Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
Any homeowner likely has a love-hate relationship with crown molding. The decorative cornice found running along the ceiling is both functional and aesthetically pleasing, but installing it correctly can be quite a pain due to the precise measurements needed for a perfect fit. Luckily, there are a handful of strategies that can be used to measure, cut, and hang crown molding for a beautiful interior trim with little effort.
This article will mainly cover measuring and cutting crown molding, with a few tips for installing it in your home as well as some recommended tools and places to purchase. Read on to learn everything you need to know about DIY molding on the fly!
Introduction to Crown Molding
Before getting started, it’s important to know what crown molding is and what purpose it serves. All homes have molding, trim that runs along baseboards, windows, and doors. Crown molding specifically is the interior trim around the ceiling of the home, used to cover exposed seams of the walls and ceiling joining together.
Often made with plaster, crown molding can boast a variety of intricate patterns that draw attention and improve the design of your home. However, it is also sometimes made out of wood or composite, depending on the preferences of the builder. Each material has its benefits and drawbacks worth considering before installing your own.
Cutting Crown Molding
Unfortunately, installing crown molding isn’t as simple as a trip to the store. While it has to be purchased, it also has to be cut correctly to fit your space as well as join seamlessly in the corners of your room. This can be a confusing process. Different corners have different angles, rights and lefts can get switched up, and you oftentimes need to rotate the molding before cutting.
This next section will cover the different ways to cut crown molding, as well as answer some popular questions like how to find out the right angles for cutting.
Learning the Different Terminology
First thing’s first: many online guides to installing crown molding will use specific terminology for the different cuts and joints used. Before you can begin, you need to be able to understand and recognize what each term means. Otherwise, you’ll be spending more time researching what a bevel cut is instead of carrying one out!
Below is a handy list of some different terminology used in the world of crown molding, so that you can be a pro in no time.
A joint is an area where the different sections of crown molding come together. There are a couple of different types of joints you need to know.
- Butt Joint
A butt joint is a flat cut used to join the trim directly to the wall. Coped molding fits against a butt joint to create a coped joint.
- Miter Joint
A miter joint is used when two pieces of trim are cut to form a corner. The pieces are typically cut at complimentary 45° degree angles in order to fit seamlessly together.
- Scarf Joint
A scarf joint is used when the area you’re installing the molding is too long for a single piece of trim. To create this joint, one piece is cut at a 45° angle facing inwards, and the other is cut at a 45° angle facing outwards, allowing the two to overlap for a seamless look.
- Coped Joint
A coped joint is used to get a perfect finish for an inside corner of a room. Because wall corners are not always a perfect 90° angle, it can be difficult to make sure your pieces fit together correctly. To create this joint, create a butt joint on one of the pieces of trim. Then, measure the other piece against the butt joint and cut for a perfect fit.
Now that you know which joints are which, you must understand the different cuts. Cuts form joints, and joints form beautiful, decorative molding for your home.
- Miter Cut
In the simplest terms, a miter cut is a cut to the face of the trim. When a miter cut is used, the top of the trim will have an angled cut to it, but turned width-wise, the width of the cut will be straight.
- Bevel Cut
A bevel cut is the opposite of a miter cut, in which the edge of the trim will be cut instead.
Figuring Out the Right Angle
Crown molding joins the wall and ceiling at an angle, leaving a small amount of space underneath. When preparing to cut pieces, you’ll need to know which angle to use, as each angle requires a different approach when cutting. According to Sawdust Girl, there are “three common angles for crown molding and about 100 different ways to cut it.” It’s important not to get ahead of yourself, as it can easily become confusing when it’s time to cut. Let’s start with the basics: which angle is the right one for your home.
The spring angle, as it’s called, is the angle between the crown molding and the wall. As mentioned above, there are three common angles, which are:
Each angle requires a different arrangement of settings on the tools you’re using, but 38° is the most common one you’ll see. It’s so common that most compound miter saws already have a pre-set setting for making the cuts. Additionally, the crown molding found at many home improvement stores will likely boast a 38° spring angle. Therefore, we recommend it for any beginner for ease and simplicity.
The Different Corners
There are two different types of corners: an inside corner and an outside corner. An inside corner forms when two walls join together at a 90° angle. An outside corner forms when two protruding walls join together, forming a 270° angle. It’s much easier to use diagrams to keep the differences clear; Googling an example is a great way to understand which is which.
Each type of corner has both a right and a left part to it. Here’s where it gets a little confusing: your inside left corner will match up with your outside right corner, and vice versa. Don’t be discouraged if your inside corners don’t look like they should match up: they shouldn’t!
PRO TIP: Make and label crown molding templates! Practicing your cuts will make them easier to make in the future and labeling your templates in sharpie with the miter right and bevel left angles along with which corner it is will help aid in any future confusion.
Tips for Cutting Crown Molding
Actually, cutting crown molding can be a challenge, even with templates and knowledge of the various joints and angles. You’ll have to know how to use a compound miter saw, which is not covered in this article. A great guide for learning the anatomy of your miter saw is this one, on Saws Reviewed.
Having an understanding of the parts and jargon associated with a miter saw is crucial for troubleshooting and online tutorials. It’s quite a lot to digest at once, so give yourself plenty of time to do your research before jumping into your project.
Can Crown Molding Be Cut Flat?
When working with crown molding, you’re working with two-dimensional cuts, as the trim does not sit flush against the wall, but rather joins it at an angle. Therefore, it’s hard to visualize cutting without attempting to prop up the piece with one hand and cut with the other.
Luckily, compound miter saws have great features that do allow crown molding to be cut flat against your table or workspace. You can do so by adjusting your bevel angle. Remember that a bevel cut slices through the edge of the piece at an angle? This is the angle that will ultimately allow your pieces to both join together seamlessly with each other and the wall.
Crown molding can be cut flat, but to do so, you must know which spring angle you’re working with as well as how to adjust the bevel aspect of your blade for the right tilt.
Using Corner Blocks Instead of Joints
One thing that may be easier than cutting and creating corner joints is to use corner blocks. With a corner block, the joints will attach to either side using a scarf joint rather than to each other to form a corner, which can indeed be tricky. Miter and coped joints require practice, and you may find that corner blocks are an easier solution.
A Guide to Installing Crown Molding
Now that you understand the different cuts, joints, and angles required for installing crown molding, you can get started. You will need your crown molding and a compound miter saw at the very minimum, but you may find that other tools such as jigs are helpful.
Here is a complete guide to installing your own crown molding at home.
Before you even begin cutting, you’ll want to prepare your space and assemble the necessary materials. Use a wet cloth or a duster to remove any dust from the area of installation. An extra pair of hands is also really useful, so see if a buddy can join you in your crown molding project.
- Start with the corner cuts
These are the most difficult cuts to make. Begin by determining your spring angle and adjusting the settings on your compound miter saw. If you have templates previously made, use those! Begin your cuts and make sure to set them aside in labeled piles so that you don’t mix any up.
PRO TIP: If you notice small gaps between your corner joints — whether you’re using a miter or coped joint — use a little bit of caulk to fill the area for a seamless finish.
- Measure your space
Now that you’ve cut the corners, you’ll need to move on to the main part of the trim. Start by measuring your space and making small pencil marks where the trim begins and ends.
- Measure your trim and cut
Once you have your measurements, begin cutting your trim. You’ll want to do a mix of 90° and 45° angle cuts on the ends of your pieces. Be sure again to set these cut pieces aside so they don’t get mixed up. Labels are your friends here!
- Cope the joints
Next, you’ll need to cope the ends of the trim so that they can form a joint seamlessly together. Do this delicately! You don’t want to end up cutting the wrong part and ruining the look of your trim.
- Double check the fit
Be certain that all the pieces you cut fit together with each other and the ceiling. You don’t want to get halfway through installation only to realize that the measurements aren’t right. It seems like a simple step, but it’ll save you quite a bit of headache down the line.
- Install to the wall!
Now that all the cuts and measurements are done and double-checked, it’s time to install the trim. Here’s where a helper may come in handy. Have your friend hold the trim to the wall while you nail the pieces to the backboard. Fill any small gaps in the joints with caulk.
- A nice finish
Once everything is installed to your liking, use a wood finish or paint to tie the pieces of trim to each other perfectly. Before you know it, you’ll have a professional-looking installation that you were able to do right at home!
Installing Crown Molding on a Sloped Ceiling
If your ceiling has any sloping to it, you’ll quickly realize that the above guide won’t work for you. Adding crown molding to your sloped ceiling is not an easy endeavor, as the new angles add a host of additional concerns that don’t apply to regular installation. Don’t be too discouraged! It can indeed be done with a little extra effort and knowledge of the tools you’re using.
Below are the different steps necessary for correctly measuring and cutting crown molding trim for a sloped or slanted ceiling.
- Find the angle of your ceiling slope.
This is the most important step, finding the angle between the wall and the ceiling. In a room without a sloped ceiling, this is typically a 90° angle. However, when a slope is involved, the angle is typically larger. Once you determine the obtuse angle, subtract 90° from that amount to find out what the slope of the ceiling is.
- Change your saw settings.
This requires an understanding of the saw you are using, but be sure to adjust the settings to amount for the new angles and cuts.
- Make the cuts!
Installing crown molding on a sloped ceiling requires a combination of horizontal and vertical cuts, joined together by triangular pieces of trim where the wall trim meets the ceiling trim.
- Check for perfect fit and install
Once you’ve made your cuts, double-check that they fit to the ceiling as they should. If all’s good to go, begin your installation!
Purchasing Crown Molding and Other Tools
To successfully carry out a home installation of crown molding, you’ll need to purchase not only the trim, but also any extra tools you might need such as the compound miter saw, caulk, nails, paint, and possibly jigs if need be. You can use what you have lying around, but you’ll want to know where to purchase the items you’re searching for.
Crown molding trim can be purchased at any home improvement store near you such as Home Depot or Lowe’s. You can also call your local hardware store as they may also carry what you’re looking for. An associate at the store can assist you in finding the right fit and color for you, as well as answer any questions you might have about installation.
Compound miter saws are sold at large home improvement stores or can be purchased online.
Lastly, you can purchase caulk, nails, paint, and any other smaller parts at your local hardware store or even big box stores like Wal-Mart and Target. Before you shop, make sure to research which parts are the right ones for your project so that you don’t end up with the wrong size nails or a paint color that doesn’t match as well as it should.
Crown molding installation may be intimidating, but it is very much doable with a little bit of effort and research. Besides this article, there are tons of resources online including videos and demonstrations that can help you every step of the way to achieve a professional-looking finish for your home. DIY home improvement is a great way to save some extra money while learning new and valuable skills that may come in handy in the future. So, get out there and start working!
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