Both millwork and casework refer to wooden items. The most strict definition of millwork is any wooden object manufactured at a lumber mill. A wooden object as it pertains to millwork typically refers to trims, wall paneling, doors, molding, and crown moldings. These items are usually bespoke and made to order. Casework on the other hand literally means making boxes. Boxes can be taken to mean ready-made standard-sized, wooden, modular, or prefabricated items such as cabinets and bookcases.
What Is the Difference Between Millwork and Casework?
Casework is usually shipped in a flat pack and then assembled onsite. Consequently, casework is less expensive than millwork. Millwork is custom-made, custom-sized, and delivered as a finished article ready for installation by a professional. It may require staining and sealing onsite. While millwork and casework can complement each other, there are differences in manufacturing/production, pricing, and fit.
Millwork is no longer the preserve of lumber mills and is made in workshops by joiners and woodworkers. By convention, millwork is made to client specifications in terms of design and measurements. While some millwork is produced in line with standard sizes, it is typically made to measure. As a result, most millwork products are often a solution for a particular construction site problem. Being bespoke, the turn-around time on an order is longer for millwork than for casework. Although some items can be ordered in advance, most items can only be made once the contractors hand over the final dimensions. Millwork usually involves a unique design and requires the skill of a craftsman.
Casework items should be readily available off the shelf as they are mass-produced, standard-sized items. Casework products such as cabinetry are typically available in a range of popular materials, designs, and colors. That being said, manufacturers and woodworkers can also create casework pieces to exact specifications.
Millwork requires the attention of skilled professionals who deserve appropriate compensation for their time. Millwork involves a level of complexity, especially if the design is ornate, and requires handcrafting. As a result, even small pieces can be expensive. It is often the millwork on a completed site that brings the design together and completes the look and feel. Millwork is also an element that is easy to notice when it is not present. An absence of millwork gives the impression that something is missing from the final product.
Casework is one size fits all mass-produced cabinetry and furniture which makes it more affordable. Casework pieces are made ready for self-assembly and ship in flat packs which brings down the price as well.
The problem with the one size fits all approach to casework is that it may not fit where it needs to. If the product is too small, it can look like a temporary, piece-meal solution that will do for now. As a result, this defiles the tailored look that is sought. Casework that isn't proper size can look like a square peg in a round hole and be visually awkward.
On the other hand, bespoke millwork is made to fit and will look like it has always been there. Millwork also offers the benefit of material and color matching to help new items to fit in with a scheme or a theme of the building. The goal of millwork is to become a natural part of the environment rather than just filling up space. Another wonderful advantage is the doors on bespoke items can open in whichever direction they need to. A millworker can also design desks to suit both right-handed and left-handed users.
A key difference between casework and millwork is that the latter is intended to become a permanent fixture upon installation. Millwork is an investment in the finishing touches and fine details. As a result, it is difficult to reuse millwork in another building. Casework being standard and modular, and made from popular materials with popular color finishes, is more flexible as it can be moved to another destination.
Additional Reading: A Guide To Architectural Millwork
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