Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Carpenter - Wood You Believe the Different Types?

A carpenter working on Douglas Dam, Tennessee, in 1942
(photo by Alfred T. Palmer)


Noun & verb. Middle English.
[Anglo-Norman, & Old French carpentier, (also modern) charpentier, from late Latin carpentarius (artifex) carriage(-maker),
from carpentum two-wheeled carriage, of Gaulish origin, related to CAR: see -ER.]  ]

A noun. A craftsman in woodwork, especially of rough solid kinds,
as in house or shipbuilding (compare with JOINER). ME

B1 verb intrans. Do carpenter's work.

B2 verb trans. Make by carpentry;
put together mechanically, construct (literally & figuratively). LME

Carpentry tools recovered from the wreck of the Mary Rose
(photo by The Mary Rose Trust)


Noun. Late Middle English.
[Anglo-Norman carpentrie = Old & modern French charpenterie, from charpentier: see preceding, -RY.]

1 The work, trade, or skill or a carpenter; woodworking. LME

2 Woodwork made by a carpenter. LME

Carpenters are very particular about the words used to describe their trade - call a cabinetmaker a joiner, for example, and you can expect to be corrected sharpish. At this stage, it might be appropriate to roll out the old "Oh wheely?" joke. As every good carpenter knows carpenter is derived from the Latin word carpentum, meaning 'two-wheeled carriage' (because that's what they used to do - build carriages), your carnaptious chippy will find this absolutely hilarious, your faux pas will be forgotten, and normal wooden relations can resume.

However, if you would like to avoid said lexical showdown in the first place, you might want to familiarise yourself with the different types of carpenter and carpentry. This will save you the time and embarrassment of calling out a luthier, say, when you actually need a cooper to repair your favourite barrel. To assist you in your choice of woody words, here is a list of some of the main types (although do note that different terms are used throughout the English-speaking world, and there can be considerable overlap regarding the skill sets involved):

The Different Types of Carpenter

A cabinetmaker is skilled in the art of cabinetry and makes, if taken quite literally, cabinets. In practice, however, cabinetmaker refers to a skilled carpenter that has the ability to create and finish many different types of furniture and fittings. Personally, I don't like this word, as it fails to convey the artistry involved in skilled furniture making.

Chippy is a British English term for a carpenter generally, and is used more to refer to rough carpentry.

A cooper makes barrels, and they're always up for a laugh.

Chiefly used in British English, a joiner specialises in making joints (stop it!) where there is very little margin for error,
particularly in finish carpentry such as in joinery, woodworking, furniture and instrument making, and parquet floors.

A luthier makes and repairs stringed instruments.

Scenic carpenter
A scenic carpenter builds and dismantles sets for the TV, film and theatre industries.

Ship's carpenter
A ship's carpenter specialises in ship building and carpentry of the more nautical kind.
That really didn't require an explanation, did it? If you hire one of these by mistake, you're an idiot.

Trim carpenter
No, a trim carpenter isn't necessarily a buff carpenter (although he might be), but rather one that specialises in mouldings, trims,
and other such things to make a room look really nice. If he (or she) also happens to be trim, that's just a bonus.

A historic carpenter's workshop. And look what's in the background!
(photo by Donald Gunn)

Are you a carpenter?

Do you know of other types?

Do please join in by commenting planely below.


  1. Your humour knows no bounds Eddie....
    I often cut down trees due to my work, I occasionally come across some lovely timber, in which I give to my father in-law.
    He is A Gifted carpenter. And from kitchens to furniture, pens, lamps etc....he can turn lumps of rough timber into anything.
    I will post a pic or 2

    1. I would love to see pics of your father-in-laws work.
      You really don't get to see too much of fine carpentry any more.

    2. I'm glad you enjoyed it, T. If you cut down trees for your work, two words that might interest you are arboricide (though I'm sure that doesn't apply to you) and treowwyrhta, an Old English word for carpenter that literally means 'tree-wright'.

      And I'm with Jingles - if you have some good quality pics of your father-in-law's work, send them to me and I'll include them in a future post.

  2. And then there are these.

    I've heard people call the fish and chips shop a chippy. Not sure if that's an official term though. I'm pretty sure English cookery isn't related to carpentry... although it would explain some things...

    1. Aww ... thanks Bibi! You've given me some very relaxing music to listen to while I'm writing.

      And yes, we call a fish and chip shop a chippy. And ... Bibi! ... do I detect a thinly-veiled dig at English cuisine?

    2. Nah, not really. All I know is that English cuisine often has really weird names, and is a lot more fatty than what I'm used to eating.

      I do like the warm breakfast though. When I went to England, our hotel served an English breakfast (of which I had the lightest of lightest of light versions) and some bacon in the morning isn't as bad as I thought it would be. (For reference: nobody I know eats warm food in the morning. Nope. We're pretty much French dans les matins, oui.)

    3. Well, Bibi, I fail to see what's in the least bit funny about toad in the hole, Bedfordshire clanger, faggots or spotted dick ...

      I bid you good day, miss.

  3. If you want to make a cartwheel you use elm for the hub, oak for the spokes, and ash for the felloes (you say it fellies - they're the bits that make up the outside edges).
    If you want to make a driving whip (though I hope you don't) then for the stock you need holly, grown on stony ground, five to six year's growth of the second cutting.
    I love all this stuff - it sounds like magic to me.

    1. I've never even done a cartwheel, Sally, let alone made one.

      How do you know all this wonderful stuff? I'm coming to you after the apocalypse. You got mad skillz.

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