Avoiding Pitfalls in Architectural Woodworking Project Inspection

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In a recent article, we explored how to avoid common errors in QCP certification, along with the twenty most frequent errors we see. In this article, we’re going to explore the common errors we see during the woodworker inspection. 

Woodworking project inspections

Architectural woodworking projects are inspected by a nationwide team of trained and tested QCP representatives. This highly experienced team is comprised of former architectural woodworkers, millwork industry owners, managers, engineers, and consultants. They ensure that all standards, specifications, and benchmark goals are met.

These inspectors come across common pitfalls during their woodworking inspections. In this article, we’ll explore what these pitfalls are and how to avoid them. 

Step-by-step, we’ll navigate you through QCP project certification from the technical perspective of standards-related issues and help you avoid those common errors found in reports from QCP inspectors. We’ll cover the typical misconceptions found in project registrations, label fees, shop drawings, and architectural woodwork standards for different items and help you on your way to certification compliance.

Common errors in registration

  1. It’s the responsibility of the architect to register a woodworker project: it’s a commonly-held opinion among woodworkers that the architect is supposed to register a project. At QCP, we regularly receive calls from architects who have been asked by their woodworker to call and register their project. However, it is actually the woodworker’s responsibility to make sure that a project is registered or to register it themselves. Project registration is free and can be completed online
  1. Not paying label fees (also known as Certification Request Fees): this error is normally made by new licensees who aren’t used to the QCP registration process, but it also happens with firms who have only performed a small number of QCP projects. The label fee must be paid in order for a project to be eligible for certification, and it can be paid online.
  1. Paying label fees late: label fees must be received by QCP at least 14 days prior to the commencement of fabrication. This allows for the scheduling of the required compliance inspections during the fabrication phase of the work. If you repeatedly fail to pay on time, this is cause for suspension and possible revocation of your company, the project may not receive certification, and the licensee may end up on probation.

How to avoid registration and label errors 

These tips will help you avoid common errors in the registration process:

  1. Cross-train project managers, estimators, and engineers/draftsmen in the process so everyone knows what is required
  2. Register the project at the time you are bidding. This gives QCP the opportunity to support you by checking in with the architect when the project has been awarded. QCP will alert the architect if a project is awarded to a non-QCP licensee
  3. Order labels upon being awarded the project
  4. Create a checklist or other tracking method so requirements aren’t missed

Common errors in shop drawings

A common misconception is that if shop drawings are submitted with materials that vary from the project specifications and/or the AWI Standards and these drawings are then stamped and signed by the design professional, then the changes to the shop drawings have been approved. 

The reality under QCP policy is that unless the drawings contain a note that clearly indicates the change and the design professional has initialled the change, or the woodworker has an approved Permission to Modify or RFI the change, then the change is not permitted. Shop drawing approval does not equal permission to modify. In the case of changes to a mock-up, if the specifications have changed since the mock-up was delivered, you would need to point these changes out to the architect in writing.

The 5 most common non-conformities found in shop drawings

  1. Incomplete materials listings for casework and drawer boxes
  2. Failure to detail the location of all the required internal wall blocking
  3. Failure to provide finishing requirements, including the finish system applied
  4. Failure to provide a reference plan
  5. Insufficient construction detail, including cabinet dimensions, and joinery and connections including installation

Our recommendation to avoid these errors is to establish drawing templates that fully conform to the Standards, and commit to using these templates for all your projects. The likelihood of missing something becomes greatly reduced when forms are standardized and used by everyone in every project. Create a checklist to check against the Standards that can easily be sent to the architect for approval – we suggest using the shop drawing checklist from AWI 100 – Submittals.

11 common non-conformities found during inspections

These non-conformities and errors are the ones most frequently found by our inspectors during woodworking project inspections.

  1. Fasteners for cabinet backs: non-housed backs (also called applied backs) on tall cabinets must be securely screwed (not stapled or nailed) to the case body, including divisions and/or fixed shelves. Note that bugle head drywall screws are not permitted, and fasteners should not exceed 4 inches on center. Additionally, backs plowed or dadoed into a cabinet body should be securely nailed or stapled to the case body at a maximum of 4 inches on center, and any anchor strips must be glued and securely mechanically fastened at a maximum of 4 inches on center. Ensure that the staple gun is held at the proper angle so that the staples penetrate the back panel!
  1. Cabinet anchoring to structural walls: anchoring screws must be a minimum of a #10 screw of at least 3 inches in length, and drywall and other bugle head screws should not be used. There should be a minimum of 1 1/2 inch penetration into the wall blocking (so you may need a screw that’s longer than 3 inches), and at least two fasteners at both the top and bottom at no more than 16 inches apart on center horizontally, with the screws in the corner placed 3 inches by 3 inches from outside the cabinet corners (which makes it 2 1/4 by 2 1/4 inches on the inside).
  1. Door and/or drawer alignment, flushness, and gaps after cabinets are installed: for custom and premium grade projects, face edges should align to within 1/32 of an inch plus or minus, and faces should be co-planar within 1/32 of an inch plus or minus. Gaps between faces in custom projects should be 1/8 of an inch, plus or minus 1/16 of an inch, and gaps between faces in premium projects should be plus or minus 1/32 of an inch. Inspectors don’t look for absolute perfection, they look for an overall impression of first-class workmanship – but this doesn’t mean they won’t test gaps!
  1. Spacing in cabinet body parts of case assembly wood dowels: the dowel must be a minimum of 5/16 inches in diameter and 3/16 inches long with no set limit on the maximum diameter or length. If wood dowels are used for case construction, they must be glued and the cases must be clamped with actual clamps or general assembly screws. A wood-dowelled joint must have at least two dowels per joint. 
  1. Sealing of sink cutouts: edges which are subject to excessive moisture should be sealed with a color-toned, water-resistant sealer before any trim or sink rims are installed. Usually, this isn’t a case of one or two cutouts being missed, typically none of the sink cutouts will have been sealed. If a plumber or another contractor is doing the cutouts, the project documentation should state that it isn’t the responsibility of the woodworker.
  1. Cladding for p-lam drawers and drawer fronts: for custom grade projects, cladding on the inside faces of p-lam doors and applied drawer fronts should be the same thickness as the cladding on the outside face. In premium grade projects, the faces should additionally be the same color and/or pattern as the outside face. 
  1. Edgebanding for cabinets bodies and doors: the main error we encounter is that edgebanding happens quite early in the project process, and if it’s missed it can be a costly error. The edgebanding must be as specified in the shop drawing.
  1. Wall scribe maximum widths: scribe fillers at visible voids or open spaces between cabinets should not exceed 1 to 1 1/2 inches in width. Any corners must also be mitered. If the width of the filler is out of your control the Standards won’t apply, but if you as the woodworker want to make a change you will need permission in writing from the owner or architect.
  1. Closure provision is required at all voids: this includes not just the front but also the top surface of tall and upper cabinets and the underside of upper cabinets. A cabinet topside more than 80 inches above the floor is considered concealed unless it can be seen from a higher vantage point such as a stairway or mezzanine. You can close a void with a filler or, for custom grade projects, with a plastic laminate cap if the void is 1 1/2 inches or less. Any visible void should be filled and color-matched. Additionally, any interior exposed surfaces of the ends must be of a finish compatible with (for custom grades), or identical to (for premium grades), the cabinet’s other exposed surfaces. 
  1. Drawer box material thickness: drawers up to 30 inches wide must be a minimum of 15/32 inches thick, and drawers over 30 inches wide must be a minimum of 5/8 inches thick. There is no maximum thickness.
  1. Transparent finish veneer matching: this is something to just be aware of as there are a lot of moving parts involved and specifications can be very tricky. Make sure you refer carefully to ANSI/AWI 0400 – Factory Finishing, which provides detail on veneer specification and finishing.

For more information and detail on all of these common errors, watch our webinar. And don’t forget to request your project inspection