Uneven Ceilings and Cabinet Crown

How to fit crown moulding to a badly out-of-level ceiling. July 31, 2009

I ran into a major problem running 4 1/2" oak crown molding to the ceiling. The older house had several waves in the ceiling, but in one spot where an 18" pantry is placed the ceiling changes 3/4" from one side to the other. How do I cover this? It looks like crap when I float it and it looks like crap when I slant it. Itís too much to scribe. I know I read an article about the floor being really unlevel, but what do you do with the ceiling?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor J:
Thatís a huge change in 18'' but it is what you have to work with. I would scribe 1/4, float 1/4, and slant 1/4. Back fill and caulk the 1/4 at the ceiling. Scribing will cause your mitre on one end to be screwy so be careful and plan it out before nailing. If they want a straighter look they will need a flatter ceiling.

From contributor M:
You donít say how old is this older home, but Iíll assume plaster and lathe ceilings. My suggestion is a longer way around this barn, provided you are good with a trowel or have a plaster guy who'll work with you. Cut out the low-hanging portion of the ceiling, wire-lathe it, and rebuild the plaster to surrounding levels. The old plaster may have taken 7/8", the new repair won't necessarily require as much depth. If need be, you can locally pare down the ceiling joists a bit to get your finished surface where you need it. If it's wildy out of whack, then do this coupled with the scribe and slant methods already suggested. It's just the way it is in old houses. I recently did a job where I had to cheat 1.5" in less than 4' but unless you knew where to look, you'd never see it. This will work even if you're starting with a drywall lid.

From contributor U:
I've been through this many times. I always check the ceiling out good and see how much the ceiling height changes around the room. I always guarantee the customer that there will be areas that the crown won't touch the ceiling and usually that will cause them to drop the cabinets down. If it doesn't I put it in writing, that way nothing can come back on me. All the ways to fix this problem have been mentioned and to be honest none of them really look good in my opinion, at least to a trained eye. We have to face it, we just can't work miracles.

From contributor F:
Two solutions to this problem that I have used in the past are:

1. Glue a 1" riser to the top of the crown, then use this to scribe. It works, but doesnít really look good.

2. Keep the crown about 1" down from the ceiling all the way around and add a 1/4" strip that is about 3-4" wide to the ceiling just behind the front edge of the crown. This little 1/4" strip should be sprayed black. What this does is create the optical illusion of a shadow line and actually works quite well. You have to try it to believe me. Your best option is to just bring the crown down about 3-4" from the ceiling - then it doesnít look like a band-aid.