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
- 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
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.
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.