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Cutting and Installing Crown Molding

A Method that Lets You Make the Right Cut Every Time Installing crown molding can be a daunting task, even for those who are no stranger to woodworking. Many a frustrated do-it-yourselfer has made several return trips for more material after ruining piece after piece of expensive crown molding with improper cuts. The problems begin when it is discovered that for some strange reason, 4 plus 4 doesn!t e"ual #$ when making a standard miter cut on crown molding. %ctually, the reason isn!t really all that strange, but there!s no need to get into the details. The main concern is finding the angles that work. If you!ve had that unpleasant experience, and have sworn off crown molding ever since, here are the tips you have been looking for. &ou!ll be able to cut and install crown molding like an expert in no time, with much less effort than you think. %nd best of all, there will be no wasted material and trips back to the store. The following settings and procedures are intended for walls and ceilings with #$-degree corners, using the most commonly available types of crown molding. 'ro(ects that involve cathedral ceilings and other angled surfaces are much more involved, and should be handled by experienced crown molding installers. )orking with the simplest pro(ects first is by far the best way to gain experience. %nd once you have that, you can start thinking about the more complex (obs. *irst of all, a conventional miter box (ust isn!t going to work for crown molding installation. &ou!re going to need something a little more sophisticated. The ideal tool is a compound power miter saw. It will perform all the necessary functions and is portable enough to tote and set up anywhere. In addition to the miter saw, you!ll need a hammer, 4d or +d finishing nails, tape measure, nail set, fine sandpaper, and some wood filler or spackling. % drill with a very small bit is a good idea also. It should be pointed out that the letter ,d, in nail si-es stands for ,penny,, so if a salesperson comes along to offer assistance, you!ll know what to ask for. .et!s get back to our standard #$-degree surfaces. There are two methods of cutting crown molding to fit them. /ne is to position the molding on the miter saw!s fence and table at the same angle it will be when it!s installed against the wall and ceiling. In that case, the conventional 4 -degree miters are the correct cuts. %nd that!s the way most instructions tell you to do it. 0owever, that method can present a ma(or problem. It may not work. If your miter saw doesn!t have a high enough fence to rest the molding against,

especially when wide molding is used, you!d be out of luck. 'lus, if you don!t position the piece perfectly, the cut will be wrong. *ortunately, there!s another way. It!s much easier to cut the molding while it!s laying flat on the saw!s table and against the fence. The height of the fence and width of the molding aren!t an issue. 1ut in order to do this, the miter will have to be set at an angle other than 4 degrees. The correct angle to set the miter is 23.+ degrees. There!s another angle involved, and that is the bevel - the angle to set the blade. That is 22.# degrees. *ortunately, all power miter saws have the angles clearly marked, and many of them already have these correct crown molding angles highlighted, so it!s a simple matter of setting them. The machine may even have a miter locking stop at 23.+, which makes it even easier. 4emember, these angles will only work for cuts made when the molding is placed flat on the saw!s table. There are four basic miter cuts for crown molding. They are inside left 5I.6, inside right 5I46, outside left, 5/.6, and outside right 5/46. *or all four of these cuts, the miter is set at 23.+ degrees, and the bevel is set at 22.# degrees. The only changes you will make to the saw will be setting the miter left or right. The molding piece must be positioned on the saw correctly7 the top against the fence for some cuts, the bottom for others. %nd you will also have to be aware of which piece will be the finished one after the cut. If this is starting to sound confusing, don!t despair. It really isn!t, and once you start with some sample cuts, it will become very clear. That!s where the next tip - a very important one - comes in. 1efore (umping into the pro(ect, head out and pick up an 8-foot piece of the cheapest crown molding you can find. It should be at least 9: inches wide. /nce you have that, you!ll need to make four sample pieces of molding, each with one of the four basic cuts. Make standard #$-degree cuts at the opposite end of each piece to avoid confusion. Mark each piece according to the type of cut 5/., I., /4, and I46, and which is the top surface. The sample pieces don!t need to be any longer than a foot or so. That way you!ll have some extra material available if you make a mistake. %nd be sure to save the four pieces after you!ve cut them. They will become valuable reference tools when you!re cutting the actual molding, as you will soon discover. Make sure the miter saw has been properly ad(usted before making any cuts. The owner!s manual contains detailed information on making ad(ustments.

*ollowing are the procedures for the four basic cuts. 4emember, the bevel is always set at 22.# degrees, and the finished side of the molding is always facing up. 4efer to photos. I. 5inside left6 Miter setting 23.+ degrees 4I;0T. Top of molding is placed against saw!s fence. The left piece will be the finished piece after the cut. I4 5inside right6 Miter setting 23.+ degrees .<*T. 1ottom of molding is placed against saw!s fence. The left piece will be the finished piece after the cut. /. 5outside left6 Miter setting 23.+ degrees .<*T. 1ottom of molding is placed against saw!s fence. The right piece will be the finished piece after the cut. /4 5outside right6 Miter setting 23.+ degrees 4I;0T. Top of molding is placed against saw!s fence. The right piece will be the finished piece after the cut. )hen you have made the four cuts and marked each piece, test them. The two pieces with the inside cuts placed together should create a perfect #$-degree corner, as should the two with the outside cuts. If the pieces don!t result in #$-degree corners, there are three likely causes= 36 &ou positioned one or more pieces on the saw improperly, or used the wrong piece as the finished one. 4efer to the instructions and make any necessary cuts again. 96 The saw may be set incorrectly. Make sure the miter and bevel are set at the proper angles, and securely tightened in their positions. 26 >ebris may have been caught in between the molding and one of the saw!s surfaces. Make sure the saw!s work surfaces are clean. /nce you have pieces that create perfect corners, you!re ready to begin the pro(ect. )hen you buy the actual crown molding, it!s always a good idea to pick up at least one or two extra pieces. Many pro(ects have a tendency to run short on material. ?ow it!s time to begin cutting the final pieces for the actual installation. This is where most of the confusion begins, since it!s not always that easy to determine which type of cut is re"uired. /ne mistake can ruin an expensive piece. That!s where those four pieces you cut earlier will come in handy. )hy are these four pieces so important@ )ell, here!s a typical scenario. &ou examine the area, determine that an inside left cut is re"uired, grab the expensive piece of crown molding, and place it on the saw. ?ow what@ %re you sure it!s an inside left@ >oes the top or bottom go against the fence@ .eft or right miter@

Asing the four sample pieces eliminates the confusion and guesswork. )hen planning a cut, find the sample piece that matches the cut that will be re"uired. 0olding it against the wall and ceiling in the actual location makes this easy to determine. The photo shows a situation that re"uires an inside left cut, which is clearly marked on the piece. The top of the piece is also noted. Then place that piece on the miter saw and match the miter and bevel to the cut. &ou!ll know instantly whether the miter is left or right, whether the top or bottom of the molding rests against the fence, and which piece will be the finished one after the cut, so you can position the saw and the good piece of molding accurately. %nd at that point, you!re ready to make the actual cut. Throughout your pro(ect, the only saw ad(ustment you will have to make will be to the miter, left or right. The bevel setting will not change. <xperienced installers obviously don!t need these four pieces, and can instantly determine which cut is re"uired. %nyone who does it often enough will develop a knack for it, (ust like anything else. 1ut for those of us who don!t install crown molding all that often, the pieces are vital tools that can save a lot of headaches, time, and money. There!s another factor involved in crown molding work, and that is precise measuring and marking the pieces. <xtreme accuracy is a must. Blose enough is no good. %s an added precaution, you might want to cut the piece slightly longer than you think it should be. If it!s too big, it!s easy to shave off a little. It may mean an extra trip or two to the saw, but that!s easier and cheaper than an extra trip to the store. )hen installing the finished pieces, locate the wall studs beforehand. They!re normally spaced 3+ inches apart, but you may encounter 94-inch spacing. >on!t drive the nails at 4 -degree angles through the center of the molding. ?ails should be driven straight in near the edges, where the molding fits flush against the wall and ceiling. ?otice in the photo how the molding is positioned. >rilling small pilot holes into the molding before nailing is recommended. This can prevent splitting it. Then drive the nails directly into the wall studs, but not all the way in at first. .eave enough sticking out so you can easily remove them if needed. %n ad(ustment or two, especially at corners, is often re"uired. <ven after everything is in place and looks great, don!t drive the nails ,home, as carpenters put it, or you could damage the molding with hammer blows. Ase the nail set to sink the nails slightly below the surface. *ill in the holes with wood filler or spackling, and they!ll become nearly invisible. If you miss a stud, it!s no cause for alarm. &ou can pull the nail out or simply leave it there to sink with the nail set later. &ou!ve already made the hole and it!s going to have to be filled in anyway. Asing a stud finder and old-fashioned tapping on the wall are other methods of locating studs.

Beiling (oists are a bit different. Molding pieces running at right angles to the (oists can be nailed into them without any problem. 0owever, it!s not that simple on lengths of molding that run parallel with the (oists. &ou won!t be able to nail into them unless you!re very lucky and the molding happens to be directly underneath one. 1ut the chances of that are slim at best. Co what!s the solution@ &ou can nail directly into the drywall, but that doesn!t provide much holding power. *ortunately, not much is needed as long as the bottom of the molding is securely fastened, so it usually works. Many pros install an angled backing board behind the molding to use as a nailing surface, but that starts to get "uite involved. Asing adhesive is another method, and that!s probably the best one. Dust remember to wipe up the excess before it dries. .onger walls will re"uire two or more pieces of molding butted together. >on!t simply make a straight cut on the two pieces. The correct method is to make beveled cuts. The result will be a much smoother seam where the pieces are (oined. *or example, the easiest cuts for butting two pieces together are the same ones you use on corners. &ou can make an I. cut on the left piece and an /4 on the right one, and they will fit together in a straight line perfectly. 4eferring to your sample pieces can eliminate the guesswork here also. Clight gaps in the finished (oints and other areas may occur now and then, due to imperfections in the wall andEor ceiling. Most homes don!t have perfect #$-degree corners and flat surfaces, but for the most part it doesn!t present a big problem. It!s possible to ad(ust the miter to compensate for imperfect corners, but it should only be done as a last resort, and then very slightly. /verdoing it can make things worse. Anless they!re extreme, unsightly gaps can normally be filled in with wood filler or spackling. If you absolutely must ad(ust the miter, make sure to return it back to 23.+ degrees before cutting the next piece. .ightly sand the molding where needed, especially at seams, corners, and any locations where wood filler was added. ;ather up your four sample pieces of molding and place them in a container so they!ll be ready for use on your next pro(ect. Then it!s time to grab a little refreshment of your choice, stand back, admire your handiwork, and congratulate yourself on a (ob well doneF