How to Caulk: Step-by-Step

Once a caulking gun has been procured, and the appropriate caulk selected for the surface and environment, the homeowner can begin the caulking process. The first step is to be sure to clean the surface, remove any old caulk and debris. Outside surfaces do not have to be pristine, but it should be clean enough that the caulk will be able to adhere to the surface. Inside, especially in the bath and kitchen, they should be as clean as possible to avoid mold and mildew growth.

Apply Caulk

Generally a standard sized tube of caulk will contain about ten ounces of caulk, which enough to cover a length of about fifty linear feet, depending on the width of the crack to be covered. Very narrow seams will only require small amounts of caulk.

Taking the gun in hand, pull the pushing rod all of the way back. Insert the tube so that the round piece of metal goes inside the tube. Next cut off the end of the nozzle. Often there will be plastic ridges on the end of the tube as a guide as to where the tube should be cut. Note that the nozzle tip is like an elongated cone. The closer it is cut to the tip the narrower the bead of caulk will be when it comes out of the tube. The narrower the seam to be caulked, the closer to the end of the tip it should be cut.

Many different devices can be used to cut the tip, a hack-saw, jig-saw, kitchen scissors, a pair of pliers, a wire cutter, a box cutter, or even a pocket knife. Be aware that some of these tools will leave jagged edges or elongated openings. The tip can be sanded with sand-paper to smooth the edges or squeezed with pliers to return it to round. Nevertheless, these precaution will usually not be necessary as most often the caulk will be smoothed over later, after it is squeezed out onto the surface in question.

Finger Smoothing Caulk

Often tubes of caulk will be protected by a seal that is at the base of the tip. This seal must be punctured. To do this, simply shove a wire down the nozzle and pull it back. If it is wet with caulk you know that either it has been punctured or there was no seal in the first place. If the seal is not punctured it can considerably interfere with the caulking process.

If the area to be sealed is too wide and deep to hold the caulk, some of this can be made up for with a caulking rod. This is basically a small tube of insulation material that can be inserted into a crack to take up space and give the caulk something with which to adhere.

Squeeze the trigger lightly to bring the caulk to the head of the nozzle. Have a rag or paper towel handy. Place the nozzle against the beginning of the seam to be caulked and while squeezing the trigger move the nozzle along the seam in a slow even motion. To do this neatly takes a bit of practice. If there is an occasional gap or blob of caulk do not panic or go back. Simply continue running the bead.

Now set the caulking gun aside. As there will often still be pressure in the tube, caulk may continue coming out of the tube. (There are guns that are designed to minimize this dripping.) To avoid a mess, allow it to ooze out onto a disposable surface.

When the bead has been run, place a finger at the beginning of the bead and run it along the seam, gently smoothing the caulk while pushing some of the caulk into the crack. This will even out the caulk and make for a neat appearance. Other devices can be used to smooth the caulk, such as a putty knife or even a coin, but generally a finger will do the job just as well or better. Sometimes it will take two or three different fingers in succession to do the whole seam. If a lot of caulk is picked up on the finger, you are probably applying too much caulk. For fast drying caulk, do the smoothing (sometimes called tooling) in shorter segments.

To save whatever caulk remains in the tube, cover the tip if a cap is provided. If not, the best way to preserve the caulk and also keep the tube clear is to push a 10D or appropriate sized nail in the hole. It can also be covered with plastic wrap secured with a rubber band. It is usually best to remove the tube from the gun when storing it because some caulk may have oozed out of the back of the tube. If the caulk is allowed to dry with the tube in the gun it will create difficulties in removing the spent tube later.

Allow the caulk to dry for up to 24 hours or the length of time specified on the product before attempting to paint, or allowing it to be exposed to moisture.

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