Installing Crown Molding From One Do-It-Yourselfer to Another

A carpenter I am not. However, I do have some common sense and a bit of intelligence, so I thought I could easily spend an afternoon putting up crown molding. Since I am not real detail oriented, I thought we would be able to slap up some molding and avoid having to paint all the ceiling/wall edges. While it is not quite that easy, it is still quite doable for anyone that has some experience with wood-working. Before you run out and by the molding, let me offer a few tips I learned the hardway.

1. A simple mitre box and saw won’t get the job done. It just won’t. After starting, I ran out and bought a power compound-mitre saw from Lowe’s. It is an impressive looking machine, a bit daunting at first. However, it is much easier to use than it looks, and I got mine for under $100. The problem with crown is that it slants out at a diagnol from the wall to the ceiling. That, coupled with the necessary mitreing in the corners, doubles the number of cuts. Since the angles from the wall to the ceiling aren’t 45 degrees, and since the corners of your room most likely aren’t exactly 90 degrees, you need a saw that is adjustable and will let you cut at any angle, not just the simple angles from a mitre box.

2. You are going to need more molding than you think. Books say you should measure the length of all the walls and add them up, then add an additional 10% for waste. This is probably accurate for an experienced carpenter, but you need more. Since the angles weren’t precise, and I wasn’t experienced, I used one extra board to cut various angles, using the trial and error method for each corner. Buy what you think you need, then buy two extra boards, at least. The material isn’t expensive, which brings me to my next point…

3. By the wood. There are several plastic or manufactured products out there that are pre-primed and ready to paint, saving a step. The problem is that they crack easily. Nothing is worse than finally cutting the piece to the perfect angles, putting it up, and splitting the wood when you are driving in the nail. Using the wood means you will have to prime it first (if you are painting rather than staining), but it will save you frustration, trust me.

4. Stores now carry products that allow for “mitre-less molding.” What this means is they have corner’s already created that you buy, and the pieces you put up slide right in the back of them. The corners are not all one piece, but it still looks pretty good, better maybe because it can look like a nice detail. The problem again, is that the corners are made under the assumption that your corner’s are exactly 90 degrees. I promise you that your corner’s are not, and the mitre-less system won’t work right.

Ok, if you are still reading, you likely want to know how to do the molding. Here is how I would go about it if I decide to do another room:

1. Measure the dimensions (length of all the walls) of the room and add the measurements. This is the precise amount of molding to go on the wall. Molding usually comes in 8 foot lengths, 12 foot lengths, and 16 foot lengths. The longer you buy, the less you will ahve to splice boards together to cover a wall, but the harder it is to transport and handle. For example, if your room is a perfect rectangle and measures 14 feet in length, and 10 feet in width, you could buy two 16 foot boards and two 12 foot boards, and you wouldn’t have to splice at all. If you have no way to get those boards home, you can buy seven 8 foot boards, splicing on each wall, but the finish won’t look as nice. I used only 8 foot boardsd as those were the only ones I could get home. Whatever you decide to get, round up when estimating, then buy at least one extra 8 footer to use as your test board to try angles, etc.

In addition to the boards, you will need a hammer and nail set, a box of finishing nails (make sure they are long enough to get them in the wall), some sand paper, carpenter’s glue, a tape measure, pencil, spackling compound, caulk, and your finishing supplies (primer and paint or wood stain, brushes, trays, etc.).

2. I recommend finishing the wood before you install it. You will need to do some touching up, but it is much easier than painting the molding once it is on the wall. Go ahead and get set-up, prime, paint or stain away. Primer takes at least an hour to dry, and then a few hours between each coat of paint. I recommend two coats to get a good finish.

3. Once the wood is prepped, it’s time to start cutting! figure out which corner is the least obvious, and start there. That way, any mistakes will be less obvious. I found that on the mitre saw, I wanted to cut the corner’s at about a 34 degree bevel. Then, I would generally cut the angles at approximately 33 degrees, but you need to play with it for each angle to get a precise fit. That is what your test board is. Use trial and error to figure out the first corner. Measure the length of the wall (or splice if you need to), and cut the other corner as well. If splicing, cut the angle so the over part goes up first. This allows you to slide the next board under it, making a snugger fit and its easier to hold while nailing. When you mount the first piece, start in the middle. Make sure the wall piece and ceiling piece both are flush.

Set a couple nails through the molding and into the wall, trying to hit the studs as best as possible. One nail in the ceiling part, and the wall part, every 16 inches or so (into the studs) should do it. Work your way out from the middle, making sure it is flush each time you nail. When nailing into the ceiling, try to hit the joists for the best hold. If possible, I would lay a thin line of glue on the ceiling part for a better hold, but it is not truly necessary. You should glue each piece you splice for the smoothest job. Continue around the room until you meet back where you started. Some trial and error is necessary, and there is no easy way to explain how to do it.

4. Once all pieces are nailed into place, go through with the nail set and sink the nails below the wood. This allows you to caulk the holes for a neat finish and prevents damaging the wood with the hammer. Also, you will need to caulk any gaps. Chances are your walls are not perfectly flush, so there may be some gaps around the room. Plus, your corners may not be perfect, requiring some caulking. This is normal, and if you do a good job caulking, you will never know the difference.

5. Once done caulking, sand smooth, go through and touch up the paint, and presto, you have brand new, great looking crown molding!!! Even if you need to buy the compound mitre saw, you should be able to do this project for under $250 for the average size room, and it adds serious value to your home. Just make sure the molding is the right size for your room (bigger for higher ceilings, smaller for lower ceilings).

Good luck!!!

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