Exterior Wood Shutters - Notes on Quality

We are often asked how our exterior wood shutters are different. This article attempts to explain why our wooden shutters cost only a little bit more, but look so much better and last so much longer. There is a summary table at the bottom of the article for your reference, but we hope the explanations help you to gain a better appreciation of the anatomy of a well built, Estate Millwork shutter.

Estate Grade

Estate Millwork Estate Grade exterior wood shutters are manufactured from premium hardwoods such as Spanish Cedar, Teak, and Mahogany and can be produced in any non-standard size, with many options such as radius tops, custom sticking, and custom rail and stile widths and placements.

The top grade of exterior wood shutters (and the only grade we manufacture) has true mortise and tenon joinery, solid panels and louvers, does not use finger jointed lumber, dowels or screws and is hand assembled, hand clamped, and hand finished. All of our milling and machining is performed in house for quality purposes, and we are committed to green forest management.

Each hardwood exterior shutter is fabricated from wood that is precisely dried to a 6% moisture content, and then carefully handled throughout the production process. The harder a wood, and the drier that it can be made, affect the long term stability of a shutter. If wood is not carefully dried to the lowest optimal moisture content -- it will constantly fight its environment to try to either absorb or emit moisture, and as it does so, the wood fibers distort and reform resulting in rack, bow and cupping of components.

Premium Grade

Most of our competitors manufacture a premium grade of shutter or lower. Their products do not make the Estate grade by virtue of the lower quality of materials that are used. All Cedars are not the same, and although we use a hardwood cedar, some of our smaller competitors use Western Red Cedar, Incense Cedar or Aromatic Cedar -- all soft woods.

Western Red Cedar is a soft wood that can only be dried to a moisture content of 15%, and current production is largely of "new-growth" immature trees in Canada. New-growth, wet woods from a northern climate will not fare well anywhere, let alone in the rough, hot humid environments found seasonally in most of the United States. Tropical hardwoods are much better materials for exterior millwork because they are a) harder, and b) can be thoroughly dried to 6% moisture content.

It is surprising how many manufactures actually charge more than Estate Millwork does, for shutters built with a lower quality wood species. In fact, to save money, many of the Western Red Cedar manufactures are actually using a low grade by-product cedar that they purchase from large mills that produce flooring, trim and decking. We commend them, on an environmental basis, on their use of lumber that may otherwise go to the scrap heap, but their prices do not reflect the discount that is warranted for the use of sub-prime materials.

Standard Grade

Standard Grade shutters are usually only available in stock sizes, are made from lower grade materials, and are typically assembled with screws, pins, dowels or other hardware. Typically they come in softwoods such as pine and Western Red Cedar which do not have the strength or longevity of Mahogany or Spanish Cedar. The life of a standard grade shutter is often less than five years, and they may begin to fail in as little as three years.

Utility Grade

These bulk shutters are usually made in China or Mexico, if they are made of wood at all. Oftentimes they are injected moulded from Plastic or PVC, and are very flimsy, and need to literally be screwed to the house because traditional shutter hardware will not support them. They are most commonly found on trailers, and low end residential and condos. They can not be trimmed, painted, or refurbished, and tend to lose their original color and to become brittle with prolonged exposure to sunlight. Please, never put these on your home.

Grade Material Price Aesthetics Joinery Durability
Estate - Solid Hard Wood.
Mortise and Tenon joinery.
Spanish Cedar, Mahogany $150

Premium - Soft Wood.
Mortise and Tenon joinery.
Pine, Western Red Cedar, Incense Cedar $120
Standard - Soft Wood.
Screw or Dowel joinery.
Pine, Western Red Cedar $80
Utility - Plastic, PVC.
No joinery or depth.
Plastic $40

Estate Millwork uses premium grade hardwoods for our wooden shutters and louvered doors.