Need to knock out a wall, or drill some shelves in your bedroom? Maybe you’d like to add a window to a stuffy room or even build a new extra room next to your garage to get a little extra rent…
Building or Carpentry, has become such a commonplace profession in today’s society that it’s hard to imagine this craft ever not existing. From the subtleties of a refined deck to the mind-blowing skyscraper structures that adorn every major city in the world, carpentry is indeed well and alive in every corner of the world.
Construction is booming more than ever, and the methods are now so refined there are courses in university detailing this ancient craft, which in some cases (such as building skyscrapers) may be almost unrecognizable. It can be easy to forget the humble beginnings of what is now an everyday occurrence.
What is Carpentry?
In a sentence, it could be described as:
the art and trade of cutting, working, and joining timber
It was initially associated with the use of timber/wood. Wood is one of mankind’s oldest building materials – its properties allow it to be easily manipulated while also providing great strength to be structurally sound. The use of wood occurred throughout stone age through the bronze age and into the iron age.
It’s widely believed that carpentry existed in the prehistoric stage of mankind, that is before written history began. The knowledge and skills were not taught through universities or colleges as they are today, but would have been handed down from generation to generation – from person to person.
It wasn’t until the printing press was invented in the 15th century that books detailing methods and techniques could be published and spread beyond the intimacy of familial knowledge. Though carpentry was a craft that all cultures ‘discovered’ in their own way, some of the oldest surviving wooden structures in the world are temples found in China – dating back to 782AD!
Advances in Building
For the majority of history, carpentry was mostly achieved using basic hand tools, as with everything, technology began to change this dramatically, particularly in Western Civilisation.
In Europe around the 16th-century sawmills were introduced. This meant that instead of timber being hand-sawn, bulk timber could be cut which dramatically sped up the amount of wood that could be processed and thus the speed with which a building could be erected.
The Industrial Revolution in the 18th century saw the invention of the circular saw which led to the development of balloon framing. Thanks to the ability to cut bulk timber, balloon framing allowed lots of lightweight supports instead of only a few heavier supports. This meant the structures could be nailed together rather than using traditional joinery and so dramatically changed what could be built, and thus more elaborate structures came into existence.
In the 19th century electrical engineering saw the introduction of handheld power tools, wire nails and mass produced screws. This was the beginning of modern carpentry as we know it. The electrical component not only sped up the process of building, but again made possible all sorts of elaborate architectural designs.
In the 20th century the use of cement became commonplace. This was one of the first steps away from the need of the carpenters’ trusty longtime friend, wood! Though of course, you’ll never find a chippie without a piece of wood nearby, the introduction of cement changed the way we build forever.
Today, instead of building being something that is passed down the family line, it requires training in the form of apprenticeships which involves both onsite experience and gaining knowledge at either University or TAFE. To legally build in Australia, a certificate is needed, or at least to work with someone who holds a license.
Once the apprenticeship is over, a person has the option to continue to study further to become a master carpenter… or in other words, gain their building license. This means they are legally allowed to build a structure from scratch and have someone like you sleep and live in it!
While traditional materials are still commonly used, and are the base for the majority of household builds (and good timber is becoming more and more valued as we recognize how amazing good natural wood is), there are many variants that can be used instead.
The history of carpentry is as rich as the most natural wood deep in a forest, and one of the oldest crafts in human history.