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What is the purpose of cabinet/millwork shop drawings?

I’ve worked for and with many cabinet companies over the years and I have noticed everyone has a different opinion of shop drawings, whether it is the level of detailed required to how much you can change the architects designs, and opinions vary widely. Some people want as little detail as possible so they can build how they want without the architect interfering, they see no reason for shop drawings at all since the architect already drew them. On the other end of the spectrum is the company that details every little thing including exact line boring and screw placement.

To start with I think the most general explanation for the purpose of cabinet shop drawings is for the manufacturer to show a more detailed drawing of how they will be constructing the cabinets for a project. But let’s dive deeper as to other things you can accomplish with your shop drawings.

1.) It helps discover any conflicts or errors.
When you are producing shop drawings you have to start with your source material, in most cases it is the architectural drawings. Sometimes they are highly detailed and sometimes they leave a lot to the imagination, and many other times there is conflicting information. Shop drawings should be able to root out most of the problems and also provide an avenue for you to address the conflicts or issues to the architect and contractor.

2.) They provide an avenue for cost savings.
One thing I was taught early on in my career was the power of substituting hardware, and changing the construction methods of cabinets to save money. Shop drawings can convey these substitutions and changes for approval and make your case stronger if you are sending an official substitution request. Most likely you get discounts for certain hardware from suppliers, if you have an equal or like piece of hardware submit it, I rarely see a substitution rejected, most specs are copied from project to project. You should always think about optimization of materials when drawing cabinets, material comes in 4×8 sheets so always be thinking that when drawings cabinets, can you make all the uppers 12” deep instead of 13”? Can you make the counter 96″ instead of 98″? If so you could save a lot of material waste especially on a large project. Sometimes your substitutions will be rejected or not feasible on a project, but it never hurts to ask!

3.) The case against too much detail
Over the years I have seen a lot of shop drawings and one thing that I see on occasion is too much detail. (some of you are probably thinking you can never have too much!) I think shop drawings should show enough to the architect to convey what the product will look like and your general construction methods, but I have a seen a few companies that take things to another level and show every single screw and dowel location. The first problem is it makes the drawings very crowded and busy, which can lead to errors and major things being missed. It also Is just something the architect doesn’t care about, maybe there is the one or two architects who would appreciate it but they are few and far between. It just wastes time that could be spent getting the drawings done faster or focusing on scope and design issues. If your company does this that’s great, but if your time couldn’t be spent elsewhere it might be worth re-examining. Now to extend this past just cabinets, spending excessive time detailing things not in your scope is definitely not something you should be doing unless it is absolutely necessary due to integration with your cabinet. I have seen this often. There is no reason to draw the exact replica of a window (not in your scope) on the same wall as your cabinets, or drawing everything on an elevation your cabinets are on, a simple representation with a call-out of something that could impact your cabinets is sufficient most of the time. If you spend time drawing these things you could be wasting time, and even more you are opening yourself up to possible liability, by another trade using your drawings for something they shouldn’t. A good rule of thumb is if it’s not in your scope limit your detail.

As a company that produces shop drawings I run across many different methods, and in the end we draw whatever our clients want and are willing to pay for whether you want simple and basic drawings or if you want every screw.