How To Remove Coving

When starting a new renovation, one of the many things you’ll eventually have to deal with is coving. If you’ve ever had to remove it, you know that it’s not exactly the most enjoyable job. That goes doubly if you’re trying to not damage the plaster beneath. Today’s article is going to discuss the basics of coving (and cornice), as well as how to remove coving. This is gonna be a fun one – so stay tuned!

To remove coving, you simply need to cut the adhesive holding it in place. The same goes for corning, though it’s more complicated due to corning’s design.

Now without further ado, let’s get right into it!

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Coving Basics

First things first – what is coving? In short, coving is the decorative lining that you see on the joint between your wall and ceiling. The size and amount of detail in the coving depends on factors like cost and design preferences, though most housebuilders in recent years resorted to a simple C shaped coving. This is for one reason alone – it’s simple and looks nice. Add in that it’s effective and cheap to make with plaster and MDF alike, and you’ve got an instant favourite for craftsmen.

Coving tends to come in multiple different shapes and styles, though the most common one is 127 mm. This refers to the “imaginary” straight line drawn across the coving from one point touching both wall and ceiling. 100mm and 150mm coving were also common following the mid-1930s and on.

You may have heard the terms coving and cornice used interchangeably. While most people would understand what you said if you called coving cornice or vice versa, they’re not actually the same thing. The primary difference, at the end of the day, is complexity. Coving is (as mentioned above) generally rather simple, while cornice is traditionally much more complicated and difficult to install well.

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Removing Coving or Cornice

This is a rather simple job that takes a lot of patience and a steady hand. Before you get started, I need to warn you – it’s entirely likely that you’re not getting it off in one piece. Coving is generally pretty weak and won’t stand up well to force, which you’re definitely going to need.

First things first, you’ll need a few tools. The most useful thing that you’ll have here is a utility or putty knife. This will be used to cut through the cornice cement (adhesive) that’s holding it in place and hopefully separate it. Next, you’ll want a prybar or moulding bar like this right here. The final two things you’ll need are a rubber mallet or hammer, and a piece of sacrificial wood or MDF. These will be used if you’re unable to free the cornice without force – they’re your last bet.

Now, onto actually getting it off of your walls and ceiling. To remove coving or cornice, do the following:

The Removal Process

  1. Using your multitool, run along both the top and bottom edges of the coving. In other words, cut along both the wall and ceiling sides. Try to do it at as close to a parallel angle to the coving as possible to get as much cement removed as you can.
  2. Take a prybar and gently lift the coving. If it budges, you can begin to remove it, but do not try to force it. Assuming you did a proper job with the knife, it should be coming off easily. If you have to force it, move step 3 and stop prying.
  3. Okay, it’s not coming off easily. That means that it likely won’t come off in one piece – so we’re going the route of force. Take a thick piece of MDF or wood (to soften the blow) and put it against the bottom of the coving. Hit it with a hammer going upwards, towards the coving. I like to use a rubber mallet to reduce the chance of damaging the plaster.
    1. Your goal here is to crack the coving cement, not break the piece loose. Continue this process along the entire piece of coving to loosed the coving cement.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until the coving comes off. You will likely have to remove it in pieces. Having a second pair of hands to help will drastically improve your experience here – so get a friend to help.

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Other Important Notes

As a note, depending on the age and location of your home, you may not have a cement adhesive to deal with. More modern homes (especially in the States) nail and caulk it into place – generally referred to as crown moulding.

Now, all that’s left is repairing the damage that you likely did! Don’t worry – as long as massive chunks of plaster aren’t missing, you’ve likely done a good job. A proper skim coat should resolve any minor remaining damage, assuming you were able to separate the cement properly from the plaster.

Especially as coving and cornice alike are very common in older, historic homes, I highly recommend hiring an experienced professional to remove it. They will run a better chance of not damaging the coving itself or the plaster, making the remaining resurfacing work a lot easier.

Final Thoughts

Coving, cornice, or crown moulding – whatever you call it, it’s not generally a fun thing to remove. While modern professionals generally nail and caulk it in place, historically it was cemented to the wall with a powerful adhesive. This is where the issue comes into play – it’s a very, very strong adhesive. While caulking could easily be cut with a utility knife or multitool, this is likely not to come up without either a good amount of force, or a long time spent cutting.

While it’s not ideal, it’s best if you go into this planning on removing the coving in pieces, rather than whole. If you can’t stand the thought of breaking up the beautiful cornice, I highly recommend that you hire an experienced, well-reviewed professional. They will be more likely to have a) experience with doing this, and b) a chance to not damage your coving, wall, or ceiling.