What Is the Difference Between Cove & Crown Molding?

Cove and crown molding serve similar functions. Carpenters use both to smooth out the transition between wall and ceiling or to decoratively cap a wall or cabinet. They often are grouped generically as cornice molding. But the differences go beyond their shared applications.

Cove Molding

  • Has a simple, scooped-out or concave profile, bowing inward.
  • Smooths the sharp transition between wall and ceiling, cabinetry or stair treads -- without getting too fancy.
  • Is available in narrow widths, some as narrow as 3/4 inch, to meet various woodworking purposes.
  • Is less likely than crown to have profile variations.
  • Smaller versions have a square, 90-degree back that fills corners.
  • Can be used on top or bottom corners.
  • May or may not have angled edges.
  • Is used to display wood grain or where you desire simplicity.

Crown Molding

  • Typically has a combination of convex and concave profile features.
  • Is used for an ornate, built-up appearance, typically as ceiling trim, with only the wider versions readily available.
  • Visually brings the ceiling down for a cozier feel.
  • Profiles can vary widely, and you can combine different profiles.
  • Has more limited uses than cove.
  • Has a flat back, spanning corners at an angle.
  • Can't be used on bottom corners -- thus the name crown.
  • Always has angled edges to fit flat against wall and ceiling.

Cutting It

Both cove and crown molding typically are cut with a miter saw. Cove and relatively small crowns can be cut on a standard miter saw, with the edges of the molding set against the table and fence of the saw base. Large crown moldings that do**n't fit under the blade** of a standard miter saw must be cut in the flat position using a compound miter saw with a tilted blade.

Coping It

Carpenters use the coping technique more often on crown than cove because it can be very tricky to miter crown molding when fitting it into an inside corner. Coping involves cutting along the outline of the molding's profile, using a coping saw, and fitting the cut edge against the face of the mating piece of molding.

Stair Tread Application

Because cove molding is available in narrow widths, carpenters often use it under and around hardwood stair treads. Typical stair tread cove is 3/4-by-3/4-inch wide, with a square back. It's a simple procedure: Set the miter saw at 45 degrees, cut, fit and nail the cove in place.

Cabinets, Shelves and Mantels

Crown and wider versions of cove -- 2 to 3 1/2 inches -- are interchangeable for use as a trim along the tops of cabinets and under shelves or mantels, imparting a regal appearance. Use cove for simplicity, emphasizing wood grain. Use crown for an ornate, rich appearance.

Stack It

Stacking is a technique that involves placing moldings together. Crown is the typical candidate for stacking because it's more ornate than cove. For example, dentil molding is a type of crown molding that includes a row of small blocks that look like teeth. Carpenters often stack it below traditional crown molding for a complex appearance. Cove molding also benefits from stacking if desired to create additional shadow lines and complexity. You also can stack narrow cove molding under wider crown molding.