How To Nail Crown Molding [4 Steps To Follow]

Crown molding makes for an attractive and often affordable addition to any room. However, the installation of this ceiling trim can be rather complicated. At this point, you have already measured and cut your molding but are wondering how to nail the crown molding properly. Well, you have come to the right place. In this post, we review all of the most effective crown molding nailing techniques.

Nail crown molding by hand or with a finish pneumatic nailer through solid wood material. To accomplish this, follow these general steps.

  1. Locate Framing Material Behind the Wall Cladding
  2. Mark Stud or Rafter Locations
  3. Hold Molding In Place
  4. Nail Molding To Wall

Keep reading the rest of this post for detailed directions on accomplishing each of the above steps. We include directions on how to nail crown molding directly to framing and a technique for adding a profile piece of backing wood behind the molding. We also answer a few related questions. All told, we cover everything you need to know for nailing off the crown molding.

A carpenter brad using nail gun to crown moulding on kitchen cabinets framing trim, How To Nail Crown Molding [4 Steps To Follow]

Nailing Crown Molding Directly to Framing

Most people prefer nailing crown molding directly to the framing. This technique requires no additional wood (other than the molding itself) and relies on the solid construction already present in your home. 

Read this great article to get an idea of what kind of crown molding might be right for you, "What Crown Molding To Choose? [Various Types Assessed]."

1. Locate Framing Material Behind the Wall Cladding

This step aims to determine where the framing of your wall and ceiling are behind the wall cladding. Usually, wall cladding is drywall but can also be wood paneling or other nailable material. The framing lumber makes for an excellent location to affix the crown molding. Find framing with stud finders, the tap technique, or test holes.

New house construction interior framing

These strategies are designed to find three types of framing that occur around the top edge of your interior walls. The studs run up and down inside the wall. The rafters run across the ceiling. And the top plate runs along the ceiling on top of the studs. Any of these three framing classifications work for nailing off the crown molding. 

Stud Finders

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The easiest way to locate the framing is by using a stud finder. These devices measure density and will beep and shine a light on the wall whenever they are brought over framing. Following the directions included with the device, slide the stud finder around on the wall until it highlights the framing location.

Tap Technique

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This technique is a little more difficult and requires an experienced ear. The trick is to tap along a wall or ceiling with a hammer. When you are over empty space, the taps will sound hollow. When you are over framing the taps will sound dull.

Test Holes

Once you determine how much of your ceiling and wall will be covered by your new crown molding, you can make test holes without worrying about them looking bad later. Just take a thin nail and a hammer and pound the nail in. If it hits wood behind the drywall, you will feel resistance. If it hits a space between framing, the nail will sink easily and quickly. It is efficient to combine the test hole and tap technique together.

2. Mark Stud and/or Rafter Locations

Once you have determined where the studs and rafters are, mark them with a pencil or other light writing utensil. This is a critical step because it is not easy to find the framing while holding a piece of long wobbly finish work in place.

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Whether you are going to paint or not will determine how bold you make the marks and where you place the marks. If you paint, there is no reason to be subtle because the painter will cover your marks. If you are not going to paint a surface, use light erasable marks or perhaps hide them behind the eventual location of the crown molding (but just barely).

3. Hold Molding In Place

Most contractors will hold the molding in place with just their hands and body as they nail the piece off. Once one nail is in, the rest of the nails are much easier to place accurately. However, for particularly long pieces or pieces of molding that are difficult to hold in place, you might need to get creative.

Carpenters installing crown molding

Options include using a bit of painters tape to hold the molding, getting a friend or partner to help hold the molding, scabbing a piece of wood to the wall to hold up one edge of the molding, resting the molding on a piece of heavy wood set against the wall, or resting one end of the molding on a nail pounded into the framing.

4. Nail Molding To Wall and Ceiling or Top Plate

Now it is time for the finale - actually nailing the molding into the wall and ceiling. While the processes covered below are similar, we go over how to nail the molding into the ceiling (rafters), walls (studs), and into the top plate. It is essential to nail molding into both the wall and ceiling for larger molding, or it will likely start to sag one way or the other. For small molding, nailing it just into the top plate should suffice.

Senior carpenter installing crown molding

Usually, contractors will nail one side with a nail or two and then the other side with a nail or two. This allows you to relax because these few nails will hold the molding in place as you drive the rest of the needed nails.

How to Attach Crown Molding to the Wall?

Attach the crown molding to the wall by nailing through the part of the molding that is flush to the wall. Usually, this is 1/2-inch to 1-inch from the edge of the molding. Put a nail into the molding at each stud to ensure the molding will stand the test of time.

How to Attach Crown Molding to the Ceiling?

In a similar strategy, put a nail through the crown molding into each rafter along the ceiling. The molding will usually have a slightly different shape on the ceiling side than on the wall side. Whatever the shape, the part that is flush to the wall usually is the best place for the nail. Therefore, nail the molding to the ceiling about 3/4-inch from the edge of the molding.

How to Attach Crown Molding to Top Plate?

For crown molding that is fully flush to the wall and relatively small, it is acceptable to nail just to the top plate. The plate usually hangs into the wall by about 3/4-inch. So nail the molding into the top plate every 12 to 16 inches.

Nailing Crown Molding to a Profile Backing

As you probably know, most crown molding sits at an angle from your wall to your ceiling. This means that to nail it off, there are relatively narrow points where the molding hits a solid surface. To avoid dealing with this, you can cut a piece of plywood or scrap board (the profile backing) to fit into the triangular space behind the molding.

In this case, you nail the profile backing to the studs, rafters, and top plate. Then when you are ready to put the molding in, you can nail it wherever you want into the piece of scrap. This allows you to focus more on the finished look rather than making sure you are nailing through the right place on the molding and into framing behind the wall.

What Nails do I Use for Crown Molding?

Initially, you will want to use an interior finish nail. This means they are not hot-dipped galvanized and have a low-profile head. The exact nail length you use for crown molding depends on how thick the molding is. Usually, you will want the nail to go into the framing by at least 3/4-inch. So 1/2-inch for the molding, 5/8-inch for the drywall, and 3/4-inch for the framing give you an almost 2-inch nail.

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Visit your local hardware store, and they can show you the proper nail choice. If you are using a finish nail gun, have the gun to ensure the nails will fit your gun. Remember, it is ok to have too long nails, but nails that are too short could lead to molding that eventually falls off.

Should I Use Glue For Crown Molding?

Ceiling moldings in the interior

It is smart to glue outside corners of crown molding. So when you have two mitered edged coming together, glue that corner. This is just an extra step to ensure that the corner stays tight and eventually pulls apart. For the rest of the molding, there is no glue needed.

Do I need to Pre-Drill Holes for Crown Molding?

If you are hand nailing your crown molding, it might be wise to pre-drill the holes. This ensures that the molding will not split. However, most contractors will only pre-drill holes in crown molding when absolutely necessary. Nail guns rarely require pre-drilled holes.

In Closing

This post has provided an in-depth examination of how to nail crown molding. Included are details on nailing crown molding to walls, ceilings, and even top plates. We also answer a couple of related questions. Good luck!

Now that you have nailed off the crown molding, one of the next steps is to paint it. Visit this fantastic article to learn how to paint crown molding like the pros, "How To Paint Crown Molding Without Brush Marks."

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