What is Millwork? A Glossary

What is Millwork? A Glossary

“Millwork” is a term used to describe ready-made carpentry products designed for installation within buildings. In the past, millwork was crafted exclusively from wood. The majority of millwork is still wood-based, but some millwork products are now fabricated using plastics and composite elements. Buyers often purchase millwork unfinished, and customize it via painting or staining. Certain firms do specialize in custom finished millwork, however. The term is sometimes used interchangeably with “casework,” although casework typically refers to finished cabinetry.

Variations of millwork are practically limitless, and are designated by a multitude of industry-specific labels. With so many types of millwork, occasionally confusing one carpentry term for another becomes likely, if not inevitable. Below is a short glossary to help keep things straight.

  • Astragal - Material that covers the gap between a pair of doors to prevent them from swinging back through the open space. Can also be installed on shelf edges for decorative reasons.
  • Bracket - A wall mounted projection inserted between vertical and horizontal members for ornamentation, or to provide structural support.

  • Capital - Decorative fixture placed at the top of a column.

  • Chair Rail - Wall moulding installed at chair height. Typically applied to prevent chairs from scuffing walls.

  • Corbel - A piece of solid material that protrudes from a wall to provide support.

  • Cornice - Decorative moulding situated around the top of a wall, building or piece of furniture.

  • Crown Moulding - Moulding installed at the intersection of walls and ceilings.

  • Dentil molding - Blocks spaced evenly along the underside of a cornice.

  • Header - A horizontal support spanning the opening of a window or door.

  • Louver - A slatted window blind or shutter used to ensure ventilation.

  • Medallion - An embellished accent attached at a ceiling’s central point.

  • Moulding - Strips of material applied for ornamental purposes, or to cover transitions between surfaces.

  • Pediment - A triangular fixture located on the upper-front portion of a building, window, or door; common in classical architecture.

  • Pilaster - A decorative rectangular feature that projects slightly from a wall, imitating a column.  

  • Plate rail -  A narrow shelf attached to the upper area of a wall. Used to display plates, pictures, or other ornaments.

  • Portico - A porch equipped with a supported roof, and leading up to a building’s entrance.

  • Quoins - Rectangular masonry pieces extending up a building’s corner. Applied to create the impression of structural reinforcement.

  • Rosette - A round, stylized miniature medallion common in antiquity. Can be employed to accent architecture and furniture.

  • Wall Niche - A recessed portion of a wall in which vases and other decorative pieces are displayed.

For an extended glossary of millwork terms, visit this page.

- Sim Fern, Founder, Upbeat Designs

Where It All Begins: How Furniture is Made

Where It All Begins: How Furniture is Made

A tree begins its life tiny and unformed. If provided the ideal stimuli--light and liquid--in perfect proportions, the seed flowers into a lifeform aesthetically striking, and flawlessly adapted to function among its surroundings: a natural masterpiece.

I like to think that crafting quality wood furniture entails a similar evolution: masterworks of nature, being shaped into a new tour de force. Trees all the same, only molded along a design scheme illuminated by expert woodworking knowledge, and grown among an outpouring of flowing creative processes and fluid new trends. In spirit, the end product will always remain one fraction of a landscape, but--like the seed before--it is now acclimated to suit the aesthetic preferences and functional demands of a new type of environment.  

The process of converting wood materials into top-notch furniture is an epic journey of sorts. Drills, saws, sandpaper, and heat: these are just a few of the trials that lumber must survive to assume its destiny as a centerpiece in clients’ homes and offices.

Selecting a Log

Once a tree is chosen for harvest, it is felled and “bucked” to a proper length. Next, branches are cut from the trunk. The resulting log is “scaled” to determine the volume and quality of its timber, then shipped to the sawmill.


After arriving at the sawmill, logs are debarked, and “decked,” or sorted by size, tree species, and manufacturing purpose. A head saw is used to separate logs into “flitches,” or unfinished planks, which are then trimmed of irregular edges, leaving four-sided lumber.


Residual moisture is stripped from planks, either by kiln, or air-drying. Once dried, the lumber’s surface is smoothed into a uniform thickness and width, and the finished timber is shipped to manufacturing sites.


Received lumber is checked to ensure size and moisture content are within specifications. Bundles are then moved to the production floor, where they are cross-cut and molded into a desired shape and size.


Molded lumber is further processed and refined to acquire a definitive set of shapes and features. After that, furniture components are carefully sanded to smooth surfaces and round edges. Pieces are then assembled, and joints are glued.


Another round of sanding levels glue spots and other imperfections. Holes and blemishes can be mended with wood putty, and wood filler may be applied to reduce pores. Color might also be changed via staining or bleaching. Finally, several coats of finish are applied, with each coat followed by an additional sanding.


Some projects may be polished and waxed to add another layer of protection. Once furniture is complete, it is moved to the packing area and prepared for shipment to customers and vendors.

On its path to becoming finely-crafted wood furniture, a tree is imbued with not only new physical characteristics, but creative flair and a special kind of life. With care, a piece can provide functional enjoyment, as well as aesthetic pleasure for countless years to come.

- Sim Fern, Founder, Upbeat Designs