If there was one thing we knew about the purchase of our home over a decade ago before we even started a single project, it was that we'd eventually install crown moulding in pretty much every single area of our house. It's an element of home decor, historic homes, and general home aesthetics that Wendy and I both enjoy. It dresses up almost any room, it's not cost prohibitive from a materials standpoint, and it's something that the general DIYer is completely capable of handling with a little knowhow, patience, practice, and the right tools.
Now 11 years later, we've applied crown in three different profiles within eight of the 11 rooms in our home, and the other three rooms won't escape our ownership without eventually being adorned with this delightful carved wood architectural detail. Looking back on our early gusto, it's funny to think about all of our attempts and missteps early on in our process of developing solid crown moulding skills.
We made a whole bunch of mistakes when hanging that first room of crown. From painting the wall and ceiling before putting up the moudling to using the wrong type of caulk. But it was a learning experience that helped set our stage for the next project, the next next project, and beyond.
After I had nearly completed hanging our crown in that very first room, I proudly marched Wendy into the living room and presented the hung (but un-caulked) 4" traditional crown that I had slaved over for days. I had just once piece to go, but I was too excited not to show it off. Wendy's response, "Maybe we should have hired someone???"
Her words cut me, they cut me deep I tell ya! Never had I ever been so thoroughly insulted. The walls were wonky, out of square, and included a gentle curve and two outside corners. I had tried my best and was left feeling as if I had possibly failed. Lucky for me, Wendy didn't know the brilliance of a tube (or four tubes) of caulk. A few minutes of applying then smoothing the caulk, followed by a bunch of painting and furniture placement and we had ourselves a professional caliber moulding install, and one I could be very proud I had DIYed.
A bit more paint, a whole lot of new furniture, window treatments, antiques, carpet, pretty much a complete overhaul (and a wide angle lens) and we have ourselves the living room we know and love today. Hey, it only took us a few years to get to this point.
As the years have gone by, and we've marked our DIY scorecards with room after room of successful crown install, we've refined our process for measuring, cutting, hanging, and caulking our crowns, and now we have it down to a veritable science. We recently completed the crown moulding install in the bathroom and would like to take moment to share some of our tried and true tips and tricks with you.
First and foremost, there are a handful of must have tools and supplies when it comes to hanging a successful crown detail. Beyond the obvious items that are either necessary or extremely helpful, like a miter saw, compressor and air nailer, tape measure, and the crown itself, one of the most useful sets of tools is one that I purchased on a lark way back before our very first attempt at crown.
This was one of those things I found back in the early days of Google when I searched for something along the lines of "How in the hell do I hang crown moulding in a horribly out of square house with essentially no skills to speak of, oh please be a solution out there that can guide me through this minefield of potential disaster." I'm felling lucky...click.
When the book and rulers arrived I thought "a paperback book and a few plastic rulers, how can this possibly help me to install crown." Well, the book's measurements table, basic description of how to install crown moulding, and general techniques, combined with the rulers' ability to tell me just how many degrees away from 90 almost every single corner in our house happens to be, allowed me to make consistent and accurate crown corners. In our home, that's no small feat, I assure you. Now, 11 years later, this book is used at some point in just about every project.
Our latest crown endeavor in the bathroom did try our patience somewhat thoroughly for a few reasons, but a little creative ingenuity went a long way in correcting our typical "old house issues." As I worked through the whole process, I realized that we've created our own approach to crown that seems to work out pretty well. I figure it's worth sharing just in case you're as big a fan of crown as I am and are looking for a few new tips and tricks to help your future crown hanging projects.
We kick off our crown process in the most straight forward way possible, by selecting the profile we'd like to use and determining its spring angle. The spring angle determines the angle the miter saw needs to be set for when cutting the corners miters. Most crowns are a 52 degree spring angle (or 38 degree upside down), but the crown profile we've been using on the second floor are all 45 degree spring crown. If you're not sure on your crown, it's easy to determine your spring angle using the rulers that came with the book.
In this case, you can see the ruler is showing 135 degrees. Our spring angle is calculated by subtracting the 135 degree measurement from the 180 degree flat, giving us 45 degrees.
Once the spring angle is determined, I do a little room prep. I used to draw the room to scale on paper and make notes of the various angles and measurements on that scale srwaing, but lately I've just taken to writing everything directly on the walls. I find it's easier and you never have to worry if you're looking at your sheet of paper upside down and cutting the wrong angle. So I just work my way around the room measuring the corner angles and noting them in pencil.
I know the difference between 90 degrees and 89 or 91 doesn't sound like much at all, but knowing this difference and how to set the saw to the correct angle makes a world of difference when it comes to a tight joint.
I also prefer to miter my corners rather than coping them, as I feel like I can better control what I'm working with. Coping is just plain tedious and hard, but I sometimes still go the coping route when a corner is particularly tricky and needs a little less precision or simply isn't cooperating. But I'd still say we do mitered joints about 85% of the time.
In addition to marking the corners and lengths of crown on the walls, I try to mark all of the stud locations on the wall so I have good nailing points. And the final thing I like to do is to work my way around the room with a scrap piece of the moulding, marking the bottom point of the moulding at various places. In a new home or a room with a new ceiling, this is a good guide of where to position the crown, but in an old house with an old ceiling that has wonderfully challenging rolling waves to it, these lines act more as a focus of frustration and anger and are there to taunt you, annoy you, and remind you just how unnecessarily difficult the whole process can be.
Once all of the prep work is done, the actual install of moulding can go relatively quickly. I prefer to start with the longest length of moulding if possible. The primary reason for this approach is because the longest wall often requires two lengths of moulding that must be mitered together in the middle. This means I only have to worry about one corner on the given piece rather than corners at either end. This makes measuring and cutting the first piece much easier.
I also cut a scrap short length of moulding with the corresponding miter for the next piece of moulding so I can make sure the corner joint is in good shape before I nail the first piece up. Given the size of the room, this first piece is almost always a two person job, with one working on the corner and the other holding the length in place.
After a few minutes of moulding wrestling, typically a fair amount of swearing, some profuse sweating (even in winter), and the inevitable leap of faith that comes when placing the first few nails, we have ourselves some crown. It may not be jewel encrusted or covered in ermine tails, but it's a thing of beauty.
From that point forward the whole install is a methodical process of measuring, checking, cutting, checking, trimming, checking, trimming, checking (again), glueing or caulking, and nailing. I always make sure I'm cutting one piece ahead and checking each mitered corner before nailing the first half of the corner. The floor quickly begins to look like a graveyard for decorative triangles.
For me, the trickiest areas of hanging crown actually involves outside corners...
...and the end cap terminations where the crown needs to stop and door casings start.
To do these properly requires a whole lot of measuring, cutting, and checking before every nailing it in place. It's all about patience and ensuring a nice tight joint. I also like to backfill any joints with caulk to ensure a good and long lasting connection regardless of how the crown expands/contracts over time.
When hanging crown in an old house with the expectedly undulating and unpredictable ceilings and walls, it's not uncommon for large gaps to appear all along the meeting points and corners. While you can often force the crown into place to close the gap, sometimes you just have to go with the flow and accept the gaps as forcing the crown can cause even worse issues in the corners.
When the separations aren't too large you can usually just use caulk to fill the gaps, but when they get a little larger, it's good to take a multiphase approach to both trim the crown as necessary and use some tapered pieces of wood to close everything up.
In our case I tend to plane away a little crown where the ceiling really dips...
...And cut some tapered shims to try and fill in the particularly large gaps.
My goal in cutting these tapered pieces are not to completely close the gap, but to close it to the point where the gap is small enough that I can effectively caulk it. It sometimes takes quite a bit of scribing...
...and fitting to get it all into place.
Once I feel like they fit in nicely, I apply a liberal amount of glue and slide everything into place. The key here is to make the wood and crown become one, so I force the wood down on the top of the crown with several wood shims and fill all of the gaps with liberal amounts of wood filler.
After allowing adequate time to dry and fully cure, I then sand all of the wood filler smooth to give us an altered and much better looking corner. It may be a tedious process to undertake, but the results can be excellent.
When all is said and done, the hope is that you'll never really notice this corner in the room. It sure is a lot of work to put into something that I don't want anyone to really notice.
I also take this opportunity in the project to fill all of the various nail holes in the crown...
...and sand them all smooth with 150 grit paper.
The whole wood filling process tends to be a bit tedious, but the effort you put in here will absolutely pay off in the long run with a much better looking finished paint job. And it's important to do this before you caulk all of the gaps, otherwise you'll end up with a bunch of wood filler dust caked right into your caulk.
When it comes to filling all of the gaps with caulk, the phrase to live by is "less is more." The tendency with caulk is to cut the tube's opening way too large, apply too much, and end up with tons of waste and sloppy caulk lines all over the place. Using our favorite brand of "Big-Stretch" caulk, I like to just cut the tip of the tube to reveal about a 1/16" opening.
By cutting the tube rather small, it allows me to apply a sufficient but not blobby bead of caulk. If I need more caulk, I just slow down how quickly I'm moving the gun and allow more to come out. If I need less, I move the gun along quicker.
Caulk tends to form a skin within about 10-15 minutes tops, so I try to smooth as I go to ensure a nice finished product. I didn't realize it until just recently, but I've developed my own personal technique preference of how I smooth caulk. It took me a while to figure out what I liked to do, but this approach tends to work really well for me. Using my clean and possibly slightly damp middle finger, I sort of cross my fingers and pull my middle finger over the caulk and towards me while I push down on my middle finger's nail with my index finger.
What I find is that crossing my fingers allows me to apply a consistent and even amount of pressure on the caulk to produce a very smooth end result.
The amount of caulk you have on your finger when you're done wiping with one pass should actually be pretty small. The idea here is that smoothing the caulk places some on your finger, which then gets used to fill in any gaps or light spots as you smooth. I'm also lucky to be a bit ambidextrous (I right left, throw right, paint both), so using my left or right hand to smooth the caulk is pretty straight forward.
Using the small opening and less is more approach, caulking the whole room took about one full tube of caulk. When I used to cut the caulk nozzle too large, I always ended up using three or four tubes and a roll of paper towels for cleanup. After allowing the caulk to cure for about 24 hours, I checked for any low spots that needed to be touched up and then admired our progress. Even the corner with the huge gaps was looking pretty great.
All that's left is to prime and paint up our crown and we can call this aspect of the project done. Doing it all with crazy hair is a prerequisite. Wendy is channeling her inner Snork to get this job done.
As you can see, our work on the bathroom is progressing and the crown really makes the whole space feel like an actual room. We're looking forward to painting everything and can't wait for the days where we'll be kicking back and soaking our tired and aching bones in a real and actual bathroom.
We also hope that our process for installing crown is helpful and you can use some of our tricks in your next moulding attempt. Though I was initially somewhat intimidated by hanging crown moulding back when we purchased our home, today I feel as if it's something almost any DIYer can accomplish with a little time, patience, and the right tools.
How do you feel about crown? Love it? Hate it? Indifferent? What about the debate between hiring it out or doing it yourself? We'd love to hear your opinions.