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.


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:

  • Production
  • Installation Time
  • Price
  • Required cabinet shop drawings
  • Fit
  • 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.

AWI-QCP Casework create a better built product

Architects’ cabinet drawings include the information necessary to create a better built product

AWI-QCP Casework Exceed Client Expectations

The end result is more likely to meet or exceed client expectations

AWI-QCP Casework three classifications of grades for architectural casework

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.

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Casework surface finish requirements in detail

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Architectural casework surface finishing systems

Casework surface finishes, as recognized in the AWI Standard for casework, includes finishes on custom, semi-custom and stock casework, and are divided into four sections:

  • Exposed exterior surfaces – all surfaces being visible
  • Exposed interior surfaces – only the cabinetry interior is visible
  • Semi-exposed surfaces – the interior is visible when doors or drawers are open
  • Concealed surfaces – neither exterior nor interior cabinetry surfaces are visible

Within each of these sections, there are different considerations to take into account when you’re choosing a casework surface finishing system. These considerations include cost, how resistant the finish is to chemicals, its resistance to wear, how easy it would be to repair damage to the surface finish, clarity, and its elasticity.

4 tips for installing wood casework

Installing wood casework is not a simple task - nor should it be, when the design and build are of superior quality. However, there are some ways in which building and installing cabinetry can be made just that little bit easier. Here are our top tips:


Check, check, and check again

Getting the measurements right in the first place will save you a lot of time, worry, and potentially expense further into the project.


Assemble the cabinetry in your workshop before you take it to the site

It might seem like this is doing the job twice, but it’s well worth a trial run to ensure the cabinetry will go in smoothly.


Use a reliable courier

If you’re having a courier deliver your cabinetry to site, make sure it’s one you can rely on. Protect your cabinets with blankets, and make sure any doors or drawers you’ve pre-fitted are securely shut.


Keep communications open

A smooth install requires good communication between the woodworking firm, architects, and general contractors, as well as any other subcontractors who may be involved. If you’re working on a QCP-certified project, it’s easy for everyone to be on the same page at all times.

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About cabinet shop drawings

Detailed cabinet shop drawings are an essential part of a successful interior woodwork project. The more detailed shop drawings are, the less likely it is that there’ll be errors in fabricating or installing the cabinetry. Additionally, it provides clarity for everyone on the architect’s vision and exactly what’s required.

Cabinet shop drawings help to:

  • Identify errors and conflicts – the earlier any errors can be identified, the better (and probably cheaper and less time-consuming)
  • Get client approval – if a client can clearly see what the cabinetry will look like, they’re more likely to approve it (and you’ll eliminate a lot of questions)
  • Keep everyone on the same page
  • Understand where there have been any revisions

Don’t leave quality to chance

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Architectural casework in the AWI Standards

Casework has been covered by Section 10 of the Architectural Woodwork Standards (AWS) since its inception. This section of the standards covers wood, decorative laminate, solid phenolic-faced casework, and their related parts. 

A new AWI Standard, established in 2019 and created together with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), section AWI-0620 – Finish Carpentry/Installation, now covers compliance requirements for installation and finishing.

Additionally, interior woodwork projects registered since June 1, 2020, which include architectural casework are subject to the newly-released ANSI/AWI 0641 – Architectural Wood Casework, the new ANSI/AWI Standard covering casework.

ANSI/AWI 0641 provides standards for the quality and fit of architectural casework, as well as its interior finish. The standard covers different types of architectural casework, including wood veneer-faced cabinets, plastic-laminate-clad cabinets, and cabinet and drawer hardware. These are also specified under CSI MasterFormat Division 6.

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