Joint Compound vs Spackle: 8 Differences You Need To Know

Any homeowner will, at some point, be faced with the challenge of repairing or finishing drywall.

Two of the most popular products that are used to repair drywall are Joint Compound and Spackle.

While at first glance, these two products might seem very similar, they are designed for different things and are not interchangeable, so it’s important to understand which product is most appropriate for which application to ensure you choose the right one.

So in this article, we’re going to take an in-depth look at each of the products and compare them side by side so you can be sure that you’re choosing the right one for your specific job.

Joint Compound VS. Spackle
The main difference between Joint Compound and Spackle is that one is designed to cover larger areas the other is designed as a finisher for smaller areas. While both products use gypsum powder, they each have unique qualities and additives that make them better suited for different use cases.

What is a Joint Compound?

Of the two products, Joint Compound is more commonly used; you may also find it called drywall compound or drywall mud.

It’s a gypsum-based finishing product used to finish large areas of drywall.

When you purchase it, it’ll usually come in a powder form which is then mixed with water to create a paste; this makes it suitable for long-term storage as it won’t dry out.

The main application of Joint Compound is to fill the large gaps or seams between drywall sheets in new installations.

It helps to cover the gaps and any nails that may be showing, so you’re left with a nice clean finish.

Sometimes it may also be used for texturing walls and ceilings by applying it with a roller or stippling it on with a brush.

Because of its inherent thickness and viscosity compared to regular paint, you can use it to make several cool creative designs.

In addition to its more common powder form, you can also purchase Joint Compound pre-mixed, so you don’t need to mess around adding water and stirring it in.

This Joint Compound type usually has a longer working time when compared with the powder form, which may make it more appropriate for particular jobs.

Overall, Joint Compound is an essential part of drywall finishing and helps to add those finishing touches that turn regular drywall from looking like a construction site into a finished wall that’s ready to be painted.

What is Spackle?

Spackle, unlike Joint Compound, is designed more as a finishing and repair product that can be used to fill in things like small holes, cracks or other minor damages that may occur after the drywall has already been completed.

Why is it better for this application than Joint Compound?

It has a faster drying time and thicker consistency, which allows it to get into those small nooks and cracks that may form and seal them up.

Because of its composition, it can usually be applied in a single pass and immediately ready to be painted over. 

Different types of Spackle are available, including vinyl, epoxy, acrylic and standard Spackle.

Not only that, but it’s generally easier to sand down and blend into pre-existing drywall, making it easier to hide when applied to already completed drywall.

Spackle’s usually made from a combination of gypsum powder and some kind of binding agents, such as glue or resin.

Much like a Joint Compound, it can be purchased in a powder form that needs to be mixed with water or a pre-mixed form that can be applied straight out of the tub.

This, combined with its fast drying time, makes it ideal for small jobs that need to be done quickly, as it can usually be painted over in just a few hours and doesn’t need to be applied multiple times.

Overall, lightweight Spackle can be considered more of a repair and touch-up product when compared to Joint Compound.

What are the differences between Joint Compound and Spackle?

Now that you have a better idea of how these two products work and their intended use cases, let’s compare their qualities to better understand which is more appropriate for your specific job.

1. Composition

Joint Compound is generally made up of a simple combination of gypsum powder/dust and water, which the user adds.

It ends up with a creamier consistency when compared to Spackle, making it suitable for filling up large seams and joints.

On the other hand, Spackle still uses gypsum powder, but this is then mixed with glue, resin or other adhesives to create a thicker and more paste-like consistency that allows it to fill those small holes and cracks without dripping out.

2. Drying Time

Joint Compound generally takes longer to dry than Spackle, while the exact drying time will depend on multiple factors, including the humidity of the environment, the brand of Joint Compound you are using and the thickness in which it was applied; you can expect a dry time of between 24 to 48 hours to fully dry.

Spackle dries considerably faster and if the repair/fill is small enough, it can be completely dry in as little as 30 minutes.

But once again, this drying time is subject to similar factors, such as humidity and the thickness of the application.

3. Consistency

As mentioned, Joint Compound has a thinner yet creamier consistency that allows it to spread nicely across larger surface areas and drywall joints, bringing it closer to a finished product off the bat and doesn’t require excess sanding.

Additionally, its smoother texture increases its surface area adherence, allowing it to create a stronger bond over larger areas and making it easier to apply thickly.

Spackle has a thicker consistency, allowing it to fill small drywall holes and cracks better, as it can wedge into place and not seep through too much.

This extra thickness also gives it more body and rigidity, which helps prevent it from cracking or damaging over time, so you don’t have to re-repair it.

4. Intended Application

Because of its drying time and consistency properties, Joint Compound is generally used for larger projects such as finishing entire drywall surfaces or drywall seams or re-finish ceilings.

Its smoother and thinner consistency allows it to produce a near-finished product and reduce the amount of sanding required.

Spackle, on the other hand, due to being thicker, is more commonly used for minor defects and drywall repairs such as filling in deep cracks, covering nail holes or even some finishing work such as texturing walls or finishing trims on baseboards.

Spackle tends to have a wider variety of potential applications, but it’s important to use Joint Compound where needed, as Spackle doesn’t make a good substitute.

5. Bonding Strengths

Joint Compounds have a stronger bonding strength when compared to Spackle.

This is because it is designed to be used over larger surface areas and, as such, is exposed to more stresses and needs to create a more durable finish.

Furthermore, Joint Compound is specially formulated to withstand other factors such as expansion and contraction and humidity fluctuations, making it ideal for a long-lasting finish.

On the other hand, Spackle emphasizes giving a smooth finish, being easier to sand and drying quickly, and as such, does not bond as well as Joint Compound.

This is why it’s better suited to minor repairs.

6. Shrinkage

Both Joint Compound and Spackle will shrink to a degree once applied.

However, Joint Compound tends to shrink more due to their higher water content and lack of binding resins.

For that reason, Joint Compounds will often need to be applied and built up in layers to create a perfect final finish.

Spackle has a far lower risk of shrinkage due to its thicker consistency and lower water content.

This allows it to fill cracks and small holes nicely without needing extra applications.

7. Ease of Sanding

Joint Compound has a thinner consistency and is designed to be applied and built up in multiple layers.

This results in a more finished surface once it’s dry, thus eliminating the need for lots of sanding.

This is good news as Joint Compounds can be more prone to cracking or crumbling as it’s sanded, especially if it hasn’t been applied correctly.

So sanding it is not the best idea!

Spackle has a far thicker consistency and contains resins or other binders, making it better suited to sanding. 

You can apply it liberally to the hole/crack and then easily sand it back to a perfect finish.

Overall, Spackle will sand down far better than Joint Compound as its composition helps prevent crumbling during sanding.

8. Cost

If you need to use a lot of sealers, then cost can quickly become an issue.

While the price can vary dramatically depending on the brand, size of the tub and where you purchased it from, ultimately, Spackle is considered more expensive than Joint Compound.

However, an important thing to note is that Joint Compound is usually sold in larger volumes as its usual intended application requires a lot of it.

Whereas Spackle compound is generally meant for smaller repair jobs and, as such, is sold in smaller quantities.

That said, we do not recommend substituting Spackle for Joint Compound if you are performing a repair, as it’s easier to sand and fills up the gaps better due to its consistency.

Joint Compound and Spackle: Are they the same?

While both products use gypsum powder, they each have unique qualities and additives that make them better suited for different use cases.

Overall, Joint Compound is better for larger drywall installation jobs, such as filling in seams, while Spackle is better for smaller repair jobs.

Here’s a quick rundown of their differences so you can get a broad understanding of how they work:

  • Joint Compound is a simple mixture of gypsum dust and water, whereas Spackle has additional adhesives or resins to give it particular qualities.
  • Joint Compound has a much longer drying time, taking anywhere from 24 to 48 to fully set, whereas Spackle dries very quickly in as little as 30 minutes.
  • Joint Compound has a smoother and creamier consistency and needs to be applied in layers. Spackle has a thicker consistency that’s more similar to paste.
  • Joint Compound is better suited for extensive drywall finishing work, whereas Spackle is better geared towards minor repairs and filling in larger holes/cracks.
  • Joint Compound is overall stronger than Spackle and is more resilient towards warping and humidity, but because Spackle is only used in small amounts, it doesn’t need these properties.
  • Due to its higher water content, Joint Compound is more prone to shrinkage and, as such, needs to be applied in multiple layers and be given time to fully dry. Whereas Spackle’s thicker consistency allows it to be applied with a putty knife in one go, and it will fill the gap adequately.
  • Joint Compound is harder to sand due to its tendency to crack, but usually, you won’t need to sand down a Joint Compound too much. Whereas Spackle needs to be sanded to blend in with the drywall and, as such, is formulated to sand down well.
  • Joint Compound is usually a bit cheaper than Spackle and is sold in larger quantities. While Spackle is a bit more expensive, you don’t need much of it for most jobs.
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