Crown Molding: Crafting Your Own Trim

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Blog entry by Mark A. DeCou posted 02-10-2007 08:43 PM 32062 reads 5 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch

My wife is gone for a few hours this Saturday morning, and the kids are busy watching a video, so I will update you on what I am working on now. I’m right in the middle of a “fun” project. It is “fun” on many levels, mostly because I have had to stop and scratch my head a lot.

For those of you with kids, or remember having kids, or know someone who has kids, Winnie the Pooh always says, “Think, think, think” while poking his temple when he is trying to figure out a problem. Sometimes I feel I look like Winnie the Pooh from more than this one attribute.

The only aspect of the project that I don’t enjoy is that it is a copy of an old antique. I prefer to work on things I dream up, but that is not what the commission was this time.





to see the project postings of the finished pieces:
  1. Side Altars
  2. Hymn Number Board
  3. Lectern
  4. Processional Cross
  5. Blog with Dedication Service of Remodeled Church


The goal of this commission is to build two more matching Altars that will be used on the back wall of the church. Here is a photo showing a view from the Balcony. The new side altars will be in the corners of the back wall, holding up the statues of St. Anthony and the Virgin Mary.

In addition to the new Side Altars I am building, I will be restoring, to some degree, the original front Altar, and the large cabinets on the back wall under the cross. I’m hopeful that my work on this project will bring in some other church work, as I enjoy using my abilities to help others Worship. When the whole renovation is complete, I will shoot a photo for the curious minded lumberjocks, as the entire interior of the church will be updated.

Here are a couple of close up photos of the Front Altar that I am copying.

When the church was first built around 1860 (I’ll get the exact date and update this later) there were two altars on the back wall in the corners, but subsequent remodeling over the years saw the Priest throwing the back altars into a fire one night before anyone else knew about it. That is one way to make changes to a church decor without getting board approval! They are still mad about it!

About 50 years have passed, and the church is undergoing a large renovation of the interior, restoring it to the original look, and so two more matching altars are needed again. Thus, I get to feed my family for a couple of months, and use my God Given talents to help people Worship, a great combination for me. Maybe more church leaders should throw furnishings in the fire, think of the economic boost to us all! Just kidding.

With that said, this antique Altar that I am copying has a lot of attributes that challenged me in my woodworking skills, and has caused some head scratching. For others, what I am tackling must seem pretty routine, but it has been a challenge for me, so that is why I am sharing.

I don’t normally build traditional New England, or Victorian style furnishings, so running moldings, sanding router bit profiles, and making decorative trim are not things I practice much. If I was trying to “copy” something easier to build, there would be no fun in it all for me. Sad, but true.

So, as I was pondering all of the aspects of each piece of this project, I thought I would try to share some of the adventure, and I might stir up something in somebody with the lessons I have learned, and the techniques I had to figure out.

The first thing I noticed when I went to view this commission after the phone call asking if I would bid on it, was the carved panels on the front and side. Whew, they looked scary. I am proud to say that I have tackled them, and last night I carved the last one. Karson sent me an article out of Fine Woodworking that showed how to carve incised letters, and the techniques worked. Thanks Karson! The copying of the panels will be the topic of another blog.

The 2nd thing I noticed when I first looked at this project was the turned corner posts, which I will also blog about separately as well.

The 3rd thing I noticed was the large crown molding, and that is the topic I want to cover here.

Most folks just go to a millwork place and pickout a trim. At best, we might custom order the trim to match from a millwork maker who grinds their own molding knives.

As an example, while in College I worked on a remodeling job of a large Victorian House where two of us installed wide crown molding on scaffolds and ladders to restore the old house around the eaves of the steep, and gabled roof. It was a remodelers nightmare for sure, and fortunately, I was only a helper to the master carpenter. Thinking about that project again, I think I will stop in Hutchinson and take a photo of that house, as a lot of my life and sweat was invested in that house, and it would be good to add it to my anthology book. From that experience I remembered that custom crown molding could be ordered and was a terrible booger to install. The wider the molding, the worse the project.

So, I contacted the place in Wichita that cuts custom millwork, and they were not the least bit interested in cutting the small amount of linear feet I needed. I’m sure with enough cash incentive, they would have done it, they are nice folks, but I have a tight budget for this project, so back to head scratching, or poking my temple, “Think, think think.”.

I could have used my Legacy Ornamental Mill to step cut the profile into a board held in place with the accessory horizontal table clamps, with a cove cutting bit over several passes. But, as my life seems to always prove out, my older model 1000 of this Legacy machine only allows me to run a 60” long board, and I needed to run 64”. So, I had to figure something else out. The new Legacy machines are designed to run any length of board you want to run.

So, back to, “Think, Think, Think.”

Then, it hit me, In High School, our shop teacher showed us how to angle cut boards on the table saw to make a base for a piece of furniture. I thought back about that process one time before when I made the base for the Birch China Cabinet way back in 1997. But, 10 years has passed, and a lot of miles, and I haven’t needed that technique since. Until Now!

Link to Birch China Cabinet

To document the process, and to share with all of the lumberjocks I love so much, I took digital photos of the process. For grins, I even played around some with making a digital movie with my camera (I’m no Wood Whisperer for sure), but it was a lot of fun to think through how to set up and shoot a shot that would communicate in a picture and video.

The process of making Crown Molding can be adapted to making a base for a project, a door frame, decorative flat trim, or a Crown top, and I hope that somebody will be motivated to give it a try. If you do, send me an email, it will be encouraging to me. There is no need to buy trim from a mill shop, just make your own with wood that matches your project. Right? Right! Where else can you get a stick of figured walnut crown molding for the top of your project?

So, let’s get to work. First off, think through the set up. You need to cut an elliptical profile of a cove.

The needed cove cut can be achieved by taking an angled cut across the top of a table saw blade. Changing the angle, changes the profile, either elongating, or shortening the radius points on the elipse. Pick something you think will look good, and go for it. Something around 45 degrees should always work well.

Before I started the work, I cut all of the pieces I needed to approximate length and squared and surfaced all four sides (S4S) so that they were perfectly flat, true, and matched each other in all aspects. This is an important step, as the more curve, bow, warp, etc., that you are dealing with, the harder it is to make consistent cuts. Remember, when you install the crown molding, the corners of the trim will only match if they are cut exactly the same in the milling process.

So, take your time during the (S4S) process, and borrow a buddy’s long jointer if you need to. You will find that after you have cut your cove profile shape, that the wood pieces may have bowed, or cupped, or warped a little. This is due to the removal of a large part of the wood in the milling, and so the forces that balanced the board in the S4S process were altered, and a new balance is forced on the wood, sometimes causing movement.

To help with this problem, I used very dry, seasoned wood. After the S4S process, I also ran the cove cut, and angle profile cuts immediately, making sure I had all of the pieces I needed milled during the same day, so as to minimize the amount of time the wood had to “rebalance” itself. For you evening woodworkers, you might need to wait until a Saturday to get all of that done in one run. I can assure you that this process is much more difficult if you are using bowed or cupped wood surfaces.

Here is a photo showing the set up. That’s me, not a model, if you were wondering. I would like to have worn my lumberjocks shirt for the photos, but since I try to wear it everyday and sleep in it at night also, it was in the wash during this day, lol. I don’t have a Lumberjocks Cap yet, so I wore a cap given to me at the Western Design Conference by one of the sponsors, Woodworker’s Supply. They even gave me two hats, one for dress up, and one for work, my kind of sponsor. I like it.

(Note to companies with hats to give away: If you want my head to carry your advertisment during my next photo shoot, please contact me for details!)

I used a couple of straight edge boards to hold the workpiece in place, and raised the blade about 1/32” of an inch on each pass of the board. I continue to make passes, raising the saw blade gradually until the profile depth I want has been reached.

To make my project difficult, I am trying to match an existing profile on the antique altar. The trim is 4.5” wide, the depth of the cove profile is about 7/8” deep, and the thickness of the trim board is about 1.25” thick.

I had to run scrap boards until I found the right depth and angle across the saw to match the old profile. I settled on 43 degrees. This process to make the trim took about 8 hours. The second day was spent sanding it all.

There was a required, unplanned, “third” day, as I had to make another piece of trim due to a mistake in cutting, but I will save that for another blog. The fourth day was used to hang the trim on both cabinets (another blog coming). One more day was used to cut the round trim that goes under the Crown Cove Trim, and the molding that goes above the Crown. This whole process took me a week, and about 60 hours of work (that includes “The Mistake”!). I had to make the crown cove molding, the round molding, and the top trim molding, as nothing I could buy looked at all like the original. That’s ok, it is what I am getting paid to do.

You could use any angle you want to cut the cove, just raise the blade in small increments, and keep the workpiece held down well the entire time it is on the blade. I built two special push blocks I designed for this project, and I love them. I am thinking about what to do with the idea, share it, or sell it, but I’m not sure yet. So, I am keeping the process described here copywrited until I figure it out.

To avoid burning a spot with the saw blade that is hard to sand out, keep it moving. The slower you can move it across the blade, the smoother the profile is when you are finished. However, if you go too slow, it is easy to “stop” and a burn mark can be made, rats! I used a newly sharpened Forrest 40 Tooth combination carbide tipped blade. It worked great, leaving only small kerfs lines that I could sand out easily, and no burn spots.

After the ellliptical profile has been cut, the next step is to whack off the 45 degree angles on the profile. I set my table saw blade to exactly 45 degrees, and made the passes to cut off the angles. I needed to make four passes to get the profile I wanted. I used featherboards to keep everything held down tightly so that the angle cutting was straight, and blemish free.

After the saw cutting, the next step is to sand out the saw kerfs in the cove cut. I did this by hand, as I had an easier time keeping it flat and smooth. I tried an oribital sander, but I didn’t get the silky smooth surface that I wanted, so I reverted to hand sanding. I used a drum sanding drum, wrapped with foam and sand paper, and just went back and forth and back and forth until all of the saw kerfs were gone. This sounds like a long process, and to some, it probably is.

To sand a piece of trim that was 72” long, the entire process to 220 grit was about 1.0 hours per piece of trim. Some were faster, some were slower, it just depened on how tired my shoulder was getting.

Hanging the Trim, cutting it to size, and making mistakes will be the topic of another blog.

Let me know what your ideas, comments, and questions are,

Mark DeCou

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -
If are you reading this Thread, then you might also be interested in:

Here are the posted projects from this Commission:
  1. Hymn Number Board
  2. Speaker's Lectern
  3. Processional Cross
  4. Matching Side Altars
  5. Restored Sacrifice: Altar: not yet posted
  6. Restored High Altar: not yet posted
I have blogged about this commission if you want to read more:
  1. Developing Authentic Expectations While Working With Commission Customers
  2. Commissioned Church Side Altars Complete
  3. Hanging Homemade Crown Molding: Suffering Through Mistakes & Learning Life's Lessons
  4. Crown Molding: Crafting Your Own Trim
  5. Arrival of the Historic Church Altar; Restoration and Making two Matching Side Altars
  6. Commission Award for the Church Altar Restoration and Matching Side Altars
  7. Church Altar Restoration and Matching Side Altars Project Bid Submitted

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

Here is a list of the previous project postings from my other Church Work:
  1. Roll Top Electronic Equipment Cabinet
  2. Communion Table

Note: This blog story, text, and photos are protected by Copyright 2007 by the Author, M.A. DeCou. No unauthorized use of this material, in whole, or part, is allowed without the expressed written consent by the Author.)

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

10 comments so far

View David's profile


1969 posts in 4617 days

#1 posted 02-10-2007 09:42 PM

Marc – Awesome blog entry! Thank you for the great detail. It was a treat to get a peek inside your shop and see you at work. Your cove molding is perfect and this looks like a very rewarding project. Please continue the bogs as your time allows – looks like you are very busy (which is a good thing)!

I just visted your website (for the first time) – WOW! Your work is absolutely beautiful. I can’t wait to show my son your powder horns. You truly have a precious gift. Thank you for sharing your talent.


View Dollarbill's profile


91 posts in 4616 days

#2 posted 02-10-2007 09:59 PM

If anyone in this world can do this, Mark DeCou can. You go Mark.


P.s. Check your messages.

-- Make Dust

View Karson's profile


35197 posts in 4879 days

#3 posted 02-10-2007 10:06 PM

Great Mark. Looks like you could have used your Diet Soda and your Makita soda holder for the hand sanding. Instead of having to use your drom sander. Have you ever tried some of those sanding mops that I think SandFlee, or Klingspor sells at the wood shows. I boutht the parts for one but havent put it together and tried it out. You have a bajillion 1/8” strips of sandpaper and use a drill press or possabily a drill to do down the curves of your moulding.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4793 days

#4 posted 02-10-2007 11:51 PM

“think, think, think”

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 4884 days

#5 posted 02-11-2007 12:32 AM

Karson: I use Klingspor’s Sanding Mop quite often. I use it in a drill press, and also chucked into a hand drill. I think it would have worked much more slowly to remove the kerf lines. It would work great on the final finish to give it a smooth luster after the sanding was all done. If I had used a tough enough grit to remove the kerf lines faster, then it would have also altered the profile, which I wanted to keep perfect so that the corners would match up.

I considered it, but then decided not to use the Sanding Mop on the molding because I want the whole cabinet sanded to the exact same roughness (smoothness) so that the stain takes evenly. Mopping the crown molding would have burnished the grain, making it take less stain. I have done that before, so I know it is a problem.

I use the Klingspor Sanding Mop on my canes a lot, and also on turnings I make on the lathe and Legacy Mill.

Surely, you would think one of those companies would send me a ball cap before my next photo shoot!

thanks Karson,

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 4884 days

#6 posted 02-11-2007 12:37 AM

David: motivating kids to try powder horn making is a passion for me. I have done home school lessons on the subject, and answered dozens and dozens and dozens of questions from kids at shows, and people that find my work in stores or on the internet and email me. Kids love powder horns, and in my mind, it is much better activity than video games, although I have not played any video games since 1990 when I got married and had to give it up.

I seem to be better at teaching powder horns than selling the finished the powder horns. It breaks my heart when I see the joy on a 10 year old face when he wants to buy one of my horns and he gets the courage up to ask me a price, and then I crush his little feelings with the cost. I had to quit qiving them away when I quite my day job, as I need money to pay bills all the time now.

I have a project posting on lumberjocks of a montage photo of my powder horns if you haven’t seen it yet. I have two more horns I did this past summer that I don’t have posted anywhere. Just too much to do, and I haven’t gotten them photographed well enough to warrant the posting process.

Thanks for your encouragement,

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 4884 days

#7 posted 02-11-2007 12:38 AM

Thanks Bill: I replied to your message mail.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View newcondos's profile


1 post in 3564 days

#8 posted 12-14-2009 11:56 AM

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View patron's profile


13650 posts in 3819 days

#9 posted 12-14-2009 12:43 PM

mark , some spamer brought this up ,

this is outstanding work !
i bet the good Lord is very pleased .

i have done coving over the years myself ,
and found that an easy way to do it ,
is to set the rails at the desired angles ,
and the height of the saw for the cove ,
then TILT the saw down to 45 deg.
and run the work into it ,
raising the angle with each pass .
when you have it back to 90 deg. ,
it is right on the money ,
some times you have to plow the waste before the settup ,
as the saw will be above the table for the start cut .
as the saw is cutting at the top ,
and not the side ,
it works much easier .

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View adrienne's profile


1 post in 3115 days

#10 posted 03-08-2011 11:28 AM

This blog really help us on our project. We’ve used this on our Crown Moulding Installation project. Every detail was informative and useful. Your shop and the way you work inspires us. The excellent cove molding was really remarkable. Hope to read your other blogs.

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