carpenter plane and wood shavings
Woodworking should be just what it sounds like; people use wood to create, right?

Yes, but you may be surprised to learn that many sub-categories are part of wood-oriented crafting, all of which utilize different skillsets and focuses. And it’s easy to get woodworking confused with carpentry or other crafts like furniture making and joinery.

If you’re planning to hire one of these specialists to perform work on your home, you’ll want to know the difference between each, so you ensure you’re getting the right person for the job.

This guide will break down the differences between carpentry and woodworking. We’ll also cover what joinery and furniture making are to settle any confusion between these terms.

Carpentry vs. Woodworking vs. Joinery

A woodworker focuses on craft rather than construction and works in their shop rather than on-site. A joiner deals with the framework, panel making, and complicated joints installed by a carpenter. A carpenter emphasizes construction and installs pieces made by joiners and woodworkers on-site.

But it is a little more nuanced than that. Let’s look a little closer at what each does:

What Is Woodworking?

Woodworking is similar to carpentry but focuses on the craft and design aspects of construction. Woodworkers manufacture things such as cabinets and floorings that a carpenter will install later.

These specialists use both power tools and hand tools to ensure precise yet detailed work. Woodworkers can operate factory tools to mass-produce products or make special custom pieces. They can also work with wood imitation products, but the materials used will vary depending on whom you hire.

When comparing woodworking to carpentry, remember this: a woodworker comes first in the process. They will make a unique or mass-produced piece, such as a door, and a carpenter will install the door later on. While the carpenter has no involvement in the construction or design of the door, they will build the door frame.

Like carpenters, there are a variety of sub-categories that differentiate by skill level and focus. For example, someone who works on small knickknacks, defined as a whittler, is likely to have fewer skills than a woodworker who works with mass-producing factory equipment.

A woodworker can also do smaller installations on specific furniture, such as a handle repair/replacement on a cabinet. No matter what a woodworker builds, a carpenter will be responsible for installing it later in a home.

What Is Carpentry?

A carpenter’s job is primarily to construct the framework of a building, such as walls, door frames, and floors. They work with materials other than wood and various tools, whereas a woodworker specializes in…well, wood.

There are still many sub-categories within carpentry, like rough and wood flooring. Professional carpenters usually specialize in one type, but most will be qualified to do the basics of each.

This is where carpentry and woodworking get confusing; they both install wood products, so aren’t they the same?
Remember the definition we provided above: woodworkers only craft wood products that are then installed by a carpenter with a frame, wall, floor, etc.

Another difference between woodworking and carpentry is that carpenters typically work on the site of construction. They deal with installations and building frameworks. If looking to start a large construction process or install work done by another professional, a carpenter is what you’re looking for.

What Does Furniture Making Entail?

A furniture maker is a sub-category of woodworking but isn’t an interchangeable term. A furniture maker is exactly as the name sounds: someone who makes furniture. This applies to cabinet-making and general furniture that your typical woodworker/joiner won’t specialize in. Meanwhile, woodworking can be applied to other construction projects that don’t involve furniture.

While a woodworker or joiner might work in place of a furniture maker, hire a furniture maker specifically instead of a woodworker or joiner to bring on a professional that’s experienced with furniture.

What is Joinery?

Joinery deals with framework and panel construction. These pieces are used and installed by a carpenter when constructing the base structure. However, joinery focuses on joining two pieces of wood in intricate and efficient methods.

There are a variety of techniques that joiners use to connect lumber in seamless, intricate ways. Joinery is a subsection of woodworking that encompasses these techniques and applies them to furniture and other projects.

Some example methods of wood joining are:

  • Dovetail
  • Lap joints
  • Dado

These terms reference different cuts and wood shapes that allow for unique joining, enabling sturdier connections and intricate shapes.

Like woodworkers, joiners typically work in their shops instead of on-site. They make things such as doors and combine wood pieces to make complicated designs. Their craft emphasizes the production of products, whereas a carpenter typically hones in on the art of fitting them in properly on the property.

Who To Hire? Factors to Consider

Figuring out the right person for your project can be difficult, but having the underlying knowledge of these various positions can speed up the hiring process. We recommend considering the following factors to determine which professional you need to hire for your project.

On-Site vs. In Shop

For starters, it’s important to consider whether you’re seeking someone to work on-site or produce a piece within their shop.

If you’re looking for framework or installations, a carpenter is likely the best option as they work on-site. A carpenter is typically more lenient towards construction work and can incorporate non-wood supports such as nails/studs a joiner isn’t likely to use.

Project Complexity

You’ll also want to consider how complex the project is you’re working on. If you prefer a mass-produced piece such as a cabinet, a woodworker would be your best option. For a custom piece with complex designs, a joiner is more applicable.

Bottom Line

While it’s easy to mix up these terms, each of these positions has specific characteristics that make them unique from each other.

Regardless of their distinctions, there are a lot of similarities between the different wood crafts. When hiring, it may be possible to get a woodworker who does some construction duties or a joiner who does framework. Many professionals are versatile and advertise all-in-one woodworking, joinery, and carpentry services.

We recommend giving yourself plenty of time to research contractors and services in your area to find the business that provides the most comprehensive services under one roof. This way, you won’t have to hire separate woodworkers, joiners, and carpenters; you’ll have everything you need in one.