Is Woodworking an Art, Craft or Trade?

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To the layperson, woodworking consists of cutting boards and planks and assembling them into something useful. Others on the other hand may consider it as a medium of expression and creativity. When we look at these two aspects of woodworking, you may wonder under what category does it fall? An art? A Craft? A trade?

In this post, we take a closer look at the various aspects of woodworking in an attempt to decide how to classify this line of work.

The Difference Between Art and Craft

Muslim Coran on wooden book stand on white background

When you think of art, you might picture a museum. If you see different handmade things of various materials, do you ever wonder if they are made by an artist? A professional craftsman can also make such items, but if so, would that be classified as art? Let’s consider the difference between art and craft.

Craft covers all types of goods that people create by hand on a small scale. It could be a past-time or a profession, but requires knowledge and certain skills.

Art on the other hand is when a person puts materials together using emotions, senses, and creativity to make something that appeals to peoples’ sensibilities. Art appears to us in the form of music, sculpture, painting, movies or music.

Some people consider woodworking both an art and a craft. The artisan or woodworker are both capable of creating aesthetically pleasing objects. If a person uses tools to create a chair or table from wood following simple instructions, we call that person a craftsperson. If the same person breathes life into the objects they create by adding emotion and passion, then we say that person is an artist.

The word “craft” comes from the German word “Kraft” which means skill or strength. The conclusion here is that all artists are craftspeople but all craftspeople aren’t artists. It is all about how a person interprets their work and how they present it to the world.

What is a Wood Art?

redwood furniture, traditional Chinese art style

We can consider wood art as the link between humankind and nature. Since the time humans began to use tools, a relationship grew between humans and wood. You can find functional wooden items and then, you get decorative items as well. Some of the decorative items are wooden bowls, vases, statuettes, and other ornamental objects. Artisans also make a variety of musical instruments from wood.

In the above context, it is logical to consider woodworking as an art. But now comes the next question. Is woodworking a craft? It can be either of these two, depending on the nature of the end product and how we produce the items.

If you hand-carve a vase or create it on a wood lathe without the intention of selling it for financial gain, you would be creating art. If you made many such objects and sold them in the market, your art would soon become a craft, and people would consider you a craftsperson.

Different Types of Wood Arts

As discussed above, wood arts is where craftspeople create objects through passion and devotion to impress on the emotions of the final users. Wood art is highly abstract and subjectively presents itself to those who see it. Here are the main categories of wood art:

Engraving and Carving

Cork wood engraving
Cork wood engraving (Image: Mel)

It is one of the most common types of wood art and the most ancient forms.

Engraving and carving involve cutting and molding wood with sharp instruments like knives, chisels and gouges. It results in a three-dimensional object.

One common form of carving is chip carving. With chip carving, you use chisels and knives as primary tools. We remove the wood in small chips a bit at a time from a flat piece of wood. You can also make intricately carved bowls and plates using the chip carving technique, and also for making carved wooden jewelry.

Another form of wood carving is African wood carving, a form of engraving from ancient times in Africa. Ebony is popularly used in African wood carving, and the sculptures depict various tribal myths and folklore. African sculptures made from ebony are very much sought after and often find their way into the international black market.

Architecture and Craft

People also call this form of wood art “design and illustration.” Craftspeople employ a variety of techniques in this form of art. To begin with, the artist draws on the wood. Then they may paint, sandblast or even burn the wood to create artworks.

Sticking Pieces of Wood

You can create beautiful objects by sticking various wooden items together. The different forms of this branch of wood art are wood inlay art, wood mosaic art and geometric wood art. If you use moving wooden structures, then we call that type of wood art kinetic wood art.

Relief Carving

In relief carving, we carve figures and objects out of a block of wood. Although it is like sculpting, the difference is that the images project out only enough to become three-dimensional. The classification of relief carving varies from high to medium relief depending on the extension of the protruding objects.

People also call relief carving “pictures in wood” because of the highly visual images that it presents. Artists create relief carvings through a method similar to wood sculpting.

Woodworking as a Trade

The above two aspects of woodworking attach less commercial value to activities performed on wood. The third question that usually pops up about woodworking is is if woodworking can be an art or a craft, can it be a trade? Certainly, yes. If you launch your creations in the market and sell them for money, then your woodworking would be a trade.

A Career in Woodworking

You can make woodworking into a career, if you learn the tricks of the trade (for want of a better name for it!) you can earn a steady income from woodworking. You need to be very creative as a woodworker and have the capacity for hands-on work.

Being a woodworking professional, you need to have a creative eye, but also be equipped with the practical skills required to convert ideas and designs into smart-looking wooden objects and structures.

There are several colleges with woodworking degrees across the United States where you can train to be a professional woodworker. Here are a few of the well-known universities and colleges:

  • University of Cincinnati
  • Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Fox Valley Technical College (Appleton)
  • Western Technical College (Wisconsin)
  • Florida Panhandle Technical College (Chipley)
  • Wallace Community College (Dothan)
  • Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology (Lancaster)
  • Northcentral Technical College (Wausau)
  • GateWay Community College (Phoenix)
  • Dakota County Technical College (Rosemont)

These are just ten of the many colleges in the US that offer woodworking courses. So, if you want to broaden your horizons and pursue a career in woodworking, you can start by looking at these colleges and then at several others to choose the best one.

Woodworking Courses

But if you applied to one of the above-mentioned colleges to qualify for the woodworking trade, what roles would you expect to be in? Here are two standard woodworking courses that you could aim to complete:

Woodworking or manufacturing Technician

You will receive theoretical knowledge and can participate in woodworking projects like furniture making, cabinetry and more.

Woodworking Technology

This course teaches the various techniques and skills, with the managerial and production component. This course is for more of a managerial role.


The question “Is woodworking an art, craft or trade?” is now answered. It is all three. The category that you consider it under depends on the end-use of the wood. Are you an artist or a craftsperson? Or, do you want to make your woodworking a career by making it a trade? It all depends on how you decide to take your woodworking skills forward.

Happy Woodworking!