What’s the Most Popular Type of Wood to Use for Casework?

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Whether you’re a woodworker, an architect or a general contractor, knowing the types of wood to use for casework is crucial to getting the quality you need for your interior woodwork project. In this article, you’ll learn about the most popular woods used for casework and, most importantly, why they are so popular. 


What is Wood Casework?

In the woodworking industry, prefabricated wood cabinets or built-ins that are intended for storage purposes are known as casework. These wood structures are typically box-shaped pieces, like cabinets, wardrobes and bookcases. They are installed in residential and commercial buildings, and have both practical and aesthetic purposes. 

Most commercially-available manufactured casework has simple designs and finishes, but the highest quality casework is typically customized and can be highly ornate. Standard casework cabinets have drawers, open shelves, and doors. These can be integrated with the wall, floor, or in the middle of a room. Generally speaking, architectural casework can be made from a variety of materials, including wood, metal, plastics, or composites of these materials.


Stock vs. Custom and Semi-Custom Casework

Stock casework refers to mass-manufactured wood casework. A client can usually select the wood casework they want from the manufacturer’s catalog, which will have a preset range of woods to choose from. Semi-custom casework, on the other hand, uses a wider variety of materials, from solid wood and plywood to engineered wood. Wood veneers or plastic laminates may also be used as surface finishes.

By comparison, custom casework takes longer to fabricate because clients’ specifications need to be met. As a result, it is relatively more expensive than stock and semi-custom casework. At the same time, the materials used tend to be of higher quality, leading to a much sturdier construction that will stand the test of time.


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What Types of Wood Are Most Popular for Casework?

The type of wood used for casework normally depends on the type of casework you are building. The wood used for stock casework is predetermined by the manufacturer; clients only have wiggle room in terms of the available options in the catalog. Prefabricated parts like these have a relatively narrower range of varieties from which to choose.

On the other hand, custom casework is fabricated based on the specifications of the client, although it is still subject to the availability of materials. In general, the wood used for custom casework tends to be of higher quality than that used for stock casework.

  • Woods used in stock casework

Standard stock and semi-custom materials include the following options:

  • MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard), the most common and affordable option
  • MDO (Medium Density Overlay), favored for its water-resistant properties
  • Veneer-core plywood, which withstands a lot of weight and has excellent bend strength
  • Solid Wood

Unlike stock casework, custom wood pieces are oftentimes fabricated from solid wood. There are many types of solid wood materials that are excellent to use for casework:

  • Maple is a good type of wood to use for casework because it is versatile and easy to stain 
  • Cherry hardwood is very durable, rot-resistant, and excellent at withstanding shock loads
    • Oak has a wide range of benefits, strong grain, durability, and attractive color
  • Pine is not as strong as oak, but still makes for very strong furniture and is also lighter in weight
  • Alder is well-suited to cabinetry work because it is light in color
  • Birch is a favorite wood to use in casework because it is affordable, common, and very hard
  • Mahogany is famed for its rich color, durability, versatility with other materials, and its quality
  • Walnut  is durable and dense, making it great for kitchen cabinets
  • Ebony wood is in high demand due to its density, lustrous colour, and the rarity of ebony trees
  • Chestnut produces lumber that is as strong as oak, but much more lightweight


Wood Casework Trends

The trends in terms of the types of woods typically used for casework have changed over the last couple of decades. Twenty years or so ago, the trend was for dark woods that created a ‘country club’ feel, such as oak. 

These days, we’re seeing more oak, walnut, and ash, i.e. woods which are a little lighter in color. 

As well as the color, the key drivers of wood casework trends is the grain pattern and the hardness or density of the wood. At the moment, maple and ash are amongst the most popular types of wood used for casework. 


Types of Finishes 

Adding a layer of finish to wood casework is not only for aesthetic purposes. It also serves to protect the wood from destructive elements, including temperature and humidity, moisture, scratches, and light or heat. 

There is a huge variety of finishes available for sealing off wood casework. Typically, the finishes used for stock products include less expensive materials. Custom casework pieces made from solid wood and sheet materials, on the other hand, are stained with more expensive products in order to really emphasize the natural grain patterns in the wood. 

Therefore, stain finishes for custom architectural casework are usually transparent, but they can also be semi-transparent, semi-opaque, or opaque. Other types of finishes for wood can either be painted on, glazed on, polyestered, or oil rubbed.

Want to know more? Read our comprehensive guide to wood casework and the AWI standards related to casework.

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