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Crown molding is a decorative trim used to highlight the transition between walls and ceiling. It is commonly installed above cabinets and below the kitchen ceiling. Dining rooms are another popular place for crown molding, but this ornamental wooden trim can be used anywhere in the home.
Can I Use a Table Saw to Make Crown Molding?
Crown molding encircles the top of the room, the same way a crown encircles the top of the head. It is generally installed on all four walls for a uniform look. Crown molding can also be called ‘cornice molding’.
These terms are typically used to refer to ceiling trim with a high level of detail. Less detailed molding is sometimes referred to as ‘flat molding’ (for profiles that do not include curves) or ‘cove molding’ (for profiles that contain only concave shapes.)
Pre-cut trim is the alternative to making your own crown molding. It is generally available in oak and pine, in a limited number of profiles. For truly custom designs or trim made from less common woods, a table saw is the answer. Be prepared for some trial and error, as this process involves a lot of tilting, raising, and lowering the blade.
While it may be a time-intensive and exacting project, you can and should make beautiful custom crown molding using your table saw and hand tools. Read on to find out how.
Making Crown Molding With a Table Saw
- Create a template. Search online for crown molding profiles and select a design. Trace the design onto paper and cut it out. You will use the same template on every piece of wood, to make sure that each piece of crown molding matches the others when installed. Keep in mind that more complex designs will take longer to cut and be more difficult to match. If this is your first time making crown molding, it’s probably best to keep things simple.
- Plan your cuts. Use a pencil to trace the template, transferring the crown molding profiles to the end of the wood.
- Concave areas of the molding are called ‘coves’.
- Sharp angles are known as ‘fillets’.
- When a convex area transitions smoothly into a cove, this is called a ‘compound curve.
Each of these details are achievable with a table saw, but require slightly different techniques. Make sure you have a saw that can handle bevel cuts. Budget table saws typically don’t have this option, but table saws in the $500 and $1000 price range should give you this capability.
- Cut the coves. To produce the curved area, you’ll tilt the blade, and attach an angled fence to the table saw. The correct angle is one that aligns the fence-side start of the cove with the outside edge of the blade’s first tooth. Start with the blade raised 1/16 of an inch, and make the first cut to the side of the curve. Raise it slightly with every cut until you’ve reached the middle of the cove. Then, progressively decrease the height of the blade as you finish cutting away the waste from the other side of the cove. You may need to experiment with different blade angles and heights until you find the one that works for you.
- Cut the fillets. Attach a rip fence parallel to the blade. Adjust the blade so that the teeth will meet the pencil line of the fillet at 90 degrees. Using push sticks or push blocks, run the wood over the blade. Plan to make several passes until you have removed all the waste, starting with a very low blade height and gradually increasing it until you get the cut you want.
- Clean the fillets with a card scraper. Card scrapers are thin rectangles of sheet metal, and have sharp edges, with burfs on two corners. When one of the corners is inserted in the fillet and scraped firmly, it will smooth and shape the wood without degrading the quality and sharpness of the cut. Using a card scraper will preserve sharp details, unlike sandpaper, which tends to blur them. A card scraper is also faster and more efficient than using sandpaper.
- Link the coves and fillets by shaping a compound curve. Tilt the blade so that it will meet your pencil mark at 90 degrees. Start with the shallowest cut, and raise the blade for subsequent cuts, working from left to right. Adjust the fence between each cut to guide your workpiece and ensure uniform results.
- Cut the spring angle bevels. ‘Spring angle bevels’, are used to join the face of the crown molding to its supporting structure. They are generally cut at one of two angles: 38 degrees or 45 degrees. You will need to rotate the workpiece onto its edge for this cut, so install a tall fence before cutting. Adjust the blade to your chosen angle. Use a level box to double check the angle of the blade. Move the board across the saw while pressing the face of the workpiece into the fence.
- Square the edges. Lay the workpiece flat again, and cut a fillet on the front of the crown molding at the exact same angle as the spring angle bevel. When you complete the coping joint and install the molding, the top fillet will be perfectly vertical. Square the top and bottom edges by cutting away remaining waste without adjusting the angle of the blade. Alternatively, you could use a jointer to square your edges.
- Finish and smooth. Wrap sandpaper around a cylinder that has a similar curve to your cove, and use this to sand the coves. A block plane can be used to finish the compound curve.
With creativity and skill, a table saw can be used to make custom crown molding. The blade is raised, lowered, and tilted as necessary to make the variety of shapes that make up crown molding.
To cut coves or convex areas, you will need an angled fence. For fillets and compound curves, the rip fence should be installed parallel to the blade. A tall fence is necessary for cutting the spring angle bevels, as the workpiece stands on it’s edge for these cuts.
Hand tools finish the job, leaving you with smooth, detailed crown molding that is ready to be installed.