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Cabinetmaking is not just woodworking anymore

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AWMAC by Mark Whitman
National Director, AWMAC Northern Alberta Chapter Secretary/Treasurer, AWMAC National
Cabinetmakers are not just woodworkers anymore.

The cabinetmaking trade has seen drastic changes over the last 10 years. With the introduction of composite products, the industry has moved from just woodworking to working with almost any product 
that can be incorporated 
into a cabinetmaking 
design project.
Designers are challenging our abilities and are creating new and unique concepts unlike anything they did before. Cabinetmakers are not just woodworkers anymore creating all wood cabinets, but they are ‘jacks of all trades,’ multitaskers who work with almost any material you can think of.
For example, it is not uncommon for cabinet shops to be hiring electrical companies, stone companies and plastic companies to incorporate different elements within a project. 
A large part of this is 
a result of new and 
advanced technology and products that have come 
out over the years.
For instance, solid surface products have changed dramatically from where they were just a few years ago. There are now hundreds of colours and variations to choose from. It is now possible to make solid surface materials that have an almost identical appearance to real stone.
To say ‘I have a stone top in my kitchen’ is not always a truthful statement. It may look and feel like stone, but chances are it is an engineered material. It could be acrylic, plastic or resin, and you may never even know. Some solid surface products 
are translucent to allow 
for light to pass through and create unique patterns and finishes.
Advancements in ‘engineered stone countertops’ that are real stone are not “all” real stone. Quite often these products are 70 - 90 per cent stone that is chipped up and then remanufactured to make stone products with high-end resins and glues. They have even gone as far as to create very detailed looking veining in the stone to make it look more and more natural.
These engineered products are often more durable and easier to work with than natural stone, allowing them to be used 
in a variety of design concepts as well.   
The trend in new materials also applies to wood. In many cases, wood isn’t wood anymore. We all know that veneer is used in the replacement of solid wood. This has been used for many years to give the illusion of a solid wood product. It has now gone one step further. Composite veneer products are being manufactured to look like wood. They even use real wood fibres to create new and unique products. It is a combination of real wood and high-end gluing techniques and it is difficult to tell what’s real and what’s not.
Suppliers are no longer relying on finding quality tree growth. They can chip up and re-use the fibres, much like creating paper. It has even gone as far as to create grain patterns and unique colouring that is not natural anywhere in the world. They can both match existing grains and alter grains completely with different colouring.  
Plastic laminates for countertops, or wall paneling, have progressed further as well. Over the years, laminates have become thinner for bendability over sharp radii and thicker for additional durability on work surfaces. They have introduced ‘color core’ products that are solid throughout to avoid dark lines. There is now plastic laminate, acrylic products, that you can heat up 
and bend at a full 45-degree angle to create seamless products.
In some cases, manufacturers have used real wood veneers and coated them with durable plastic. This becomes a half natural and half composite product.
In other instances, laminate companies have teamed up with metal suppliers and created laminate products that 
are thin and able to be cut on woodworking machinery. There is now a whole variety of coloured metals, patterned metals and different coloured metal surfaces that can 
be utilized.  
In turn, a whole lot of unique concepts that could never be accomplished in the past can now be done. This also allows the cabinetmaking industry to create the illusion of all-metal cabinetry when in fact, it has very little metalwork.
Advancements in electrical and lighting have allowed designers to incorporate lighting components underneath and behind surfaces. They are now able to incorporate new LED technologies 
in small areas where they never could before.
It is impressive to see all the industry advancements in technology, which has changed our industry in more ways than we can think. The future has more in store, and it is exciting to see what else is to come in the years ahead.

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