What’s the difference between laboratory grade wood casework and premium grade commercial millwork? The simple answer is the finish!
Esthetically both the laboratory grade wood casework and the premium grade commercial millwork will look and feel the same, but they do not perform the same. A lab grade finish is formulated and tested to withstand the rigors and abuses of a laboratory environment. Acid resistant, solvent resistant, chemical resistant, impact resistant and moisture resistant are all characteristics of a quality lab grade finish.
The two leading authorities in our industry Architectural Woodwork Institute AWI and Scientific Equipment & Furniture Association SEFA have very specific requirements of what a lab grade finish is and how it should perform. AWI is the industry’s recognized authority on woodwork standards and processes, while SEFA is the industry’s authority on performance and testing protocols.
AWI’s technical woodworking document is the Architectural Woodwork Standards AWS manual, which clearly identifies Catalyzed Vinyl, Finishing System 7 as the only finish recommended for wood laboratory casework. In fact Finishing System 7 (catalyzed vinyl) scores high marks on performance characteristics’, see the General Performance Characteristics chart below. As with all finishes, the processes and the applications are crucial to achieve a high quality finish. Some of the challenges inherent with Finishing System 7 (catalyzed vinyl) such as lack of clarity can easily be overcome with the right processes and application procedures. The main challenge with Finishing System 7 (catalyzed vinyl) is the “Yellowing in time” characteristic, this can be minimized with the addition of UV blockers in the chemical formulation.
 Architectural Woodwork Standards, Edition 2, page 113.
With advances in UV cured finishes, there are now both solid based UV cured and water based UV cured finishes on the market which are also suitable for laboratory applications. UV cured finishes are environmentally friendly and have very low VOCs. However UV cured finishes that are suitable for laboratory applications are only available from a limited number of manufacturers and require extensive expertise in the application process. Most UV cured finishes are high performance and offer a good quality finish, but you should consult with your finishing professional and request performance data and testing results to ensure the finish is suitable for laboratory purposes.
The finishing of a wood product brings out the beauty and natural characteristics of a wood species, but one of the primary functions of the finish is to protect it from the bump and grind of daily usage. You hope to never test the limits of the finish in a real world situation. So how can you be sure the type of finish provided is appropriate for you specific needs? The answer is testing.
SEFA sets out a set of performance standards for scientific equipment and furniture through its reference guide and offers an extensive range of performance testing for furniture. SEFA’s Chemical Resistance Testing – 8W-2014 is widely recognized in our industry for the testing of a lab grade finish for wood laboratory casework. SEFA sets out performance requirements and provides a testing methodology to ensure that the finish will meet the performance standards. It is crucial that any type of finish intended to be used in a laboratory environment meet or exceed the SEFA Chemical Resistance Testing. All specifications should include terminology requiring all wood laboratory casework manufacturers to provide independent SEFA Chemical Resistance Testing – 8W-2014 testing with project submittals, prior to delivery of the product to site.
An abbreviated sample of the SEFA Chemical Resistance Testing – 8W-2014 is shown below. The actual performance test, tests for 49 different chemicals, acids and reagents, the sample above only shows the first 6 chemicals on the list.
 SEFA Desk Reference Fifth Edition, page 289
Some UV cured finishes will pass the SEFA Chemical Resistance Testing – 8W-2014, but there is a limited number of finishing manufacturers that have a UV cured product that passes the SEFA Chemical Resistance Test. Therefore not all UV cured finishes are appropriate for use in laboratory applications and 3rd party independent testing is the only way to be sure that the finish is suitable for lab use.
When it comes to wood laboratory casework finish only trust qualified manufacturers, who can provide independent SEFA testing and adhere to AWS procedures. Qualified manufacturers can be sourced from the AWI member directory and the SEFA member directory.
Remember Catalyzed Vinyl, Finishing System 7 is the only finish recommended by AWI for laboratory applications and always ask for independent SEFA-8W-2010 finish testing with project submittals.
See the rest of the specifying quality wood casework options blog series posts as they become available:
- Plywood Core and Substrate Selection (1)
- Veneer Selection and Criteria (2)
- Lab Grade Finish (3) current
- Hardware Selection (4)