Wood Casework: What Woodworkers & Architects Need To Know
In this guide, we explore architectural casework from both a professional woodworker and an architect’s perspective. We go in depth into what wood casework is, the most popular types of wood used for casework, and how to finish and install it (don’t miss our four top tips!). You’ll also find more information about cabinet shop drawings, the AWI casework standards, and there are plenty of links to further reading.
- What is wood casework?
- Millwork vs casework: what are the differences?
- Architectural wood casework: an architect’s perspective
- Duty Level testing for architectural woodwork
- What’s the best type of wood to use for architectural casework?
- Architectural casework surface finishing systems
- Tips for installing wood casework
- About cabinet shop drawings
- Architectural casework in the AWI Standards
- Further reading on wood casework
What is wood casework?
Let’s start at the beginning. Architectural casework is one of two things:
cabinet or case is made up of
an architectural cabinet or case
The skill and technique that goes into architectural casework is generally (and sometimes sadly) hidden, simply by the nature of the cabinetry itself. Wood casework can also refer to prefabricated cabinets that are based on standard measurements, rather than casework that’s designed and made-to-order.
Types of wood casework include built-in cabinets, bookcases, break rooms, cupboards, and many other forms of storage cabinetry.
Millwork vs casework: what are the differences?
As an architect, understanding the differences between millwork and wood casework not only allows you to choose the best supplier for your architectural woodworking project, but it also means you can offer the best advice and service to your clients.
While we’ve already explained what architectural casework is, millwork covers many different types of interior woodwork products, including doors, panels, moldings, trims…and casework. Millwork is typically custom-made and installed onsite, based on customized specifications from your client.
The key differences between millwork and architectural casework include:
- Installation Time
- Required cabinet shop drawings
- Final state of the product
Architectural wood casework: an architect’s perspective
A well-constructed architectural cabinet should adhere to wood casework aesthetics, and, hopefully, to AWI Standards.
Architects’ cabinet drawings include the information necessary to create a better built product
The end result is more likely to meet or exceed client expectations
The three classifications of grades for architectural casework - economy, custom, and premium - in the AWI Standards mean you can ensure you’ll get the exact standard you’ve specified (note that QCP doesn’t certify economy-grade woodwork)
Grant Golightly, an architect based in Salt Lake City, UT, first worked on a QCP-certified interior woodwork project that included a lot of cabinetry. By his own admission, Grant isn’t an interior woodwork expert, so he felt it was important to have a third party inspect the woodworking firm’s work. Grant says, “It’s possible that they could have provided top quality, top of the line cabinetry, but without an enforceable standard in place, how am I to know?”
Having QCP inspect the work meant that when they noticed some of the cabinets had bulges or areas where screws had caused a little bit of deformity in the surface, he knew the issue would be resolved at no cost or worry. You can read Grant’s story here, or listen to our podcast featuring Grant here.
Duty Level testing for architectural casework
The previous AWS required all cabinetry to meet very strict requirements for approval. Although standardizing woodwork construction models lent them a certain stamp of quality, the lack of flexibility limited how much the design community could innovate.
The ANSI/AWI 0641 introduced new industry standards for wood casework by switching to a performance-based system of approval. These standards prioritize aesthetics and structural integrity, rather than simply checking items off a prescriptive list.
Testing is, of course, still mandatory, but the new system gives all woodworkers greater freedom to decide how to build their cabinetry. This allows you to make the best possible use of your talents, resources and creativity.
The standard sets out four performance Duty Levels to determine the structural performance of the wood casework:
· Duty Level 1 – for casework with light commercial applications. This is the lowest level of structural performance.
· Duty Level 2 – for casework with commercial applications.
· Duty Level 3 – for casework with institutional applications. This is the default level when specifications don’t call for a particular Duty Level.
· Duty Level 4 – for casework with laboratory applications. This is the highest level.
Once your architectural casework has passed its Duty Level test, you receive a test report. This report proves your casework has been awarded a Duty Level, and assures that your cabinetry meets the absolute highest standards of quality – for you and your clients.
AWI offers free casework testing for AWI manufacturing and industry members. This covers base, wall and tall cabinet battery testing.
The best examples of wood casework we’ve seen
A gallery of projects from AWI's Design Solutions magazine
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What are the most popular types of wood to use for architectural cabinetry?
Understanding the different types of wood to use for architectural casework is an important factor in getting the quality you need for your interior woodwork project.
There are three different types of casework, and along with that, variances in the quality of wood:
is mass-manufactured, and you can typically select the wood casework you want from a manufacturer’s catalog
uses a wider variety of materials, from solid wood and plywood through to engineered wood, with wood veneer or plastic laminate typically used as surface finishes
uses higher quality materials, providing much sturdier construction that stands the test of time
Both stock and semi-custom casework commonly use MDF (medium density fiberboard), Industrial Grade Particleboard. Custom casework is usually fabricated from panel products and solid wood, chosen for its color, grain pattern, hardness, and density. Popular solid woods for cabinetry include maple, oak, pine, walnut, and cherry.