Running Crown on Cathedral Ceilings,
Using Transition Pieces
When two pieces of molding — like casing, chair rail,
or baseboard — meet at different planes, a triangular
transition piece often solves the problem. But that solution
for vaulted ceilings never dawned on me until JLC Live
presenter Mike Sloggatt suggested it about a year ago at a
show. Opinions vary on this technique. Some people think that
corner transitions don't look good because of the extra miter
in the crown molding at every corner. But I like the technique:
The additional lines emphasize the molding profiles, like
running three-piece crown around bull-nosed corners or breaking
crown around end blocks on a mantelpiece (Figure 4).
Figure 4.When working with a single size of crown,
a pie-shaped transition piece, mitered so its bottom edge is
level, can make a tight transition between the rake and the
Before cutting cathedral-ceiling transitions, you first need
an understanding of how to cut miters for a gable-end peak.
When cutting crown molding in position for standard horizontal
runs, the material is always placed in the saw upside down,
with the base of the saw representing the ceiling plane. But
when cutting gable-end crown, the crown sits in the saw the
same way it sits on the wall, right side up.
Understanding that makes cutting the transition pieces much
easier. These are basically triangles of molding, with both
miters at the top of the transition coming to a sharp point.
The miter on the edge that meets the horizontal run is a
standard inside corner, which could also be coped. This piece
must be placed upside down in the saw and cut at 45 degrees,
with the long point against the fence (Figure 5).
Figure 5.When cutting the transition piece, the
first cut, made on the edge that meets with the level run of
crown molding, is made in upside-down position — a
standard inside corner cut (left). The other edge, which mates
with the rake crown, is cut right side up (below).
But the miter on the other edge of the pie-shaped transition
piece, which meets the raked crown running up the gable, is cut
right side up, with the short point against the fence. The
angle of the miter is not 45 degrees; in this case, it's
78 degrees, which means you cut at 12 degrees on the miter
Determining the miter angle isn't quite as easy as sticking an
angle finder in the corner. In the case shown here, the angle
of the wall-ceiling intersection is 114 degrees, but that's not
the angle you need to cut. Figure 6, next page, shows a couple
of ways to solve this.
Figure 6.To figure the miter angle for the bottom
end of the rake molding, the author first measures the
ceiling-wall angle (top), then uses basic geometry to solve for
the cut angle.
Making the cuts. I cut transitions from short pieces of scrap
material, and I make a lot more scraps doing it. But I never
use a piece that's too short to hold comfortably — I
like my fingers.
If all those angles and miters are too confusing, pendants
might be the right alternative (Figure 7). I like making
pendants, and I like the way they look, especially in homes
with abundant moldings. But many homeowners (and lots of other
carpenters I've heard from) think they look cheesy. Still, I
have yet to find a better way to handle an outside corner in a
room with a cathedral ceiling.
Figure 7.Pendants can provide a point of
termination for crown molding and eliminate the need to join a
rake run with a horizontal run (top). The author makes pendants
from scraps, mitering four pieces together using spring clamps,
glue, and pin nails (bottom).
Pendants are easy to make, and they don't require a lot of
molding. I typically make them from the pieces of waste that
are left after installing crown in all the easy rooms. The
first step is cutting the miters to exactly the same size. I've
used a pencil mark on the base of my saw as a stop guide, but
clamping a repetitive stop to the extension wing is a more
reliable way to ensure that every piece is identical. After
assembling the pendants, I make the base blocks 1/4 inch wider
than the widest part of the pendant, which provides a perfect
For small pendants, I rip down a block of 4x4 until the reveal
is right, then cut the block to match the slope of the ceiling.
For large crown molding, I make the block from pieces of 1-by
with mitered corners.
When it comes to outside corners that intersect a vaulted
ceiling, I draw a blank and install a pendant (Figure 8).
Figure 8.Pendants provide a ready solution for
outside corners that interrupt a cathedral
The problem I've had is, with the top cut to fit the slope of
the ceiling, the horizontal crown molding installs much higher
than the raked crown molding. Joining the two in an
outside-corner miter has stumped me. If anyone has a solution
to this problem, I invite you to share it with me and other
readers by writing to the magazine or posting a message on the
Gary Katzis a finish carpenter in Reseda, Calif.,
a frequent contributor toThe
Journal of Light Construction, and
author ofFinish Carpentry:
Efficient Techniques for Custom