For a ceiling that is cracked and possibly stained, a good method is to re-cover the entire ceiling with a new layer of drywall. By re-covering the entire surface of the ceiling it allows you to basically start over to achieve that nice smooth and even surface you want.
Things You'll Need
1/4 inch thick drywall (quantity depends on surface area)
2-inch drywall screws
General purpose joint compound
2-inch paper drywall joint tape
Drywall T-square or other straight edge
Corded or cordless drill with driver bits for screws
Drywall elevator rack (available for rent at about $40 per day)
Measure the surface area of the ceiling by standing on a ladder to measure at the top of the wall where the wall meets the ceiling. Have a helper hold a tape measure for you at the opposite end of each wall.
Calculate the ceiling surface area by multiplying the length times the width of the room. Each 4-by-8 sheet of drywall is 32 square feet, so divide the ceiling surface area by 32 to determine the number of sheets you will need. As a beginner or novice you should buy at least one extra sheet.
Clear the room so that you can work safely and more efficiently.
Set up the drywall elevator rack in one corner of the room. The elevator rack has two hooks on one side that allow you to place a sheet of drywall on in a vertical orientation and then tilt it horizontally to lift it into place with a ratcheting vertical cylinder.
Lift the first sheet of drywall into place tightly against the surface of the ceiling in one corner of the room.
Using an electronic stud finder locate the ceiling joists that the old drywall is attached to and then mark the location of the ceiling joists.
Drive 2-inch drywall screws through your new drywall, through the old drywall and into the ceiling joists. Screws should be driven in every 10 to 12 inches along every ceiling joist.
Repeat Steps 5, 6 and 7 for the rest of the sheets of drywall by measuring for each sheet and cutting to fit. Use a keyhole saw to cut a hole in the location of the electric box where the light fixture will be.
Use general purpose joint compound to fill in over all of the screw heads. Apply paper joint tape over all of the joints and along the ceiling corners by pressing it into place with a wide putty knife and joint compound. Repeat this step until the surface is smooth and even by sanding down the joint compound between applications.
When you measure the distance of each wall, you may find that your ceiling does not have square corners. This is common and should be accounted for in the measurements. Be sure not to break the surface of the drywall paper with the screws by using a drill with a torque setting. Since the corners of your ceiling may not be perfectly square you can use a wood rasp file to trim them to fit. A sheet of drywall is cut by scoring a shallow cut into one side through the paper and then snapping the sheet where the cut was made and then cutting through the paper on the other side. The cuts are easy to make if you use a straight edge to guide your utility knife.