Jul 102017
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How do you feel when non-woodworkers call you a carpenter?

I suppose I was a woodworker in 7th grade, when I took wood shop in Mr. Boney’s South Park Junior High class, but I wasn’t very good at it. It seems I could never get anything square, or make good-looking joints. That was 1964, and I’m not even sure the term “woodworker” existed then. “Woodwork” dates to 1640-1650.

I was a framing and trim carpenter for a time after my Air Force stint. That was really fun work, and I learned a lot.

This was my very first nail apron, purchased from Sears. Our local Sears is scheduled to close its doors after 45 years in Edgewater Mall.

I remember a homeowner asking our foreman, Jack English, whether he knew any carpenters who could make her some bookshelves. One of my coworkers, older and more worldly than I, said, “What she wants is a cabinetmaker, not a carpenter.” I didn’t know that there was such a thing as a cabinetmaker, much less a difference, but I didn’t let my ignorance show, I just filed the information away for future use.

When I went to the University of Mississippi, Ole Miss, I was carrying a heavy class load, so there wasn’t time for a job, but I did spend some of my weekends making picnic tables to sell. Po’ Boy spruce studs were 10¢ each, and were straighter and had fewer barked edges than today’s studs at 33 times the price. Treated pine, with real arsenic, made a premium dining surface, unless you wanted to spring for heart cedar or redwood, and even that was affordable.

Today, 23 treated pine 2x4x8′ boards to make this picnic table and matching benches would cost you about $110.00. In the 70s, I sold the completed table with benches for about $50.

Cedar’s price has gone up a bit. When I made this rectangular heart cedar table for our eldest granddaughter, the wood cost about $200. But, it was pure heartwood, and has stood up well to brutal Kentucky summers and winters…

…The lumber for this little round job, with curved benches, on the other hand, cost around $400, and I had to do a lot of selecting to minimize sapwood use in crucial parts. Fortunately, it will live on a porch, where it will have a bit more protection from Kentucky weather, though it will still have to stand up to the two youngest grandchildren.

In the time between the end of the spring semester in Oxford, MS, and the fall start time in Auburn, AL, I needed income. I couldn’t make a long-term commitment to an auto mechanic’s job, and it didn’t occur to me to look for a nearby dairy farm, but there was a lot of home construction in Auburn, and it was easy to find a job on a home-building crew. So, for a time, I was a carpenter again.

We established in a previous poll that most woodworkers are DIYers. Therefore, we’re doing a lot of carpentry on our own homes and businesses, and maybe some for customers, too.

For me, then, I’m proud to be considered a carpenter. Still, when I think of my role as furniture-builder, I consider the difference between what my wife, Brenda, produces, which is fine art, versus what you can buy at a flea market, which are craft-level items. Not every piece of furniture I build rises to the level of art, but it’s always what I strive for.

In carpentry, on the other hand, art is not usually my goal, but I still give it my best.

  30 Responses to “Poll: How Do You Feel When Non-Woodworkers Call You a Carpenter?”

  1. If someone still called me a carpenter after seeing my work, I knew they were not woodworkers themselves. I wouldn’t correct them but I knew I am not a carpenter as the general public knows it.

    • I think Richard has “hit the nail on the head”. Excuse the pun.

      Most of the people who refer to me as a carpenter are not so much mistaken as they are unaware that there is even a difference between a woodworker and a carpenter. If I was a very good football player, and someone referred to me as a very good baseball player, I would have to assume that they knew little about either football or baseball.

  2. I didnt know there was a difference

  3. I’m a woodworker and a carpenter, so I’ll take it either way. Woodworking involves more time and patience. Carpentry is a great skill to have and can help you survive financial troubles.

  4. It’s ok. I don’t expect people to know the difference. I call myself a woodworker., even though I am a carpenter, finish carpenter, cabinet maker, furniture maker, and artist.

  5. I take pride in being a carpenter. The fact that I’m not just a framer( use to be), the fact I’m not just a trim carpenter, not just a cabinet maker and not just a furniture maker, but can and do combine all the above in my skill set makes me a Carpenter.

    • When you make miter joints
      Do you work until they are perfect or
      Fill the gaps if any with caulk?
      Perhaps that’s the difference

  6. I also get the carpenter comment when people see my work. I quietly explain the difference to them and allow them to continue breathing. I do both types of work so it gives me a place to stand on the differences.

  7. There is a difference. Good woodworking is an art. Good carpentry is a skilled trade. Gutless are those who remain Anonymous!

    • you should look up the two words in the dictionary there is no difference.
      noun: carpenter; plural noun: carpenters

      a person who makes and repairs wooden objects and structures.
      synonyms: woodworker, cabinetmaker

      • He didn’t say woodworker
        New question:
        Is there in your opinion
        A difference between
        A framing CARPENTER and
        A furniture maker?
        I think there is a bit of a difference
        I don’t use 10 penny nails
        When I make furniture

  8. Actually, one of the more satisfying aspects of our craft/art/carpentry, to me, is the engineering that goes along with the design. Making sure things don’t fall or tip over, or that whatever is supposed to fit in them or on them do. making wise use of space if it is a built in. Having heights, widths and depths that reflect the human form and function properly. I consider myself to be very much an engineer of wood as well as a carpenter.

  9. I grew up in my Dad’s lumber business and developed a great deal of respect for what a carpenter did. However, trained as an engineer I took those skills further into designing products that enhanced the carpenter’s skills. Now in retirement I continue this love of building something with enhancing my woodworking skills. The difference is that I now tell people that I do carpentry on a smaller and finer scale. I’m a woodworker now.

  10. I’m honored when someone calls me a carpenter, kind of like being called a grease monkey or a red neck.

  11. In my job doing medical office maintenance, repairs and construction, I wear many titles, but when a customer who wants me to build furniture calls me a carpenter I know they expect a low price, and when a client calls me a handyman, I know the same thing. I am a carpenter and I am a handyman but I am offended when they think I am not as skilled as a cabinetmaker or a building contractor. As the writer said, “Jesus was a carpenter” and I am proud to be the apprentice of Him. It boils down to respect, and frequently clients are putting me down when they call me a carpenter, but it won’t earn them a discount when the job is done! I do excellent work and expect the pay to be equal. Honestly, I’ve seen some DIYers who do better work than me!

  12. I have been a carpenter for over 40 years and have been called a skilled tradesman but I dream of being a woodworker to build a guitar. There is still time.

  13. There are carpenter’s then there are wood workers.moust carpenter’s I put in the category of wood butcher.Then there’s painters and Finisher.What do you think the difference is.

  14. carpenter, woodworker, wood turner, cabinetmaker, door mechanic.I have done all of the above and will again. I take great delight in dispelling the defensive nature in which these terms are sometimes egotistically vetted.

  15. Our family was in farming. Building & making do grew into sidelines. My father went full time carpenter when I was 6. 8 years later I learned how to build. Now at 60 I find large projects are not for me anymore. Now I am starting the process of becoming a woodworker.

  16. All “carpenter” means is “a person who makes and repairs wooden objects and structures”.
    There are many types of carpenters. Including, framers, joiners and cabinetmakers among others. So my feeling when called a carpenter depends on who is calls me that. Either they don’t know what they are talking about or they really do.

    Incidently Jesus was not a carpenter he was a stone mason.

  17. Get over it stop with all th politically correct BS and get on with your life

  18. I’ve always said that one who possesses the skills of a craft are the craft person that describe that skill set. This applies whether they are employed in that craft or not. Having not framed a house or hung a door in many years, I still consider myself a carpenter. Because I still can. My objection comes when someone calls my cabinetry…carpentry! That is when I have to pull out my tape measure and framing square, which I point out are carpentry tools, and show them the 1/16″ markings, And then show them my cabinetry measuring tools which have 1/64″ gradations!

  19. My daughter and son in law just had a two story cabin built by Amish carpenters. Everything is so rushed, joints don’t line up, joists only power nailed on one side. I could go on and on, point is everything we do in life should be our best. We can and do fail because we are humans, but when you don’t do your best you cheat yourself and deprive others of what they deserve.

  20. What matters to me is not the term that others, or I myself for that matter, use to label the work that I do. What matters rather is the joy that I receive from working with wood and creating something, whether it is a piece of fine cabinetry, a cribbage board, or the framinig for a wall. When you strive to do your best regardless of the project, the label that gets applied to it does not really matter.

  21. I like Steve’s approach, I putz about in wood. It is my therapy. like Leroy Jethro Gibbs on NCIS who builds boats in his basement

  22. I was a carpenter first, then a cabinet builder, then a locksmith, I have been doing all three 9 years for a company that I am leaving. I like them all and moving into retirement I will do all if needed. A cabinet builders work is lighter than carpentry when you get older and that is why I like it. It is harder being a carpenter because you have to work with imperfect materials and make things look good that are usually a mess from some one else’s work. You can be either, but your work will show whether your any good at it. All things that are created are composed of parts put together, and so we are created by God to create as he did. Titles are mans way of proving to other men that they are something. A mans gift always makes room for him whatever it may be and proves to others only a little of who he really may be.

  23. I am a Registered Piano Technician and my training and daily work goes far beyond just “tuning” a piano. On some days it bothers me when I’m called a tuner but then I realize that those who don’t know the difference, or know the amount of skills involved, are still honoring my work. When I do a fine piece of woodworking and I’m called a carpenter I explain that I don’t know how to build houses or structures but I’m glad they like what I do create.

    Form me the difference is a little like the difference between a mechanic and a technician. One implies more refined skills

  24. The terms for working wood have changed throughout the centuries. When it comes to trades, unless you are in one, most people don’t know the difference. My grandfather was a carpenter and built homes from the ground up doing everything, cabinets, framing, roofing, floor covering, foundations, etc. A finer craftsman I have never known. He built beautiful furniture too. He was humble enough to consider himself a carpenter. Hope to be like him!

  25. I like the term finish carpenter been one for 30 years I’ve just about made everything in a custom home from curved over the post handrails, mantels and plenty of built in cabinets also I can hand cut a dovetail but when I got to work in the morning I’m a mother fucking carpenter. Lol

  26. Call me anything just don’t call me a “maker”. I hate that new term applied to anyone that fabricates anything

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