What Exactly is a “Joiner”, Anyway?

My ancestor William Hallett (1615 – 1705) is rumored to have been apprenticed to a “joiner” in his youth. But what exactly is a joiner, anyway? The answer is a little complicated…

Basically, a joiner is a type of carpenter. Most people think that the main difference is that a joiner does not use nails, but this is not exactly the case. Actually, the term seems to have evolved over the centuries. The best resource that I found while researching this topic was the blog of a modern day joiner, Peter Follansbee. His blog is full of photos and commentary regarding woodwork using strictly 17th century methods. The tradition – and the heart and soul – of the craft that Peter is exhibiting for us online is the closest that I can get to in my mind as far as what my ancestor Will would have been up to back in the 1600’s. As a matter of fact, reading Peter’s blog is a bit like looking through a window of time. The beautiful items that he creates and then shares with the world via his blog evoke a different era. From wooden spoons to beautifully ornate chests of drawers, they are each one a work of art.

Here’s how Wikipedia defines the term “joiner” today:

“A joiner is an artisan who builds things by joining pieces of wood, particularly lighter and more ornamental work than that done by a carpenter, including furniture and the “fittings” of a house, ship, etc. Joiners may work in a workshop, because the formation of various joints is made easier by the use of non-portable, powered machinery, or on job site. A joiner usually produces items such as interior and exterior doors, windows, stairs, tables, bookshelves, cabinets, furniture, etc. In shipbuilding a marine joiner may work with materials other than wood such as linoleum, fiberglass, hardware, and gaskets.

The terms joinery and joiner are obsolete in the USA, although the main trade union for carpenters still calls itself the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.”  

(Although I think that Mr. Follansbee may disagree with the first part of that last sentence…)


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