What Does Wood Casework Mean In Interior Architectural Design?

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The AWI Casework Standards are a set of best practices for the interior woodwork industry that can be followed by professional woodworkers, architects, and interior designers. These standards ensure customer satisfaction by delivering consistently high quality every step of the way, and using formalized testing requirements to ensure that a product will perform exactly as envisioned.

What Is Wood Casework?

Wood casework has both aesthetic and functional roles in interior architectural design. Casework refers to cabinets in either a residential or a commercial building.

These cabinets are sometimes custom-made, but most of them use prefabricated parts that follow woodwork standards, like the AWI Casework Standards. They can either have simple straight designs or complex ornate designs, depending on the specifications of your client. Aside from solid lumber or veneer, wood casework can also include cabinets clad with decorative laminate.

Is Casework Different to Millwork?

There seems to be a general question over the differences between casework and millwork, which are quite fundamental. The term millwork, in some situations, refers to all of the different types of woodwork including standing and running trim, window and door casing, wall paneling, and yes casework both assembled in a factory or on site.

In regard to the AWI Standards, the term millwork refers to all types of wood trim, base, chair rail, crown, and casings. It also includes closet and utility shelving and other wood items that do not fall under other sections of the Standards, such as fluted columns. However, it does not include wall paneling or casework, as they have their own Standard sections.

Millwork in general covers all types of woodwork, including things like window casing, wall paneling, wood trim, and casework. These are typically fabricated at the mill based on client specifications. Therefore, the customization options vary dramatically. The shapes, measurements or dimensions, and the materials may also uniquely differ from one client to the next. To some extent, casework can be considered as a subcategory of millwork since it involves prefabrication of components in the mill.

What Is The AWI Wood Casework Standard?

The current version of the AWI casework standard is the ANSI/AWI 0641-2019 Architectural Wood Casework, which took effect on June 1 2020. It supplanted Section 10 of the 2014 Architectural Woodwork Standards, Edition 2, and puts emphasis on innovations and cost effectiveness in fabricating casework items.

The updated standards cover a wide range of architectural wood casework topics. These include both aesthetics and functional aspects of wood casework, including wood veneers for cabinets, plastic laminate, and hardware components.

But it’s not just about the visual appeal of the final product – it’s also about its structural integrity. The Standards thus divide the characteristics of casework into two parts: structural performance and aesthetics. 

The first part, structural performance, comprises four duty levels. These duty levels have been determined through testing to establish the structural integrity of the casework joinery method. In addition, duty levels have been determined for drawer box construction and adjustable shelf pin selection.

The four performance duty levels are:

  • Duty Level 1: For casework with light commercial applications
  • Duty Level 2: For casework with regular commercial applications 
  • Duty Level 3: For casework with institutional applications. This is the default performance standard
  • Duty Level 4: For casework with laboratory applications. This is the highest quality performance standard

The desired performance level a piece is to be tested against must be specified in the shop drawings. If the casework passes testing, it will be awarded that duty level. If it fails, you will either need to make adjustments to it and get it re-tested, or submit it for testing against a different duty level. The point of this new formalized testing system is to give architects, designers, and owners assurance that the piece has structural integrity and will function as intended. 

The second part of casework characteristics – aesthetics – mainly addresses the surfaces that will be exposed or semi-exposed following installation, and includes three categories: Premium, Custom, and Economy grades.

  • Economy grade: This grade has the minimum degree of control over materials and workmanship and refers to the most basic and minimum quality standards of casework. This grade is generally used in back room or utility areas where a sound cabinet is needed, but visual aspects, such as being well-matched for color and grain of veneer to solid wood, are not critical. It’s important to note that QCP doesn’t certify projects which use the economy grade category.
  • Custom grade: This grade has a high degree of control over materials and workmanship, while slightly relaxing some of the tolerances for joinery and allowing a step down in some materials, for example, veneer grades. With custom grade, the quality of materials and installation is still excellent and fits well into less high visibility public areas or in large projects where cost may be a factor. For example, classrooms, exam rooms, etc.
  • Premium grade: This grade has the highest level of control over materials and workmanship. It has the tightest tolerances for joinery and calls for the highest grade of materials for exposed surfaces. Premium grade is typically used for high visibility public areas, such as lobbies, courtrooms, etc.

Why Adhere To The AWI Casework Standard?

Adhering to the AWI Casework Standard will not only ensure high-quality results, but it will also help you establish a good reputation with your clients, and facilitate strong relationships with suppliers and professionals in the industry. Adhering to the Standards and industry best practices will help your business gain a competitive edge and thrive. 

AWI QCP - Heavy CTA, Wood Casework Guide