A lot of people think of carpentry vs woodworking as the same thing, and that’s fine right up until you need a carpenter and call your woodworking friend, or until you need a woodworker and try hiring the local carpentry company.
There is a lot of overlap between these two disciplines, and it’s true that some carpenters are also woodworkers, and some woodworkers are also carpenters.
But, despite the overlap, it’s important to know the differences.
While both types of craftsperson are likely to have some similar tools, skills, and knowledge, they aren’t going to do the same kind of work or produce the same kind of finished products.
In this post, I’ll explore everything you need to know about carpentry vs. woodworking, why it matters, and the practical differences between the two.
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What’s The Difference Between Carpentry And Woodworking?
There are a few important differences between carpentry and woodworking.
For one thing, carpentry is a more specific kind of woodworking, whereas woodworkers can have a potentially wide number of disciplines and skills that may not overlap.
Carpenters are all going to have a shared set of skills, and tend to differ more in skill and speciality rather than what they actually do or how they do it.
What are Carpenters?
Carpenters focus on construction, installation, and repair of wooden things and structures.
You’re more likely to see a carpenter working as a construction worker, for instance, and they’ll often be brought in to help with the more detailed or delicate parts of a construction project.
They work with building materials more than artistry, and are concerned with quality, sturdiness, and the functionality of a finished product.
What are Woodworkers?
Woodworking tends to be the more artists of the two disciplines, and there is a wide range of woodworking equipment that may be specialized for a specific task rather than construction or as a versatile tool.
Woodworkers are the ones making decorative wood, and are more likely to shape wood with hand tools than a carpenter.
Carpenters and woodworkers often work together throughout the building process to create beautiful and functional items.
For instance, a carpenter installing cabinets may contract with a woodworker for the front doors, because the woodworker is likely to be better at ornamental work, while the carpenter is going to have the exacting eye needed for construction projects.
There is also a difference between rough carpenters and other kinds of carpenters.
A rough carpenter will be experienced in putting together building framing and similar rough tasks, while a finishing carpenter will apply the finishing work and visible wood on construction sites.
What Is Joinery?
Joinery is another kind of woodworking and carpentry discipline, and a typical woodworker or carpenter will both know some joinery skills, but they won’t be as good or as experienced as a professional joiner.
Joinery is the art of connecting two or more pieces of wood, often without the use of fasteners (other than glue) and forming a solid and often beautiful connection.
Joinery is sometimes used in cabinet making, and many furniture makers will have some experience with joinery.
One of the reasons joinery is so useful is because the connections are often firmer and longer lasting than connections made with nails, screws, or hinges.
Joinery is both a skill other kinds of woodworkers and carpenters have, and its own discipline.
Are There Other Kinds Of Woodworking And Carpentry?
There are a lot of different kinds of woodworking and carpentry, ranging from side skills and secondary skills used by a lot of woodworkers and carpenters, to entire disciplines that are unique and separate from general woodworking and carpentry.
For instance, ship carpenters have an entirely different skill set from other carpenters because they need to know how to work with wood to create water-tight structures as well as creating curves and connections that aren’t under too much stress to hold up. The skills ship carpenters need need are very different from the skills a carpenter specializing in window frames needs.
Similarly, furniture makers and cabinet makers have two different skill sets, and wood carvers and wood turners have different skills.
The wood shop might look the same on the outside, but the skills, techniques, and wood finishing process is very different depending on the kind of product each person is making.
How To Tell When You Need A Carpenter Vs. A Woodworker?
It’s common for carpenters and woodworkers both to be contacted by people who want to hire them, but don’t actually know whether they need a carpenter or a woodworker.
What Do Carpenters Do?
Carpenters install and build things on site.
For example, if you need a custom shed built, you can work with a construction worker or a carpenter – a woodworker isn’t likely to be interested in that kind of work.
Carpenters put together wood framing for building houses, and can also repair structures after damage.
Those skills mean that carpenters are often involved in building construction, but they can also add built-in features after the fact.
Most carpenters work construction projects, but some also work as independent contractors installing everything from cabinets to custom closets.
Common Carpentry Tools
- Circular saw
- Table saw
- Nail guns
- Squares and levels
- Wood glue and other adhesives
Types Of Carpenters
There are a lot of types of carpenters out there, so we can’t list all of them, but we can talk about some of the most important and common ones.
- Rough Carpenter: Generally does framing work and other kinds of carpentry that aren’t visible in the finished structure.
- Finish Carpenter: Applies the final finish to a project, mostly works on visible carpentry.
- Trim Carpenter: Trim carpenters in creating baseboard trim and similar products for use on larger construction work.
- Joister: Constructs floor joists and is also involved in finishing floors.
- Green Carpenter: Green carpenters may do any or all of the work involved in other kinds of carpentry, but they focus on sustainable sourcing for their materials and designing more eco-friendly projects.
What Do Woodworkers Do?
Woodworkers are more on the artistic side of wood creation and are also more likely to work on smaller projects than carpenters.
For instance, a luthier or instrument builder is going to spend a lot more time on a smaller project than a carpenter because of the delicacy and attention to detail required for their craft.
A furniture maker is usually also considered a woodworker, not a carpenter, even though furniture is larger than a lot of common carpentry tasks.
Modern woodworking is an incredibly varied discipline, and woodworkers specializing in reclaimed wood are just as common as woodworkers focusing on a specific product or process.
The last important difference we want to highlight is that it’s a lot easier to be a hobbyist woodworker than a hobbyist carpenter.
DIY carpentry tends to fall more under home improvement projects and being generally handy or knowledgeable about how to put things together.
On the other hand, hobbyist woodworkers often work for fun, and many also start small side businesses selling their products, partially to keep them from piling up and also partially to provide more money to spend on tools and materials.
Common Woodworking Tools
Because woodworking is so varied there are a lot more potential woodworking tools. That said, we aren’t going to be able to list every single tool, but we can list a lot of the most common or most universal ones.
- Wood glue and similar adhesives
- Saw of all types
- Drill presses
- And Much More!
Not every kind of woodworker is going to be experienced with every kind of woodworking tool.
For instance, lathes are a specific tool most commonly used by turners, while carvers and luthiers might not need them or know how to use them.
Knowing which tools you need for a woodworking job is one of the trickiest parts of the job.
Types of Woodworkers
There are just as many different types of woodworkers as carpenters, and maybe more.
There is slightly more overlap in skills in carpentry, but woodworkers are slightly more likely to have multiple disciplines.
Many woodworkers are set apart by their intricate designs and the skill level required to produce their goods.
Here are some examples of different kinds of woodworking and what those woodworkers usually produce.
- Turners: Turners use a wood lathe to create a wide variety of milled projects. These can range of pens and kitchen utensils to table legs, railing posts, ornaments, bowls, vases, and more. Turners use wood and acrylic both.
- Carvers: Carvers use knives and chisels to create specific shapes and images in wood. Chainsaw carvers are another variety of this specialty and usually focus on creating larger wood forms from tree trunks and stumps. Small work carvers can create everything from wooden puzzles to toys and ornaments.
- Luthier: Luthier is the technical name for an instrument maker. The musical instruments they make can vary widely from violins to guitars, harps to wooden drums. Luthiers range from creating mass-produced instruments to creating unique pieces. Many also learn carving and veneering skills to help further ornament their work.
- Furniture and Box Makers: This last is one of the most practical forms of woodworking and entails the production of furniture and specialty boxes. Goods can range from simple purpose-built items to functional works of art. If you’ve ever been to an Amish Furniture Store you’re familiar with this form of woodworking.
Like Luthiers, furniture makers need to have a wide range of expertise, including selecting the right woods, knowing how to ornament the furniture, turning, joinery, and other skills. However, a beginner only needs to know a handful of skills to turn out their first high-quality pieces.
Final Thoughts on Woodworking vs Carpentry
If you want to learn woodworking or carpentry there are a lot of different things for you to consider.
For one thing, think about the kind of things you want to make.
If you’re interested in construction, remodeling, and home customization, carpentry is probably going to be right up your alley.
But, if you’re interested in working with wood and think wooden sculptures and crafts are beautiful, then you’re probably a natural woodworker, not a carpenter.
Of course, there’s no reason you can’t do both, but it’s a good idea to focus on one skill then learn the other one later.
However, with both crafts, it’s a good idea to see if there are professionals or hobbyists in the area you can apprentice with. Working with a more experienced carpenter or woodworker is going to be the fastest way to add to your skills and progress in the craft.