Adventures in Crown Molding

My wife has been asking me to put up crown molding in our front rooms for several years now. I always put it off because honestly it’s a lot of freaking work. This week though I finally put it up as a Christmas gift to my girl. She loves it and I can look forward to never having to install that much crown molding again in my life.

Since this blog is a mismash of various crap that goes on in my life, I figured I’d also pass along some of the lessons I’ve learned about crown molding this week. Here we go.

First, I’ve learned that with any job, tools are everything. And this is what’s cool about doing home projects for your wife; You get to buy tools. I never thought I’d be a tool guy, but I’m finding that I am. So what do you need for crown molding?

  • Compound Miter Saw. A compound miter saw takes most the headache out of cutting crown molding. There’s so many crazy angles you have to think about and this tool will let you get to cutting instead of wracking your brain and wishing you had paid attention in high school geometry. My saw already has settings for cutting molding at right angles built in!
  • A bench and stands. You need a good solid bench at the right height to cut on. Mine is made from two saw horses and a piece of plywood. I also borrowed some adjustable stands from a friend that I used to hold up the ends of long pieces of molding while I cut. This allows me to make cuts by myself instead of relying on Michelle to come out and hold the molding for me.
  • Pneumatic brad nailer and a compressor. Michelle bought me a pneumatic air gun that shoots 2″ brads and a compressor with a tank on it a while back. This was by far the best investment ever made. You do NOT want to be fumbling around with a hammer and nails while up on a ladder trying to hold the molding in place.
  • Angle guage. This is for measuring angles between walls. Invaluable if you have walls that don’t meet up at 90°.
  • Shop lights. Lights are designed to light the room, not the ceiling. If you want to see what you are doing go get some shop lights.

So those are the basic tools that will make your life so much easier. I suppose you could hang molding with a miter box, a saw, and some nails and a hammer, but why? There’s a certain excitement to cutting with a power saw, and firing nails into wood with a gun is great fun! Besides, it would have taken double if not triple the time with manual tools. So go buy the tools man.

OK, so onto some practical tips for hanging  crown molding.

  • Go to the DeWalt website and print their molding installation cheat sheet. It lists every angle and the corresponding miter and bevel settings. Math sucks. Cheat sheets rock.
  • When you first start, take some scrap and cut some common angles and write what they are on the molding. For instance I made a piece that had outside cuts for a 90° corner on each end. I also made one for inside cuts. Once I had these “templates” I could then use them to verify that I had the saw setup the right way for each cut, since it can be confusing and you don’t know if you screwed up until after you make the cut! This can save you a LOT of wood.
  • You can also use these “templates” for checking the fit before cutting a real piece of molding. One thing I learned is that walls and ceilings are NOT square! So I would test with my template first and see if I needed to make small adjustments to the saw before cutting my real piece.
  • Cut a bunch wood triangles in advance. This is a tip I picked up somewhere, but I can’t remember where. There are some walls with no perpendicular studs in the ceiling. So there’s nothing to attach the top of your molding to. You can glue it, but if you’re like me, glue is my nemesis, and honestly, our ceiling was so uneven that gluing would have been a nightmare. So I cut some triangles out of a 2×4, nailed them to the wall and then nailed the molding to that. Worked great and it will take a tornado to get that molding down now.
  • Use the coping method for inside corners. The coping method is where you run one piece of molding right up to the wall, and then cut the joining piece at an angle. Then you use a coping saw to curve the second piece to fit the contour of the first. It’s sounds hard but honestly it’s super easy. The advantage is that you only have to make one angled cut for each inside corner rather than two and it’s easier to line up the joints.
  • Cut your pieces a little longer than you measured and then trim them down little by little. I’m no carpenter so my measuring and cutting skills kind of suck. So I found that by cutting everything a bit longer, testing the fit, and then trimming down little by little helped me to get perfect joints.  Yes it takes longer, but it really saved me a lot of anguish.

Lastly, just take your time and take one cut at a time. Don’t forget to take a break if frustration sets in. And make sure to reward yourself with a few cold ones when you finish.