How to Install Crown Molding on Cabinets

Kitchen cabinets crown molding

 hikesterson / Getty Images

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 1 hr, 30 mins
  • Total Time: 5 hrs, 30 mins
  • Yield: 36-inch wall cabinet
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $50 to $100

One way to give your wall cabinets a finished, polished touch is by installing crown molding along the top edge. Crown molding helps eliminate the dark appearance of open soffits on wall cabinets and gives them a fine carpentry look, even if you have only beginner carpentry skills.

The crown molding is not nailed directly to the wall cabinets. The trick that makes this project so simple is the addition of wooden nailing strips at the top of the wall cabinets. These strips help you accurately position the crown molding and provide a place to nail onto other than the cabinet face. Because the strips are stepped back, the crown molding will cover them, rendering them invisible.

Safety Considerations

Because wall cabinets run parallel to lower base cabinets, the temptation might be to use the countertop on the base cabinets as a ladder. Resist that temptation. For most do-it-yourselfers, countertops are too high to use for this work. Not only that, countertops are slippery, plus you run the risk of damaging them by standing on them. Use a ladder for this project.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Electric nail gun
  • Electric miter saw
  • Tape measure
  • 6-foot ladder
  • Sheet plastic or masking film
  • Painter's tape
  • 2-inch angled paintbrush
  • Fine-grit sandpaper
  • Speed Square
  • Putty knife (if needed)


  • Crown molding
  • 1x2 lumber strips
  • Primer
  • Interior paint
  • Wood putty (if needed)


  1. Measure the Nailing Strips

    With the measuring tape, measure the width and depth of the wall cabinets. Both measurements are necessary because the crown molding will wrap around the cabinets. Total the two figures.

    For example, for a standard 36-inch wide wall cabinet with a depth of 12 inches, the total figure would be 60 inches. The total is comprised of a front width of 36 inches, a left depth of 12 inches, and a right depth of 12 inches.

  2. Measure the Lower Edge of the Crown Molding

    For the sleekest appearance, the bottom edge of the crown molding will be flush with the face of the cabinets. This means that the nailing strips need to be stepped back on all sides by the thickness of the lower edge of the crown molding. With the tape measure, measure this thickness. For many popular crown molding profiles, this thickness is about 1/8-inch.

  3. Cut the Nailing Strips

    Cut the nailing strips to the cabinet perimeter size, minus the thickness of the crown molding's lower edge. So, if the crown molding's lower edge thickness is 1/8-inch, here's how to measure the front and side strips:

    The front strip should be as long as the width of the cabinet, minus 1/8-inch on each end for a total subtraction of 1/4-inch. For a cabinet that is 36 inches wide, the front strip will measure 35 3/4 inches.

    The length of each side strip should be arrived at by starting with the wall cabinet depth (usually 12 inches) and subtracting 1 1/2-inch actual, not nominal, width of the front strip, then 1/8-inch set-back imposed by the front strip, and then a 1/8-inch expansion gap between the kitchen wall and the end of the strip.

    For a 12-inch deep wall cabinet, the length of each side strip would be 10 1/4 inches.

  4. Position the Nailing Strips

    Lay the front nailing strip on the top of the cabinet and set it back by the thickness of the crown molding's lower edge. With this example, that would be a 1/8-inch gap. Center the strip so that there is a space of 1/8-inch on each side. Repeat for the two side strips, setting each strip back by 1/8-inch. It can be helpful to establish these setbacks with the crown molding itself rather than relying on a tape measure.

  5. Secure the Nailing Strips

    Double-check your measurements and placement. When you're certain the placement is accurate, use the nail gun to nail the strips to the top of the cabinet.

  6. Measure and Cut the Front Section of the Crown Molding

    Measure and mark the front section of crown molding to the cabinet width. Set the miter saw to a 45-degree angle cut. Place the crown molding so that it rests upside-down and at a 45-degree angle against the saw fence. Cut at one mark, then move the molding along to the next mark. Position the saw to the opposite 45-degree angle cut and make the second cut.


    The two marks represent the width of the cabinet. But do not be surprised that the angled ends will flare out farther than the cabinet width. This is necessary in order to meet up with the two side sections.

  7. Attach the Front Section of the Crown Molding

    Hold the molding front section against the front nailing strip. Make sure that it is precisely positioned. With the nailing gun, drive several nails through the lower edge of the crown molding and into the nailing strip. At this point, the crown molding may droop a bit, but this will be corrected when you add the side sections.

  8. Measure and Cut the Side Sections of the Crown Molding

    The two side sections of crown molding only need angle cuts on one side; the other side can be a straight 90-degree cut. For the left section of crown molding, make a 45-degree cut on one side to complement the front crown molding's 45-degree left side. Repeat this for the right side.

    Just as you left an expansion gap between the side nailing strips and the wall, do the same for the side crown molding sections. Make sure that you leave about a 1/8-inch gap rather than having the crown molding touch the wall.

  9. Attach the Side Sections of the Crown Molding

    For this step, it helps to have an assistant raise the front section of crown molding so that it is at a 45-degree angle position. Place the left section of crown molding against the left nailing strip. Make sure that the two 45-degree flared sections of crown molding meet perfectly. With one hand firmly holding that angled junction, nail the side crown molding section in place.

  10. Match the Corners

    Drive one brad through one board to the adjoining one to help them stay together. Repeat for the right side.

  11. Paint and Finish the Crown Molding

    Before painting, cover the cabinets with sheet plastic or masking film and secure it with painter's tape. Depending on the size of the nail holes, you may wish to fill them with wood putty or leave them unfilled. Interior paint can often adequately fill the small holes produced by electric nail guns. Coat with at least two layers of paint. Let the paint cure for at least four hours before removing the plastic. If you are working with unprimed crown molding, you must first apply two coats of primer before painting.

Tips For Installing Crown Molding on Cabinets

  • Precisely position the wood nailing strips along the top of the cabinets. If you position the strips too far forward or backward, a narrow but visible line will mar the appearance.
  • Be sure to use an electric nail gun. Not only does this valuable tool let you shoot thin brad nails and avoid splitting your cabinets, but it can also reach into low soffit areas where it can be difficult to swing a hammer.
  • When purchasing the 1x2 lumber for the nailing strips, avoid furring strips as they have rough edges. Instead, choose spruce, pine, fir, or another softwood with good, straight edges.
  • Wood glue is valuable in securing crown molding to nailing strips. Once you have cut all pieces and dry-fit them for accuracy, run a thin bead of wood glue along the junction between the molding and the strip. Be careful that you do not drip glue onto the cabinets.