipods

Overlay one of the short pieces across one of the long piece, centering it as to form a “T,” and assemble with two or three screws #8 x 1-1/4 inch (longer for thick lumber), making sure the outside edge of the short piece is flush with the end of the long piece—the assembly should not require any gluing. Repeat the same process with the other two pieces left. You now have two T-shaped unipods.

Step 4 - Begin the Setup by Installing a Wall Support

4.1—Get or cut a piece of lumber 1-1/2 inch by at least 18-inches long to be able to fasten to two wall studs.

4.2—On the wall receiving the end of the sheet, screw the piece in place about 3/4-inches down from the ceiling frame (strapping) using 2-1/2 inches long screws. The gap will hold up one end of the Gyprock while you’re handling the rest of the sheet.

Step 5 - Using the Unipods

two workers installing a ceiling sheet of drywall

5.1—With the help of a workmate, you can now each grab one side of the sheet, tilting it up and inserting one end into the gap created by the wall support.

5.2—With the sheet in this position, you’ll have to keep pushing the Gyprock onto the wall support as you maintain the rest of the sheet up in the air while your workmate gets one unipod and places its cross-piece underneath the sheet at about 3 ft from the end and with your help, push it up toward the ceiling as the bottom part of the unipod is slid into a more vertical position.

5.3—Before tightening the unipod’s pressure against the Gyprock, check its placement on the ceiling, and adjust the sheet to the exact positioning where you want it. A 20-inch folding work platform can be ideal for working at the ceiling, bringing you to a more comfortable height.

5.4—With that done, install the second unipod under the sheet at about two to three feet from the end by the wall, and fix it firmly in place, as with the first one, so the gyprock rests tightly against the ceiling.

5.5—Using a straight edge or a four foot level, you can now trace the line where you want to screw in the Gyprock, lined up with the center of the strappings or the joists.

5.6—You can finally screw the sheet to the ceiling using the traced lines as guides.

5.7—Remove the wall support.

Step 6 - Ceiling Supports to Finish

For installing the next sheet, installing ceiling supports will greatly simplify the task, even making it doable without help.

6.1—Cut 2 pieces of 3/4-inch lumber about 10 - 12-inches long.

6.2—Insert a screw in each one about four inches from the end.

6.3—Place one piece along the edge of the previous sheet at about three feet from each end of the 1st sheet, and placing the screw at 1-inch from the edge of the same sheet, thus leaving about three inches overlapping the edge of the current sheet and protruding over the area where the next sheet will be installed.

Screw both pieces in place but short of tightening them against the sheet, leaving a gap or spacing of 3/4 to 1-inch to the joist or the strapping.

6.4—With this set up as such, proceed to mount the next sheet of Gyprock as in steps 5.1 to 5.7, using the ceiling support in this case as you used the wall support in the first case.

So you now have your drywall stands or unipod, and installing your Gyprock has just become much easier.