What is Millwork?
What is custom made millwork? Woodworker Gene Lyman’s description of a key arched pediment entryway reproduction created by Gene Lyman – Cabinetmaker – Country Cupboards is a good place to start looking for an answer: “This is an exact reproduction of a high style 18th century entryway. The classic tapered ogee key at the top of the arch is hand carved. The pilasters include the distinctive reed to flute transition, also hand carved. This is an example of architectural millwork that is truly furniture on the wall.”
Not all millwork is hand carved or historical reproduction, but if you think of millwork as furniture on your walls you can begin to define the product and understand why it deserves special custom attention during your next home remodeling project. Architectural elements such as crown molding and doorframes are not merely functional, neutral, standard forms designed to vanish into the background. Nothing in your home should be. Custom molding can start setting the tone of a room even as you approach it from a hallway, and custom exterior millwork, like the raised panel mahogany entry door, door casement with sidelights, and exterior trim created for this home by Culin & Colella, Inc., can help give your house a unique look even from the curb.
Varieties of Millwork
Millwork generally refers to pieces created as architectural components to be used in home construction and decoration. Lumber used in frames for houses, window casings, molding, decorative trim for baseboards and chair railings, mantels, and stairway components are all examples of millwork. Although commonly associated with custom woodwork, millwork can also encompass synthetic materials like acrylic.
Although millwork pieces may be considered architectural elements and not “complete” creations in themselves, like an article of furniture such as a chair, that does not mean these works are raw materials. This classic open under radius staircase by Heytens Wood Design, Inc., features custom molding along the stringer and custom radius millwork for the curved inner edge of each step specifically cut and shaped for this unique project.
The Process and the Tools
The first step in the custom millwork process is to select and cut the materials. Discuss your vision and needs with a CustomMade artisan in order to choose the best quality material and type of cut for your project. For example, the vertically figured zebrawood veneer paneling of this Art Deco zebrawood foyer by Campbell & Strasser seems to reflect the lines in the stylized tile floor pattern, while the custom rounded 3” radius corners echo the central circular design in the floor pattern as well.
In order to shape your millwork elements to fit your home’s needs, millworkers can use a wide range of tools and techniques, from hand carving to CNC (computer numerical control) routing.
Traditional techniques, such as hand carving and wood turning, can be used to create custom molding, such as this curved egg and dart and rope molding by Noah D. Gordon, designed to fit the curve of a bowed Boston brownstone. He can also create millwork pieces such as staircase balusters by using a single-spindle carving machine to turn the wood.
Wood for custom made millwork can also be bent by means such as steaming and lamination. The heat and humidity of steam can make wood more malleable, which permits single pieces of wood to be curved into custom shapes that preserve their continuous natural grain. Lamination involves resawing pieces of wood and gluing them clamped into new forms that also preserve their grain, such as this red oak elliptical molding by The Curved Molding Shop.
Various tools, from hand held files to CNC routers, can also be used to shape wood and other materials for custom millwork. With custom CNC milling, artisans can create complex, 3D designs quickly by loading a custom pattern onto a computer and having a cutting tool connected to the CNC router essentially copy the pattern on the selected media. ACME Industrial Thinking can program their ShopBot CNC router to mill custom signs and shop support. Watch this video of the ShopBot in action as it cuts the “Hip Replacements” sign out of acrylic.
This sign can stop traffic.
Custom made millwork, furniture on your walls, should do no less.