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Gypsum is a common naturally occurring, crystalline mineral found in sedimentary rock formations. Gypsum is also produced as a by-product of several industrial and manufacturing processes, the most common of which is flue-gas desulphurization of fossil fuel powered electrical generating plants, sometimes referred to as "synthetic gypsum." Both forms of gypsum are chemically the same—calcium sulfate dihydrate (CaSO4·2H2O). One hundred pounds of pure gypsum contains approximately 21 pounds of water chemically bound into the gypsum.

Naturally occurring gypsum rock (gypsum ore) is either mined or quarried and then crushed and ground to a powder whereas synthetic gypsum is generally provided as a finely ground damp material. Heating the powdered gypsum to about 350°F drives off any free moisture and much of the chemically combined water, thereby reducing the level of hydration. This process is known as "calcination." The calcined gypsum, commonly known as "plaster of Paris" or "stucco" and chemically defined as calcium sulfate hemihydrate (CaSO4·1/2H2O), is the principal ingredient in gypsum plaster.

Gypsum board is produced by combining calcined gypsum with water and other additives to form a slurry that is fed between continuous layers of paper on a board machine. As this "continuous" gypsum board moves along the conveyer line the calcium sulfate hemihydrate recrystallizes (rehydrates) to its original (dihydrate) rock state. The paper becomes chemically and mechanically bonded to the gypsum core. The gypsum board is cut to length and dried in kilns to remove excess moisture. Gypsum board is often referred to as drywall, wallboard, or plasterboard and differs from other common building materials such as plywood, hardboard, and fiberboard because of its noncombustible gypsum core. Gypsum board is the most commonly specified and installed interior finish material for walls and ceilings in North America.

Technically, gypsum board is defined as the generic name for a family of sheet products consisting of a noncombustible core, primarily of gypsum, with a paper surfacing on the face, back, and long edges. In recent years the family of gypsum-based panel materials has grown to include panel products other than those with the familiar paper facers. A number of specialized gypsum panel products and gypsum boards have been developed for specific uses which include:

Gypsum Wallboard for interior walls and ceilings
Gypsum Ceiling Board for interior ceilings
Type X Gypsum Board for fire-resistance-rated building systems Fiber Reinforced Gypsum Panels for interior and exterior walls, ceilings, and tile base
Gypsum Sheathing for exterior walls and roof systems
Glass Mat Gypsum Substrate for use as sheathing on exterior walls and ceilings
Gypsum Soffit Board for use on exterior soffits and ceilings
Water-Resistant Gypsum Backing Board for use as a tile base
Glass Mat Water-Resistant Gypsum Backing Board for use as a tile base
Gypsum Backing Board for use as a base for multi-ply systems
Gypsum Lath for use as a base for gypsum plaster
Gypsum Plaster Base for use as a base for veneer plaster
Gypsum Shaft Liner Board for shaft, stairway, and duct enclosures
Pre-decorated Gypsum Board for accent walls, office and movable partitions
Foil backed gypsum board for use as a vapor retarder
Gypsum board systems with joints and fasteners finished with joint treatment material are designed to provide monolithic surfaces ready for decoration with paint, wallpaper, or other final decoration. Gypsum board wall and ceiling systems provide many outstanding advantages not available with other common interior finish materials: