How to Add Crown Molding to Cabinets

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Crown molding can give even stock cabinetry an upscale feel.
Image Credit: Stephen Paul for Hunker

Crown molding adds a special touch to kitchen cabinets, giving even the most basic cabinets a custom-crafted, luxe look. The molding also comes in handy for closing the gap between the top of the cabinets and the ceiling and for creating a unified appearance and style along the sight line near the ceiling. If you're planning on installing crown molding yourself, keep this important tip in mind: Always purchase a little more molding than you'll need in case you don't measure or cut the angles correctly the first time.

Choosing Crown Molding

Crown molding comes in a vast array of styles and sizes, so picking one that's ideal for your kitchen cabinets may seem tricky at first. Before you shop for crown molding, measure the span of your wall cabinets, including any exposed sides as well as the space between the top of your cabinets and the ceiling. If there's a 3-inch gap, for instance, you don't want to buy molding that's 6-inches high.

Some molding can be stacked atop one another for a more elaborate look. Generally speaking, the simpler the cabinet door looks, the simpler the crown molding that looks good with it. Likewise, highly detailed doors call for elaborate crown molding. Proportion and scale are important aspects to consider as well, according to Dura Supreme Cabinetry. Tall cabinets with ample space above them look best with high crown moldings in a room with a high ceiling, while compact cabinets in a room with a low ceiling look best with smaller crown moldings.

Make sure to choose crown molding that's well-suited to the scale of your cabinetry and space.

Crown molding is usually sprung, which means only the angled edges near the top and bottom actually touch the cabinet or ceiling — the space between the crown molding and the top edges of your walls remains empty. While you're perusing the selections at your nearest home improvement store, consider buying a piece or two in several different styles and heights to test in your kitchen without actually installing them. This way, you can see what looks best for your cabinets. Keep the receipt and you can always return what you don't use.

Making a Molding Jig

If you plan to top a bunch of cabinets with crown molding, a jig makes it far easier to make accurate cuts on a miter saw. The jig is relatively simple: screw or nail two boards together to form an "L" and create a 90-degree angle, emulating the 90-degree corner where the top of the cabinet and ceiling would meet if the vertical cabinet face reached the ceiling.

The bottom board on the jig emulates the ceiling, while the vertical board nailed to the back of it emulates the cabinet face. Each jig board should be the same length, generally 3- to 4-feet long or a length that's convenient for your work space when cutting the molding. Keep the nails or screws away from the center area of the jig, which is where the saw blade cuts.

Place a piece of sprung crown molding into the jig upside down, so that the part meant to rest close to the ceiling sits on the bottom board and the part designed to touch the top of the cabinet rests along the perpendicular board. The design or visible face of the molding faces you. Clamp the molding to the perpendicular board in several places, mark a line where the molding ends on the bottom board of the jig and then screw a wood strip in place along this line to serve as a stop for the molding.

Using a jig to cut crown molding ensures straight, seamless edges.
Image Credit: Valeriy_G/iStock/GettyImages

Once assembled, every piece of molding you plan to cut will fit easily in the jig, whether for straight or angled cuts. This ensures accuracy when cutting and lining up the pieces atop the cabinets. Your first few cuts of molding may slice through parts of your jig, but that's OK.

Measuring Angles for Corners

The trickiest part about installing crown molding is measuring and cutting the angles properly so the pieces line up as they should atop the cabinets. Remember when cutting that the molding always fits vertically and upside down with the visible face facing you into the jig. Also remember that the true bottom edge is the edge that should match the length of the cabinet to which it attaches. The top part is likely a bit longer due to the angles involved.

When cutting outside corners, set the miter at 45 degrees to the left to cut the piece that fits on the left side of the cabinet. After cutting, the piece on the right is the piece to install. To cut the board for the right part of the outside edge, set the miter 45 degrees to the right. Pressed together, these two pieces will make a perfect 90-degree corner. Then, save and install the piece to the left of the cut, according to a handy chart from DEWALT.

For inside corners, cut the left piece of wood by setting the saw 45 degrees to the right, saving the right side of the cut for installation. For the right-side piece of wood on an inside corner, set the saw 45 degrees to the left and save the piece to the left of the cut. Getting this perfect can take some work. Practice with some extra or scrap molding to make sure your pieces line up as they should.

Installing the Molding

Since this project requires lots of nailing, an 18-gauge finish nailer makes the process a lot quicker and less tiring while helping to prevent bent nails or inaccurate nailing. Instead of nailing the molding to the top of the cabinet face, use extra strips of wood mounted atop the cabinet to create a nailing surface.

  1. Cut strips of 3/4-inch x 1 1/2-inch wood to the length of the top of the full run of cabinets as well as another piece cut to size for each exposed side-cabinet view that requires crown molding.

  2. Glue and nail or screw the wood strips atop the cabinet, flush with the visible edge of the cabinets. The narrowest portion of the wood should be the vertical part.

  3. Before nailing the molding pieces in place, test fit them to make sure angles line up along corners.

  4. Install each cut piece of molding into the top strips of wood using a finish nailer, inserting one nail every foot or so along the bottom edge of the molding that rests flush against the wood strip atop the cabinet.

  5. Fill the nail holes and gaps along corners with a drywall hole-filling putty. Sand it with fine-grit sandpaper once it dries.

For yet another approach, you can build a frame-style cap that fits atop the cabinets and sits flush with the front and exposed sides of the cabinets. Attach the crown molding with a cordless driver using 1 1/4-inch screws attached through the back of the cap and into the back edge of the molding. This also eliminates the need to fill nail holes. Once the molding is in place, enlist a friend's help and slide the cap atop the cabinets. Use screws to attach the cap, inserting the screws upward from the ceiling of the cabinets.

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Kathy Adams is an award-winning writer. She is an avid DIYer that is equally at home repurposing random objects into new, useful creations as she is at supporting community gardening efforts and writing about healthy alternatives to household chemicals. She's written numerous DIY articles for paint and decor companies, as well as for Black + Decker, Hunker, SFGate, Landlordology and others.

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