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Aim for Success: Working With Bullet Resistant Drywall

Armocore Drywal Shooting Range

Putting up a new construction in a high-crime neighborhood often calls for specialty drywall, and if the business you're helping to build will eventually house money, pharmaceuticals or inmates, there's a good chance you'll be working with bullet-resistant panels.

What's in a Name?

Keeping in mind that bullet resistant and bullet proof are not the same, Underwriter's Laboratory rates bullet resistant materials on a scale of one to eight. Level 8 is the toughest, most difficult material to penetrate--created with the intention of halting rifle cartridges. Depending upon the type of construction you're building, you'll want to keep the ratings in mind. Most banks, check-cashing facilities and 24-hour convenience stores use levels 1 to 3.

  • Level 1:  Effective at stopping a 9mm
  • Level 2:  Effective at stopping a .357 Magnum
  • Level 3:  Effective at stopping a .44 Magnum
  • Level 4:  Effective at stopping a .30 caliber rifle

Steel or Fiberglass?

As far as panels go, there are two main materials that can stand up to the force of a bullet without the addition of concrete. One is fiberglass composite; the other is steel. To erect a bullet resistant wall, the builder typically attaches these panels to the studs and then layers regular drywall on top. To anyone observing the room, it's impossible to note the added layer of protection.

As far as advantages and disadvantages, each material comes with its own set:

  • Steel panels typically cost less, but they weigh much more. They're a little more difficult to maneuver, due to weight. They must be special-ordered cut-to-size and pre-drilled, as well.
  • Fiberglass panels weigh about half as much as their steel counterparts. They're easier to work with and can be cut and drilled on-site. You can apply them with simple self-tapping drywall screws, or even adhesive. But because they're more convenient to install, they're also more expensive.

Easy to Install?

While working with bullet resistant panels isn't difficult, it does pose its own unique challenges. Keep the following tips in mind if it's your first time installing this material.

armortex transaction windowFiberglass panels require the use of recommended PPE in the form of:

  • Gloves
  • Dust/Particle Mask or Respirator
  • Protective Eyewear
  • Protective Clothing

In addition, proper ventilation is required to minimize worker exposure to particles and dust. Fans that blow debris away from the person cutting the panels and a vacuum system for collecting debris are vital. Refer to the Material Safety Data Sheets for your particular panels before installation.

Cutting and drilling these panels require the use of special blades and bits. To cut fiberglass composite, you'll need a diamond-grit blade, and pre-drilling holes on thicker panels requires a cobalt or carbide bit. This type of panel can also be installed using a simple industrial-grade adhesive.

Installing steel panels is a whole different ballgame. Because steel is so much heavier, it can't be installed on the same type of studding as fiberglass. It also can't be cut or drilled on-site. This means taking precise measurements for height and width as well as placement of every drill hole, for the work to be done at the factory and shipped to the job site. And woe to the person who takes even one imprecise measurement.

Using steel in your project will save you money up front on the cost of the panels themselves, but once you factor in the additional crew needed to install it, the cost of having it specially cut and drilled, and the cost of using heavy-duty, reinforced studding, it's usually cheaper and easier to go with fiberglass composite.

Installing bullet resistant drywall may sound imposing, but once you've worked with this material one time, you'll see it's deceptively simple to install. The main takeaways include having the right tools on hand to work with the material easily and safely, and knowing which type best fits your project.


Armortex Bullet and Blast Protection Guide

Photo Credit: Armorcore®

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Wallboard Supply Company is a third generation, family run business that has been serving New England's building needs since 1970. Bob Filion started the company with a commitment to provide quality drywall and finishing products with unmatched customer service. The company has grown over the years, expanding its' product range, but never wavering from its' core values.