What is the difference between a joiner and a carpenter?

A male joiner in his workshop measuring wood.

The difference between joiners and carpenters is something that many people are unfamiliar with. The average person might not even realise there is a difference at all - after all, both professions work with wood. While there is a degree of overlap between the two career options, the terms aren’t interchangeable.

What’s the difference between carpentry and joinery?

In a sentence, what sets apart these two professions is that a joiner will make a wooden item from scratch, while a carpenter will install or repair it in situ. While many of the skills required to do these jobs are the same, a joiner might not be the best person to install a window frame. Likewise, a carpenter might not be the right choice to make the window frame in the first place.

Sometimes, a carpenter might also be referred to as a ‘chippie’. This term sometimes applies to joiners as well. To further blur the lines, there appears to be a cultural divide in who uses each term - with Northerners using joiner more often, and Southerners opting for carpenter. Because of this, the easiest way to tell if a joiner or a carpenter is needed is to consider the tasks that need to be done.

What do joiners do?

A joiner, as the name suggests, is someone who joins pieces of wood together to make an item, whether that’s a flight of stairs, a cabinet or a door frame. This will usually be done in a workshop at a bench, rather than on a construction site or in a client’s home. Since they don’t have to carry their equipment around with them, joiners will often use larger tools and machinery such as mains-powered saws or sanding wheels.

Although joiners create items in a workshop, they may need to visit the site in order to measure dimensions. For example, if a fitted wardrobe is needed, the joiner will need to know the dimensions of the wall or alcove in which it will fit before they can start work making it. Bespoke furniture is often made by joiners, but more commercial, mass-produced furniture pieces may also feature in their work.

A joiner might make:

  • Bookshelves
  • Tables
  • Wardrobes
  • Cabinets
  • Doors
  • Window frames
  • Staircases

What do carpenters do?

Carpenters, on the other hand, are much more flexible when it comes to working location. Their job is to fit and repair wooden parts, many of which have often been made by joiners. Because of this, they usually work on construction sites or in a client’s home. As such, a carpenter uses lighter tools which they can either carry on their person, in a tool belt, bag or box, or in a vehicle.

A carpenter might work on:

  • Fitting roof timbers
  • Putting down floorboards
  • Fitting staircases
  • Fitting partition walls
  • Installing skirting boards
  • Hanging doors
  • Fixing window frames
  • Installing cupboards and shelving

Day-to-day similarities

Despite the differences between the two professions, carpenters and joiners work in the construction trade and there is often a lot of crossover between the two. Generally speaking, a person will train in woodwork and learn the basic skills of both carpentry and joinery before choosing to specialise in one or, in some cases, both.

For this reason, there are a lot of transferable skills, and many joiners and carpenters may be able to take on tasks best suited to the other trade. Additionally, a person might train as a joiner and then later train as a carpenter - or vice versa - to round out their knowledge and skill set.

Some of the skills carpenters and joiners often share include:

  • An eye for detail
  • Good mathematics skills - particularly in arithmetic and converting between units of length
  • The ability to read architectural drawings and plans
  • Basic woodworking skills

They may also be able to do more specialised tasks such as carving, bevelling and sculpting wood into aesthetically pleasing shapes.

What insurance do carpenters and joiners need?

Although the work they do can differ, carpenters and joiners often need similar insurance policies to protect their finances. While there might not be a legal requirement for a joiner or carpenter to take out all of these policies, doing so can reduce the risk of serious financial consequences if there is an accident or complaint connected to their work.

Here are some of the types of insurance both joiners and carpenters can benefit from:

This type of insurance protects you if a client makes a claim against you for damage, injury, or property loss that occurs during the course of your work. Public liability insurance isn’t legally required, but clients can make it a requirement of your contract of work. This insurance can cover you if, for example, a client trips over a wire and is injured while picking up a cabinet from your workshop or if you accidentally damage a client’s flooring while fitting a staircase in a client’s home.

If you’re a self-employed carpenter or joiner, you’ll only need to get employers’ liability insurance if you have staff of your own. This cover protects you if your workers get sick or injured while working for you, and is required by law for all employers.

As the name suggests, this type of cover protects you if your tools or equipment are lost, damaged or stolen. For instance, despite being locked and secured, your workshop or van could be broken into and your tools stolen. If this type of incident occurs, tools insurance can help get you back to work as soon as possible. With tools insurance from Markel Direct, you can choose to cover your tools during working hours only (8am – 6pm) or on a 24 hour basis for complete peace of mind.

Here at Markel Direct, we offer specialist carpenter and joiner insurance. This allows you to combine a number of covers together into a single, tailored policy.

Business insurance from £5 a month