Breaking Down ANSI/AWI 0400 – Factory Finishing with Hunter Morrison

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In our recent podcast, Jeff Brown, Director of Education at the Architectural Woodwork Institute (AWI), spoke with Hunter Morrison, Technical Director at AWI, about the new AWI Standard ANSI/AWI 0400 – Factory Finishing.

In this accompanying blog post, we cover the major differences between ANSI/AWI 0400 and AWS Section 5 – Finishing, the requirements of the new standard, and the introduction of a finish testing component.

About ANSI/AWI 0400 – Factory Finishing

Recently, AWI has been working on revising, reviewing, and redeveloping all of the standards sections out of AWS 2nd Edition, as well as developing several product-specific standards. As such, it’s become more important to update the finishing standard in line with new information coming out of the industry.

In producing ANSI/AWI 0400, the AWI technical committee has improved upon AWS Section 5 based on the demands of the industry, coating manufacturers, and design professionals. This new standard provides objective criteria for the evaluation of the performance and aesthetic attributes of various finish technologies.

  • The two major differences between ANSI/AWI 0400 and Section 5 are:
    • The removal of the step-by-step application instructions for finishes.
    • The inclusion of performance testing.

When coating manufacturers develop a new product, they also provide specific application instructions. “The committee felt that it was in the best interest of the industry to follow the instructions that have been set up by coating manufacturers,” Hunter explains. “It takes away AWI prescribing how you should apply a finish and puts the onus on the coating manufacturer.”

What is and isn’t included in ANSI/AWI 0400?

In line with its title, ANSI/AWI 0400 only covers and applies to finishes that are applied in the factory, not in the field. This includes:

  • The application of transparent or opaque finish products.
  • The application of primer prior to delivery to the jobsite.

By extension, the standard does not include:

  • Jobsite finishing.
  • Repairs that need to be undertaken after delivery or installation.
  • Brush-applied top-coat finishes (unless they’re called for under a specific scope of work).
  • Exterior priming, painting, and finishing.

One other aspect that’s not covered by ANSI/AWI 0400 is passage doors. Such doors are included in the scope of ANSI/WDMA IS1A and ANSI/WDMA IS6A. According to Hunter, “As these are existing ANSI Standards, AWI ANSI Standards are required to prevent conflict and attempt harmonization with ANSI/WDMA standards. So we defer to what WDMA has required for the finish of doors covered under their standards.”

Finish technologies and performance characteristics

If the design professional wants a specific finish on the products that are installed for their project, they need to specify it. In the absence of specification, it’s the woodworker’s decision which finish technology to use in accordance with ANSI/AWI 0400 Factory Finishing.

The performance characteristics for different finish technologies can be found in ANSI/AWI 0400 under Section 3.3.2 – Performance Characteristics. This section is a historical data chart that provides ratings from one to five for each of 13 finish technologies. The chart is the same as was present in AWS Section 5, with a few minor edits to better harmonize with WDMA.

Finish testing

No tests are required for the 13 finish technologies listed in Section 3.3.2. However, any finish technology not covered should be tested in accordance with AWI’s tests for chemical resistance (CR1) and abrasion resistance (AR1).

“Let’s say you’re a [coating] manufacturer who has just come up with a new finish technology,” Hunter comments, “the industry as a whole might be hesitant to adopt it because it’s different from what they’re familiar with. But by going through this testing process, you’ll have data on how it performs when compared to finishes that have been used by the industry for years.”

As new discoveries are made and new technologies are developed, the chemistry of finishes changes. It’s important to confirm that these finishes still meet the expectations of the design community, wood manufacturers, and users of the end product through chemical resistance testing. Similarly, abrasion testing is used to demonstrate how a finish stands up to repeated abrasions over time.

Aesthetic requirements

While other AWI Standards have different aesthetic rules for exposed and semi-exposed surfaces, ANSI/AWI 0400 aesthetic rules apply to both equally.

The standard requires that economy and custom grades be compatible for color. “That means it’s consistent or similar in appearance to other components within an architectural woodwork assembly,” Hunter clarifies. “Lighter-than-average color members shouldn’t be adjacent to darker-than-average members. And there shouldn’t be any sharp contrast. You shouldn’t have your eye drawn to very stark contrast in color variations or tone differences.”

Premium grade, on the other hand, must be well matched for color. According to Hunter, “That means the members that make up the components of assembly and components of adjacent assembly are similar and nearly uniform in color.”


ANSI/AWI 0400 considers defects to be:

  • Indentations
  • Scrapes
  • Blotching
  • Orange peel
  • Runs
  • Sags
  • Blistering
  • Blushing
  • Checking
  • Creasing
  • Cracking 
  • Adhesive Spots
  • Pinholes

Much like aesthetic requirements, there’s a distinction between acceptable defects for economy and custom grades, and premium grade. Economy and custom allow for inconspicuous defects. This means that defects shouldn’t be readily visible without careful inspection at a distance of 72 inches for economy grade and 48 inches for custom. However, under premium grade, no defects are allowed.

Who is affected by ANSI/AWI 0400?

This standard affects the same parties as all other AWI Standards. It applies to:

  • Design professionals, as it’s a newly revised tool for them to use when specifying a project.
  • Woodwork manufacturers, as they’ll be applying the finish.
  • Third-party appliers that are used by different wood product manufacturing companies.
  • General contractors, installers, and any other major parties involved with the project.

However, ANSI/AWI 0400 also applies to another group who aren’t usually affected by AWI Standards: coating manufacturers.

If a coating manufacturer produces a new finish that they want to conform to ANSI/AWI 0400, it will require a testing component. Therefore, it benefits them to be familiar with the requirements of those tests.

Read our guide to the AWI Standards of architectural woodwork to find out more about ANSI/AWI 0400 – Factory Finishing and other woodworking standards.

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