Learn How to Install Crown Molding With The Results Of A Master Craftsman

I will never forget something said to me as a young apprentice carpenter; “You just have to be smarter than the wood”. Simply put, know the characteristics of the wood and know how to use that information to make it into a shape or form you want it. Can you weld wood together with a welder, of course not, but you can glue it together. Can you bend a board, yes, up to a point. What is that point before it breaks or are there some techniques you can use to change the breaking point? Are some woods easier to work with than others? Do some woods mold, plane, cut or sand better than other woods? Is there a science to all these questions, yes, but it is more of a skill or feel developed over time. Only experience and the wood will teach you some things, but I can show you a few tricks and techniques that will help you understand the principles of putting in crown moulding.

If you have never installed crown mold before, you may think to yourself it does not sound so difficult. Truth is, it is not rocket science, but is confusing. Let’s get into the typical crown job. Though I can not cover every situation, this article will give you enough information to do the job competently. Just remember to take your time and take it a step at a time.

Let’s make some decisions for the size of the molding, finish, how many feet do you need and which tools are needed to complete the task. With the width of the molding, I found a good rule of thumb is to go with 1/2″ in width for every foot of ceiling height, in other words for an 8 foot ceiling height I would recommend a 4 inch wide molding. There is no right or wrong here, but if you go with too narrow of a molding, it will look skinny and out of scale with the room.

Do you intend to stain or paint the molding. In either case, apply 2 coats to the molding before installing, with the last coat applied after installation.

Measure the linear footage of the room you intend to put crown into and add another ten percent for waste and practice.

Concerning tools needed, you will need a miter saw with a fine tooth saw blade, safety glasses, coping saw, work bench, wood file, wood glue, compressor with a finish nail gun and brad gun, 2 1/2″ nails and some 1″ brad nails, nail set, and caulking gun. NOTE: You can use 8 penny and 4 penny nails and drive them in and then set them with a nail punch, but to get the piece of molding to set still while you are banging a nail in is challenging.

Let’s talk about the most crucial factor to making tight joints, the pitch of the molding as it is cut and installed. Maintain the same pitch when cutting and installing. So how is the pitch determined? Determine this by the degree of the bevel on the bottom, back side of the molding. The bottom bevel is usually around 52 degrees, but that will vary with different manufactures. To determine the pitch on the saw, cut a 14″ piece off the end of the crown. Take that piece and place it upside down on the miter saw. Now, adjust the pitch of the crown on the saw so that the bevel on the back side of the molding fits perfectly against the saw fence. While holding the crown in place, put a pencil mark across the top of the crown on the fence.

Measure the distance from the table surface of the saw to the pencil mark you made on the fence. Make a gauge block that length. The measurement you take will represent the distance down the wall from the ceiling and the mark on the saw will represent the top edge of the crown. Now you will be able to establish the pitch to cut each piece. Take the gauge block and put it up against the ceiling and mark the bottom of the block on the wall in each corner and every 6 feet in between. This is a reference mark for the bottom edge of the crown when you install a piece. Crown mold stops are handy to hold the crown at the proper pitch while you are sawing. If you don’t have this feature on your saw, you can clamp or screw a block of wood to the saw to help you hold the crown to the proper pitch you established on the fence.

Now your ready to measure. Each time you measure, you will measure wall to wall, not wall to molding or molding to molding. Take your time here and measure twice. Make sure to measure at the ceiling. Measurements will vary some from the top to the bottom of a given wall, so always take your measurement at the top of the wall. Add a sixteenth of an inch to the measurement to insure a tight fit. Now let’s talk a little about the terms; long point and short point. These terms refer to the point from which you measuring on a given angle. Let’s say you are measuring from an inside corner miter to an outside corner miter. You will be measuring from long point to short point on the piece of trim. Typically, most corners you will be working with are square or close to square. A true square corner is 90 degrees, to make a perfect miter you take the degree of a given corner and divide by 2. So half of 90 degrees is 45 degrees. Now this will vary from corner to corner because of mistakes made by the framing carpenter or a build-up of drywall compound on the corners of your wall. Because most corners are not truly square, a cope joint is used, discussed in step 12.

You are ready to make our first cut. Here comes the confusing part, place the crown upside down on the saw. What is the top of the crown as it is installed, is now at the pointed down and the bottom of the crown is now pointing up. What is the left side is now pointing right. Picture it this way, the horizontal surface of the saw will represent the ceiling and the vertical fence represents the wall. To help avoid confusion, picture the saw mounted to the ceiling. Take a couple of scrap pieces and practice.There are 5 typical types of cuts you will need to perform.

The first is the simplest, which a square or straight cut, used where you are butting into an inside corner where no molding is on the oncoming wall.

The next is an inside corner miter, which is a miter that is sloping in towards the work piece.

The next is an outside corner, which is sloping away from the work piece. I recommended to cut the miter at 45 1/2 degrees, to assure the miter fits tightly at the face of the molding.

The coped joint is next and is used on inside corners. Cut the face of the molding profile to fit the face of the piece of molding installed in the corner of an oncoming wall. Make sure to measure for length before you begin coping. You do this by using a coping saw. Begin sawing along the face’s edge at the end of an inside miter cut. Take your coping saw and cut along the outline of the face of the molding made by the miter cut. Be careful to slope back under the face cut, so that only the front of the molding will touch as it is butted into the piece in the corner. Take a scrap piece of crown and hold it against the cope to see that only the front of the molding is touching the scrap piece. Sometimes it is necessary to adjust the back cut to make the proper fit. Do this with a wood file or a little more cutting with a coping saw.

The last type of cut to discuss is a scarf joint, used when splicing 2 or more pieces together to achieve a desired length. To do this, place the back of the molding flat against the fence of the saw and make a 22 1/2 degree bevel cut on the spliced ends. This gives you a little more surface area to glue when put together. This particular type of cut, the crown is not on a pitch when cutting. NOTE: When installing scarf joints, take your time and match the pieces as much as possible before putting a nail in. Don’t forget to glue the joint and you may need to do some sanding to make the joint appear seamless.

Now you are ready to nail the piece in place. Typically a wall will have over 2″ of top plate exposed, under the drywall to nail into, across the entire length of the wall. When using a wide crown, it is necessary to find the studs to nail into. If working by yourself, drive a nail in halfway at the reference mark, you made earlier, in the corner opposite the end you will be fitting. The nail will serve as a way to hold the other end as you focus your attention on the joint.

Now place the end opposite the joint on the nail and then bow the middle of the piece out with one hand while you use the other hand to carefully align the joint together. Align the bottom edges, release the bowed portion held in the other hand.

You may notice the joint is open in either the top or bottom. Don’t panic, just simply adjust the roll or pitch of the 2 pieces by tapping with a hammer and block of wood, either up or down. If it is open at the bottom, put your block of wood to the top of the piece you are joining to and lightly tap the block with your hammer until the joint closes. If the joint is open at the top, you will need to put the block under both the pieces and drive the pieces upward until the joint closes. Never adjust the miter cut to fit. If you held your pitch correctly, while sawing, you will be able to trust the cut.

When nailing, develop the habit of pushing in with one hand while shooting a nail in with the other hand. NOTE: Always keep your free hand a safe distance from area you are nailing. Once you have your joint fit and fastened in place, go to the other end and nail the crown about 16″ from the end once you have properly adjusted the pitch of the crown, using the reference mark to align the bottom edge of the molding. Do not nail too close to the corners to allow for adjustments when fitting the next piece. Finish nailing the piece every 16″, being careful to adjust the pitch as needed. Make sure the piece is firmly against the wall and ceiling as you nail.

After all the crown molding has been installed, you will need to fill all the holes with putty and sand. Now your ready to caulk the edge under and above the crown molding. This is an art form unto itself. Just remember to keep the caulk gun moving while applying steady pressure on the trigger. Don’t squeeze out too much, just enough to fill the crack. You can always go back and add more. Take a damp rag and wipe off the excess caulking before you move your ladder.

The final thoughts I will leave with you are; be careful, be methodical, be determined, and be a little smarter than the wood or the tool you are working with. Follow these steps and you will be able to enjoy a job well done for many years to come.


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