Learn how to install both traditional and plaster-faced crown molding.
Crown molding is installed at the juncture of the wall and the ceiling. Although it looks like a hefty piece of wood, most crown molding is relatively thin material. The secret of its appearance is the way it is installed. Rather than being a solid block nailed into the corner, crown moldings are installed on the diagonal between the wall and ceiling -- there is nothing in the corner. Moldings installed this way are said to be sprung into place.
The tricky part about installing crown molding is cutting the joints. Because the molding is installed at an angle, it cannot be cut lying flat in an ordinary miter box; as you make the cuts, you must hold the molding at an angle. To cut crown molding flat, you need a compound miter saw.
About 4 hours for a regular room with four straight walls
Tape measure, framing square, miter box or miter saw, hammer, nail set, coping saw, utility knife
Measuring and laying out, driving nails, crosscutting moldings, mitering moldings, making coped joints
Walls and ceiling should be finished and painted, molding can be prefinished
Crown molding, 8d finishing nails, wood for blocking
If the wall runs parallel to the ceiling joists, there may be no framing members in position to nail the molding to the ceiling. In this situation, cut some triangular nailing blocks to attach to the wall studs. Size the blocks to allow a 1/4-inch gap between the block and the back of the crown.
The second piece of crown is cut square on one end and coped on the other. To cut the cope, start with an inside miter cut. Hold the crown in your miter box upside down (as if the base of the box were the ceiling and the fence were the wall) and backwards (if the cope is on the right end of the piece, the cut will be on the left as the piece rests in the miter box).
Create the cope by sawing along the intersection of the miter cut and the face of the profile. Angle the saw slightly so the joint is undercut. Test the fit against a piece of scrap molding and fine-tune the piece with a utility knife. Nail the piece in place as before. Proceed around the room, making square cuts on one end and coped cuts on the other end of each piece. Make coped cuts on both ends of the last piece.
In the heyday of the plasterer's craft, elaborate crown moldings in fine homes often were cast in place from plaster rather than made of wood. Today, thanks to a new molding material, you can create the same effect with less skill than it takes to install wood molding. This new material has a lightweight core of expanded polystyrene -- the same material used to make a plastic foam cup. The polystyrene comes coated with gypsum plaster, so you really are getting a plaster surface.
The good news for do-it-yourselfers is that the molding is attached to the wall with any lightweight sandable joint compound. No nails are needed and joints with gaps up to 1/8 inch are easy to fill with the same joint compound used to install the molding. Also, inside miter joints are used instead of coped joints. Cut the molding with a miter box or miter saw and finish it with the same paint you use on the other trim in the room.
You may need to end a run of crown molding without turning a corner or stopping at a wall. If so, stop the molding with a triangular return piece. To cut this piece, place a scrap of crown upside down in the chop saw or miter box and make an inside miter cut. Then set the saw to 90 degrees, align the blade to the point where the miter ends at the back of the molding, and cut off the triangle. Attach the return piece with yellow carpenter's glue. Use masking tape to hold the piece in place until the glue sets.