What’s The Difference Between Millwork And Wood Casework?

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If you’re starting out your career as an architect, you’re probably still searching for dependable contacts and reliable contractors in the industry. Knowing more about the differences between millwork and wood casework will not only allow you to choose the best supplier for your architectural woodworking project, it will also allow you to offer the best advice and service to your clients. 


An Overview Of Casework And Millwork


The term casework has a specific meaning in the woodworking industry: it refers to wood cases, or boxes. Therefore, casework literally means ‘box making.’ The types of casework ‘boxes’ include built-in cabinets, bookcases, kitchen island drawers, cupboards, and many other forms of storage cabinetry. The parts may either be partially prefabricated and assembled later onsite, like a pre-manufactured fitted kitchen, for example, or the parts may be completely prefabricated based on standard measurements. Casework can also be made completely from scratch, according to unique measurements.



As the name implies, millwork is woodwork that has been fabricated in a mill. The term refers to any number of products, from doors and panels to moldings and trims. These are typically bespoke pieces that are installed onsite, based on the customized specifications of the clients. Therefore, millwork products are oftentimes unique in dimensions, shapes, and materials. It follows that casework is therefore actually a type of millwork.


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What Are The Differences Between Millwork And Wood Casework?

The main difference between millwork and wood casework is that millwork is usually bespoke, and built to solve a client’s specific needs. Casework, on the other hand, typically – but certainly not always – refers to prefabricated or modular pieces of furniture. 

Even still, novices to the woodworking industry, or those without an inside knowledge of the trade, think that casework and millwork are the same thing. While these two types of woodwork can work in parallel with each other, there are several differences between millwork and casework.



In terms of production, wood casework is generally, but certainly not exclusively, mass-produced based on standard measurements, materials, and designs. For example, many casework products, particularly cabinets, have similar parts, designs, and even wood veneers

Alternately, the production of millwork is limited and often unique because the pieces are based on client specifications. This means that millwork is produced less readily than casework, and features a lot more variation. 

Although this is a general difference between the two, woodworking firms do also fabricate bespoke casework.




When casework is mass-produced, and based on standard dimensions and measurements, they’re generally more affordable pieces of woodwork. The price is even cheaper if the casework pieces are sold as flat pack, or ready-to-assemble furniture.

In comparison, millwork is more expensive because it’s typically customized. In addition, because of the bespoke nature of their parts and design, millwork is usually installed onsite by woodworking professionals, so labor costs are also a factor.



Since wood casework is typically built according to a set of standards, the pieces may not fit perfectly into place, nor seamlessly integrate with a building. For example, if you’re looking for book storage underneath the stairs, a readymade bookcase from the store would be difficult to fit into the desired space. The finish on wood casework may also clash with your decor, since it cannot be customized. 

By contrast, millwork can be seamlessly integrated into any building, becoming a part of it instead of just filling it. Millwork doors, for instance, fit perfectly in any space because they’re measured and fabricated based on the size of the client’s door openings. Millwork can similarly be made to fit into the geometrical spaces intended for them, such as a bookcase under the stairs. They can also be finished to fit the aesthetic of the building they’re going into, whether it’s a specific veneer, color, or shape.


Installation Time

With millwork, the woodworker has to take note of a few key things, all of which affect installation time. They must first measure the dimensions and geometry of the space, and then translate these measurements into a technical drawing or diagram. This serves as the basis for fabrication, and helps to keep everything accurate. 

The bespoke nature of millwork means that the pieces then need to be installed professionally, which is why millwork has a longer installation time. Casework, on the other hand, is usually pre-fabricated, and doesn’t require specific measurements, nor professional installation.


Architectural Drawings

Architectural millwork pieces that have complex designs and specific measurements are highly dependent on architectural, technical drawings. Without detailed and precise diagrams like these, the millworker will not be able to accurately produce the piece. It may also affect installation, and how the piece functions. Wood casework, on the other hand, can be built according to a set of predetermined standards and measurements, meaning that it doesn’t rely on architectural drawings so heavily.

However, some wood casework is manufactured from scratch, and that does mean that detailed shop drawings are required. This is especially relevant if a woodworking project that includes casework is going to be QCP-certified, as it must meet the required AWI Standards for wood casework.

For example, according to this casework standard, the performance duty level that the piece is to be built to must be specified in the shop drawing prior to testing.


Final State of the Product

Millwork pieces are meant to be permanent fixtures. Therefore, once the final products are installed, they are installed, and cannot be easily removed or changed. However, as casework pieces can be sold in modular or semi-complete forms, this provides more flexibility in terms of moving or swapping pieces out. Therefore, casework can be a more temporary product, while millwork is an investment into a permanent piece of furniture.

Want to know more about wood casework? Read our comprehensive guide and how the new ANSI / AWI 0641-2019 Standard relates to wood casework.

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