Carpentry vs Woodworking: What is the Difference?

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Having spent years in the construction industry, I vividly remember my early days when distinguishing between woodworking and carpentry felt like unraveling a complex mystery. 

After all, both trades often employ the same tools, so it’s easy to see why there’s confusion. Curious about where you fit in? Stick around, and let’s delve into the intricate nuances of woodworking versus carpentry in this insightful piece.

The Ins and Outs of Woodworking

Generally, woodworking has a more artistic association than carpentry. Various tools and materials may be the same, but a woodworker has more freedom in creating or enhancing an existing design. 

woodworking by couple

In woodworking, the pieces you can make range from common household pieces like cabinets or furniture to more artistic crafts like instruments and sculptures. 

Some of these products are essential to societal living, so they are often mass-produced in manufacturing plants. Because of this, modern woodworking expanded to using advanced machinery to sustain the industry’s demand. 

Tools Used by Woodworkers

As you know, a typical woodworker needs power tools to build highly detailed wood products. Even if you’re a furniture maker or simply into cabinet making, you’ll need saws, millers, sanders, drills, and planers on the job sites to shape wood according to your design. But you may also want to have a woodworking starter kit for more accessible tools. 

Besides that, handy woodworking tools like chisels are also a big part of how woodworkers work. If you want to familiarize yourself with the essential tools, here is a glossary of all woodworking terms.

Types of Woodworkers

Carvers

Now, what does woodworking entail if you decide to be a woodcarver? Simple, you get to craft things in the same manner as sculpting while using wood and adding intricate details on its surface. Sometimes, carvers use dremel bits for carving wood as well.  

carving with dremel bits

Luthiers

When a woodworker builds musical instruments, they are tagged as luthiers. This job entails making wood framing for stringed instruments such as violins and guitars. 

Framers

As woodworkers, it’s also part of your job to assemble frames for flooring or roofing. You’ll also be engaged in creating window and door frames by fastening wood together with nails. 

Furniture Makers

If you’re fond of building household items, the best career is to be a furniture maker. However, it may require a higher skill level and knowledge of dealing with different species of wood. At some point, furniture making also involves framing and panel construction

You should also know that cabinet makers fall in the furniture category, and installing cabinets requires knowledge in wood finishing. Also, woodworkers salary in this category is one of the highest paying among others. 

Whittlers

Even if you’re not keen on building furniture, you can still be considered a woodworker when working on smaller workpieces. As a whittler, you don’t consider woodwork as a professional career

wood whittler working

Turners

Another fascinating career option for woodworkers is becoming a woodturner. Instead of crafting furniture, woodturners specialize in transforming wood into beautiful cups, bowls, or dishes using a lathe.

Wood Burning Artists

Did you know that you can apply intricate designs and patterns through wood-burning techniques? It’s the type of woodwork that requires a lot of skill and experience. Wood burning artists also have the expertise to draw woodworking plans in detail.

The Ins and Outs of Carpentry

As a carpenter, you’re mainly tasked with maintenance or repairs. Rather than being inventive, it’s a job that focuses on structural tasks like cutting, shaping, and installing. 

As it’s associated with construction projects, expect the building process to range from creating window frames and stairways, installing fixtures, to insulating buildings. 

carpenters

Unlike woodworking, carpentry isn’t limited to location. However, there are instances where massive machinery is needed for these types of tasks. 

Tools Used by Carpenters

A carpenter works using manual hand tools such as chisels, levels, squares, etc. Since most of these construction projects deal with larger structures, you’ll need welding machines, nail guns, sanders, circular saws, and other advanced machinery. 

Types of Carpenters

Rough Carpenters

A rough carpenter has several similarities to woodworking due to its framing tasks. However, this work goes beyond framing as it involves large projects like building and installing roofs and formworks. 

Joisters

Carpenters who work on wood load-bearing structuring are called joisters. For this task, you’ll be entrusted with laying floor joints, roofs, and ceilings. 

Trim Carpenters

You may not know, but trim work is also considered a carpenter task. As a trim carpenter, you’re expected to specialize not only in trimming but also in moldings and ornamental work. 

trim carpentry

Ship Carpenters

It may surprise you, but ship carpentry is a legitimate and openly available job for carpenters [1]. Unlike most carpenters in industrial sites, ship carpenters build and repair structures on a ship vessel’s interior.

Roofers

One of the most common jobs of a construction worker is roof installation. Unlike woodworking, carpenters work on the actual installation of shingles and tiles, not only the framing. 

Framers

You’ll see these types of carpenters on construction sites. Typically, framers are responsible for following the foundation of the structures. They’re the ones tasked with giving the architect shape and calculating the material needed for the frame

Differences Between Carpentry and Woodworking Explained

Difference #1: Areas of Expertise and Work

Woodworkers have the option to create an original workpiece or make an existing design more detailed on a piece of reclaimed wood. Meanwhile, carpenters are the ones installing these workpieces.

installing kitchen counter

Although a carpenter can always craft wood items, woodworkers have a much broader range when it comes to creating pieces from scratch. In short, woodworking involves creating shelves and cabinets that the carpenter can install on location later on. 

Difference #2: Where They Work

When comparing carpentry and woodworking, it’s important to highlight where these tasks often occur. Woodworking often happens indoors as these projects may need massive manufacturing facilities, like woodworking workshop, woodworking clubs, and other indoor spaces. 

Also Read: How to Do Woodworking in an Apartment 

Unlike woodworkers, carpenters can execute construction work on indoor residential sites, commercial sites, and even industrial sites. 

Difference #3: Salary Range and Job Outlooks

Another difference between woodworking and carpentry is their career outlooks. While woodworkers can take different career paths, from carvers to furniture makers, its market may be slightly slower than carpentry based on its projection until 2026. 

carpentry roofing

This slow salary change is an after-effect of automation. So if you’re familiar with advanced technology, you can broaden your options with the likes of woodworking machine setters, etc. On the contrary, carpentry is projected upward until 2026. To give a better view, read the woodworking statistics next!

Similarities Between Woodworking and Carpentry

Similarity #1: Tools and Materials They Work With

Since both occupations deal with wood, we’re sure that the similarity in equipment didn’t surprise you that much. Specialized machinery like saws and sanders are also handy in accomplishing woodworking and carpentry tasks. 

Similarity #2: Skills and Training

No matter what kind of craft you intend on pursuing, acquiring proper skills is important for both occupations. You must learn how to work with these tasks safely, which usually includes a long period of training.

woodworker operating a machine

Which Job is More Difficult, Woodworking or Carpentry?

Working in both fields can subject you to a certain level of difficulty. It ultimately depends on which craft you can execute the best. Keep in mind that woodworking involves building wood pieces, while the other focuses on installation and repair

FAQ

Do carpenters build furniture?

No, carpenters don’t build furniture. It’s more of a structural task rather than building workpieces. Woodworking and carpentry go hand-in-hand in the sense that the latter is mainly responsible for installation. Woodworkers can craft a shelf, but it’s a carpenter’s job to put it in place.

What are the major differences between a woodworker, a carpenter, and a contractor?

The major differences between a woodworker, a carpenter, and a contractor are the kind of tasks they can take. A woodworker is often tasked with crafting things from scratch, whereas a carpenter installs and repairs the said creation. As for the contractor, its job is to manage these projects.

Conclusion

In my years of experience, I’ve seen individuals grapple with the subtle distinctions between carpentry and woodworking, given their overlapping tools and techniques. If you ever find yourself at this crossroads, pondering which path to embark on, lean into your innate strengths and abilities. Pursue what resonates with your passion and skillset, and you’ll undoubtedly excel. Remember, it’s all about finding where you truly shine.

robert headshot

Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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