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A Brief History of the Millwork Industry

What is Millwork? 

Millwork, used in building construction, is any mill-produced interior finish component. Usually made of wood, mills use either raw logs or stock lumber to manufacture interior finish products including doors, mantels, window sashes and baseboards. More modern millwork can be made of composite materials, such as plastics, aluminum and vinyl.


How millwork began


  • In the primitive era woodwork was for utilitarian uses and survival, including tools for hunting and building
  • The early Chinese and Egyptian civilizations primarily used woodworking
  • Ancient Egyptians invented veneering and began using varnishes
  • According to Chinese history, between 722BC and 481 BC, Lu Ban and Lady Yun became the originators of woodworking. Lu Ban’s teachings became the foundation of Chinese woodworking when his manuscripts described the correct measurements for making tables, furniture and flower pots
  • The Chinese are also recognized for building furniture without the usual joining tools, such as nails and forms of glue
  • As techniques developed, woodworking became more of work of art. Skills also formed around carpentry, parquetry, wood carving and cabinetry

In the last 25 years…


  • Early 1990s: Due to a recession, there was increased repair work of existing products, and less new manufacturing.
  • 1990s: Steel was added to doors to increase security, and during this time expensive stain grade was replaced by paint grade millwork, a cheaper alternative.
  • 1996: The main product produced by the millwork industry was doors and wooden windows. It later became popular to clad doors and windows with aluminum and vinyl.
  • 2010: Wood windows again became popular.

What does the millwork industry look like today? 


In 2010, there were more than 2,700 mills in the United States, most focusing on the production of one product class, such as doors or mantels. The U.S. Department of Commerce reported that more than 60% of the products made in the mills are made for use in residential construction.


How is the industry changing? 


As certain species of wood become more difficult to secure, a more available substitute must be found. For example, medium density fiberboard (MDF) and pine trees have been used more often to replace the use of solid wood. Also, environmental restrictions, energy costs and maintenance requirements are always changing the millwork industry.

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