What is Architectural Wood Casework

When discussing interior architectural woodwork, it’s easy to get lost or confused amid the wealth of specialist industry terminology. For example, both staircases and cabinets are considered architectural woodwork. But only the latter is classified as architectural wood casework.

In this article, we’ll be exploring what architectural wood casework is, how it’s classified, and how it relates to the AWI Standards.

What counts as architectural wood casework?

Put simply, architectural wood casework refers to cabinetry, storage units, and other box-shaped wood products that are built into residential or commercial properties. They’re typically constructed from modular parts and often feature open shelves, drawers or doors, and hardware like knobs. Architectural wood casework products can be installed on walls or floors, against a wall, or in the middle of a room topped with a counter.

Common examples of casework include:

  • Cabinets
  • Bookcases
  • Reception desks
  • Courtroom tables and desks
  • Nurses stations
  • Different types of architectural wood casework

There are two main types of casework that construction industry professionals should be aware of:

  • Stock casework is mass-manufactured to provide quicker availability, and is often made from more affordable materials to achieve a lower price point. It’s also typically available in a limited number of sizes. You’ll often find this type of casework in a manufacturer’s catalog. In the AWI Standards, stock casework is addressed under ANSI/AWI 1232 Manufactured Wood Casework
  • Custom casework uses materials of higher quality. It’s usually made from solid wood and panel products that have been carefully chosen for their color, grain, and relative stability. Traditional wood cabinet species include maple, cherry, oak, pine, and walnut, although custom casework is also available in high-pressure decorative laminate (HPDL). This type of casework is available in any size, as it’s built to order.

The type of architectural wood casework required will depend on its visibility and intended use, as well as the overall project budget.

Architectural wood casework in the AWI Standards

ANSI/AWI 0641 – Architectural Wood Casework came into effect on June 1 2020. It was derived from AWS Section 10 – Casework, along with ANSI/AWI 1232 – Manufactured Wood Casework. ANSI/AWI 0641 details the structural and aesthetic requirements for architectural wood casework, including veneers for cabinets, plastic laminate, and hardware components.

Structural performance

This standard requires casework to be tested against one of four Duty Levels to establish the integrity of the joinery method, drawer box construction, and adjustable shelf pin selection. The woodworker must include the Duty Level against which a product will be tested within their shop drawings. These four Duty Levels are:

  • Duty Level 1: For casework with light commercial applications
  • Duty Level 2: For casework with regular commercial applications 
  • Duty Level 3: For casework with institutional applications. (This is the default performance standard.)
  • Duty Level 4: For casework with laboratory applications. (This is the highest performance standard.)

During testing, the overall performance Duty Level is determined by the lowest tested value. For example, if a cabinet’s body construction meets Duty Level 4, but the shelf suspension meets Duty Level 2, the overall product would be considered Duty Level 2. To pass testing for Duty Level 4, all components must meet the requirements for that category.

If tested casework doesn’t meet the specified Duty Level, it won’t be awarded a lower grade. Instead, it will simply be failed. That means the woodworker must either make adjustments and have the casework retested, or submit it for testing against a different Duty Level.

Duty Level testing gives manufacturers, designers, and owners assurance that the final casework product will have the structural integrity necessary to satisfy its intended use. It also permits woodworkers greater freedom in determining their own construction methods, rather than being obliged to follow prescriptive instructions.

Aesthetic performance

The Aesthetic section of ANSI/AWI 0641 details the visual requirements of exposed and semi-exposed surfaces following installation. Similar to performance Duty Levels for structural integrity, casework aesthetics are divided into three grades:

Economy grade demands the minimum degree of quality and control over casework materials and workmanship. This grade is usually reserved for storage or utility areas in which visual appeal is of low priority.

Custom grade calls for a high degree of control but relaxes some tolerance for joinery and allows woodworkers to use lower grades of materials. However, the quality of materials and installation remain excellent. This makes Custom-grade casework a great choice for lower-visibility public areas or on large projects in which high costs are a major concern, such as classrooms or exam rooms.

Premium grade requires the highest degree of control, with tight joinery tolerances and top-grade materials for exposed surfaces. This grade of casework is often used for high-visibility public areas, such as courtrooms and lobbies.

To explore ANSI/AWI 0641 – Architectural Wood Casework in greater detail, read the guide AWI Standards of architectural woodwork.