Caulking Tips to Level Up Your Game

Sometimes all it takes to perfect your craftsmanship is a review of the basics.

3 Min Read
Construction worker using silicone sealant caulk the outside window frame
Akhararat Wathanasing/Alamy Stock Photo

This article was originally written by Bill Robinson for the Journal of Light Construction.

Caulking is a fundamental part of sealing a building against water and air leaks. For a lot of folks starting out in the trades, it might be one of the first jobs they are asked to do, because it’s not always a favorite task for seasoned carpenters; as a result, the right way to caulk often gets ignored. In fact, a fair share of seasoned carpenters aren’t very good at it. But caulking correctly is essential, so let’s embrace it and dive in.

How to Select the Right Caulk

Caulking the right way starts with using the right material. That might sound simple, but in the world of caulks, it’s more important than ever. Advanced chemistry has come to construction, and we have an array of new caulks and sealants on the market today that we didn’t have a decade ago (see “Selecting Caulk,” from an earlier edition of JLC). In general, I prefer caulks with a high solids content that won’t shrink as much as a caulk with more solvent. High-solids caulks tend to be more viscous (meaning they are stiffer and require more pressure to squeeze out of a caulk gun).

I encourage everyone to find a few caulks that work for the applications they are likely to do. That means reading the product literature and understanding how those few caulks behave. What temperatures can you apply them at? How quickly do they skin over? How soon can you paint over them? What is the solvent, and how do you clean up? How runny or thick is each one, and do you have the right gun with which to apply that caulk easily? Those are some of the questions covered in the “Selecting Caulk” article cited above, and we’ll touch on some of those points again here, but it’s on you to do the homework and become familiar with the material. It will make your task easier and ensure a better result.

How to Select the Right Caulking Tools

Two things are key: Tools don’t make the craftsperson, but using the right tool sure makes it easier to do a good job; and once you have the right tools, keep them clean. This is generally true for all tools, but it’s particularly important for tools that come in contact with messy materials like caulk (or mastic or joint compounds and the like). The less build-up of old caulk and dirt you have on the gun and other caulking tools, the easier it will be to lay down a smooth, tightly bedded bead of caulk.

Caulk guns. Don’t skimp here; buy a good caulk gun. If you are using the cheapest gun available from a big box retailer, you can still lay down a good bead, but it will be an awful lot harder and will take longer.

Your choice in gun format will largely depend on the type of caulk you use. Most caulks for residential uses come in 11-ounce plastic or cardboard tubes, for which you can use a standard “half-barrel” gun or a “skeleton” gun. The least expensive, most ordinary guns have a half-barrel of steel to hold the caulk tube. A small step up is a skeleton gun, which has only a spare frame around the caulk tube. Also called simply “frame guns,” they tend to be lighter and easier to clean.

High-quality caulks, sealants, and liquid-applied flashing compounds often come in 20-ounce sausage packs—foil or plastic sleeves that are a bit like a package of Jimmy Dean sausage, albeit thinner and longer. To apply this type of caulk, you need a gun with an aluminum or plastic tube to hold the sausage pack. In commercial and industrial work, we also see bulk-load guns that have a canister you fill from a 5-gallon bucket of sealant, but I have never seen those on a residential job.

To read the rest of this article, including tips on caulk joints and cutting caulk tubes, click here.

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