How to Cope Crown Molding a Complete How-to Guide

The most challenging part of installing crown molding is making an exact cut. In fact, an exact cut coupled with a perfect match has a harmony and beauty all its own. Coping crown molding involves patience, and by incorporating these techniques, people can get it perfect each time. Learn how to cope crown molding a complete how-to guide.

The reasons for frustration range from joints not closing tightly, poor framing, walls not being square, an old home, or poor sheet rocking.  Cope joists usually solve all these issues and make completing this job easier.

The benefits of a cope joint are flexibility and speed. With a tiny adjustment, cope joints can create a corner that is 2° out of the square. They can close firmly even if a ceiling is a little bit out. Professional carpenters generally cope along all inside corners of the molding.

If you cut the cope a little longer and fit it into place, the gap closes tighter.

If miters are cut for an inside corner, each must be cut at the proper length and angle. If it is too long, the long point will get into the drywall. It will be hard to match the miter joint with the other piece. If it is too short, a new piece must be cut.

Copes work better because if we do a 45° miter and learn that it won’t close due to the walls not being square, you will have to recut the molding. With a cope joint, this doesn’t occur.

With a cope joint, the cut is ¾” deep. It is the precise thickness of the molding. The joint will fit to perfection each time.

Setting up the Miter Saw

a man doing a crown molding

To ensure each cope cut is good, place the molding in the proper position. It should be backward and upside down in the saw. Rock it until the piece is flat against the saw’s base and the fence. Draw a line along the bottom of the crown (it’s the actual top while upside down on the miter saw). Mark the fence of the miter saw and hold the crown at the cutting line.

Avoid positioning the crown to be flush against the fence and the saw’s base. Just pay attention to the fence. If the molding is flush to the fence, the cut will be at the ideal spring angle. Spring angles are the angle where the molding pops out from the wall. The fence, in this case, is the wall.

The ceiling shoulder needs to touch the outer edge located on the crown. A well-designed crown lands this way. This way, the ceiling irregularities will not prevent the crow from touching the ceiling.

Things to Avoid

Do not miter along a pencil line. It is difficult to hold the crown molding into place safely. Pencil lines are hard to follow. The hand also has to hold the crown tightly, and this could be dangerous.

If the blade is dull or the material is dense, the crown molding may resist the blade cutting through. This will result in the blade pushing on the material. The spring angle will end up changing as you are cutting the crown molding.

Cutting the molding flat is also not recommended. Cupped crowns are hard to cut consistently because they will not lie flat against the saw’s base. This changes the saw’s position on every cut.

The flat should only be cut if the crown is too big to cut in its position.

Should You Miter or Cope?

A miter joint can be clean and simple. It is easy to glue. The crown molding can be moved easier to close the joint.

The downside is the miter may be hard to fit or can take longer to obtain a tighter joint.

Coping, on the other hand, is a skill, according to professionals. However, once it is mastered, it becomes second nature. Coped joints are quicker to do and are more forgiving in terms of mistakes. Miter joints are harder to do if the ceiling isn’t squared, so this is where coping comes in handy.

Where Should You Have Coped Joints?

Coped joints are perfect with wood moldings in places with large seasonal shifts in temperature. These shifts increase the likelihood of corner joints opening. Coped joints will not show these gaps as easily.

Coped joints are simple to do as they are cut squarely and placed against the wall corner. Pieces just but up against each other as you finish a room. These are great when the room has a slant or against a ceiling that is out.

You find this more in older homes because they have shifted and settled.

Incorporate coped joints if you want a more defined look. Old homes that want to mimic the original millwork will appear to be historically accurate by using this method.

Ceiling moldings are more visible than baseboards to visitors. When they are ideally shaped, it will seamlessly flow into the wall.

These are all reasons for coping the joints. In short, the pros for coping corners are:

Pros:

  • The gaps are not likely to open with seasonal weather shifts
  • The best method for walls that aren’t square

Cons:

  • It may be difficult to cut with some moldings
  • You need precision for the cuts

While coping crown molding may appear to be difficult, once you get the hang of it, things become easier. Coping joints is more forgiving of the errors experienced while mitering and is ideal for older homes where shifting has occurred.

Homeowners will find mitering work difficult in older homes and become increasingly frustrated, as the walls may not be square. This will require repeated cuts along the molding to get it to fit perfectly against the other piece. It may take longer and can require more patience than coped cuts.

In terms of preference, many professionals prefer one over the other. Some like the miter cut because they find doing a 45° angle to be easier with their saw. Others find it more challenging because if things don’t line up, they must redo the entire cut. Some prefer mitering due to speed while others find coping faster.

Each has their own thoughts on which method is best.

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