What is premium vs. custom grade?

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Explore the differences between premium and custom grades and how industry trends influence their selection for precise, aesthetic, quality-focused projects.

Within the domain of architectural woodworking, where precision, aesthetics, and quality are of utmost importance, the Architectural Woodwork Institute (AWI) has established a grading system that serves as a compass guiding professionals in their pursuit of excellence. This grading system has three distinct tiers: economy, custom, and premium. In this blog, we’ll focus on two grades, premium and custom, unraveling their nuances, implications, and applications within the world of woodworking.

Understanding AWI Standards

AWI standards are the backbone of the woodworking industry, defining the benchmarks for quality, craftsmanship, and performance. Throughout architectural woodworking, these standards act as guiding stars, ensuring that every project adheres to the specified criteria for excellence.

AWI Premium Grade: The Epitome of Craftsmanship

At the pinnacle of AWI’s grading system stands the premium grade. This classification represents the zenith of woodworking craftsmanship, materials, and aesthetics. When a project is designated as premium grade, it signifies a commitment to the highest quality standards.

Material Selection:

Premium-grade woodworking projects demand nothing less than the finest materials. Wood veneers, in particular, are pivotal in achieving the exquisite finish of AWI premium grade. The emphasis is on selecting superior wood veneers for a flawless finish. Defects are minimized, and meticulous attention is paid to ensuring a seamless match in wood grain continuity and colors.


Workmanship and Tolerances:

Premium-grade woodworking sets exacting tolerances for craftsmanship. This applies to various aspects, with panel gaps being particularly stringent. Colors and patterns must align seamlessly, reflecting the precision of premium-grade craftsmanship.

Repairs and Touch-ups:

 With premium grade, imperfections are treated with the utmost scrutiny. No matter how minor, any blemish should be virtually indistinguishable to the naked eye, even at a mere 24 inches.

To provide context, the tolerance level for repairs and touch-ups in AWI Custom Grade projects extends to 48 inches, showcasing the exceptional demands of AWI Premium Grade(H2) AWI Custom Grade: Striking a Balance

Custom grade occupies the middle ground in AWI’s grading system. It offers a compelling blend of quality, craftsmanship, and aesthetics that bridges the gap between the stringent standards of AWI Premium Grade and the baseline requirements of economy grade.

Quality and Craftsmanship:

AWI Custom Grade embodies a commitment to quality that surpasses economy grade. This tier elevates the standard, ensuring higher materials, craftsmanship, and aesthetics.

It is the default grade within AWI Standards and is often specified for architectural woodworking projects. From schools to hospitals, custom grade finds its application in diverse settings.

Flexibility and Application:

The versatility of custom grade makes it an attractive choice for projects with varying requirements. Its balanced approach strikes a chord with stakeholders who seek a harmonious blend of quality and cost-effectiveness.

Projects certified under the Quality Certification Program (QCP) for AWI Custom Grade automatically qualify for custom-grade level.

Industry Trends Impacting Choice Between Premium and Custom Grades

In addition to the distinctions between premium and custom grades, it’s essential to consider the broader industry landscape that impacts architectural woodworking. Recent trends and challenges shed light on the dynamics at play:

  • Greater appreciation for quality craftsmanship. Consumers are becoming more discerning and are increasingly looking for products that are made with high-quality materials and craftsmanship. This trend is particularly evident in the home furnishings market, where consumers are willing to invest in pieces that will last for years to come.
  • Growing popularity of sustainable and ethical products. Consumers are also becoming more interested in sustainable and ethical products. Premium-grade woodworking is often associated with sustainability, as it involves the use of high-quality materials that are sourced from responsible suppliers.
  • Desire for unique and personalized products. Consumers are increasingly looking for products that are unique and personalized to their individual tastes. Custom-grade woodworking allows customers to create pieces that are exactly what they want, both in terms of design and function.
  • Rising demand for home improvement projects. The home improvement market has been growing steadily in recent years, and this trend is expected to continue in the coming years. As more homeowners invest in their homes, there is a growing demand for custom-made woodworking projects, such as kitchens, bathrooms, and built-in furniture.

Selecting between premium and custom grades in architectural woodworking hinges on project needs, budgets, and industry trends. Despite their distinctions, both grades are committed to superior quality and craftsmanship. In terms of overall joinery, there is no distinction between the two grades. The main differences are aesthetic in regard to the materials and the tolerances for gaps and  flushness of assembled joints and at installation.

AWI standards serve as a guiding framework for understanding these differences, assisting stakeholders in achieving the right balance of aesthetics and quality for each project. For further clarity on which grade best suits your needs, consider checking AWI resources or seeking expert guidance.