The History of Commercial Carpentry

For centuries, carpentry has allowed people to create useful items out of wood. In fact, evidence of carpentry has been traced all the way back to the stone period, when people made stone tools to help them shape wood. Throughout history, the craft has evolved into what we currently know as commercial carpentry. Let’s take a walk down memory lane and how far commercial carpentry has come over the years.

Prehistoric Carpentry

Practiced for hundreds of years, carpentry is a popular trade. Stone tools have been discovered that are similar to woodworking tools we use today, such as hammers, axes, and knives. Historians have discovered evidence of the first buildings made of mud, bricks, and wood. Door and window frames, made of wood, demonstrated the existence of skilled woodworkers during that time. They recognized the importance of wood and understood its potential to be molded into many important and useful things. 

Egypt & Greece

During the pyramid era, Egypt’s carpentry industry flourished. In Egypt, carpenters were primarily skilled tradesmen who worked for the king. During this time period, tools were made mainly of copper. These tools were far more exact than prehistoric stone tools. Over time, more equipment, like saws, were developed, allowing carpenters to cut wood thinner and more precisely than ever before. This allowed for the creation of new structures such as wooden coffins, furniture, and more advanced homes with wooden roofs. Because Egyptian wood was highly brittle and  difficult to come by due to the arid environment, most carpentry woods were imported from Lebanon. Of course, wood was still not the most common building material, but it was far more comparable to stone and plaster than it had been earlier.

Carpentry rapidly took off and became a highly respected art form in Ancient Greece. Tools were made of iron and steel by this time. New construction technologies emerged, such as the introduction of cement, which was the strongest moldable material during this period. Because carpenters were able to make frames to hold the greater weight, houses and buildings were scaled larger. Because wooden scaffolding was blended with brick, stone, cement, and other common building materials, most homes were now able to have numerous levels.

The Medieval Era & The Industrial Revolution

Carpentry flourished in the Middle Ages because wood was the most popular building material. Carpentry grew so popular that guilds were formed to support it. Guilds were essentially the forerunners of labor unions. They were established to ensure that local carpenters compete fairly. Fortunately, there was never a shortage of jobs. Carpenters were required to construct anything from tools to structures. Ornate woodwork, furniture manufacturing, and construction became specialties for some carpenters. As a result, commercial carpentry was born.

When the Industrial Revolution arrived, carpentry underwent yet another major transformation. Commercial carpenters were employed on the spot to assist with the construction of massive mills, waterwheels, and worker housing. Simultaneously, machines were being developed to make the job of a carpenter easier! Drilling holes became easier with the invention of more advanced tools. Steel was also becoming a prominent building material.

The 1800s – 1900s

“The early 1880s brought change to the carpentry trade,” according to the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. Contractors were increasingly engaged to organize and manage construction as the number of significant building employers grew. It was becoming increasingly difficult for the typical carpenter to establish himself as an independent master. In 1881, Peter McGuire convened a Chicago congress of 36 carpenters. The United Brotherhood of Carpenters was founded at the meeting. Later, more and more advanced tools, including the first power tools, were released. This was huge because it meant that commercial carpenters could do work considerably more quickly and with less effort. Sounds like a win-win. 

Commercial Carpentry Today

Commercial carpenters are now needed everywhere within the construction industry. Fortunately, there is now massive machinery to assist us, and wood can be ordered pre-cut in a variety of sizes and with several customization possibilities. We have top-of-the-line tools, as well as safety equipment that can save a life on the job. Construction keeps growing, changing, and advancing with technology. We here at Waldron Carpentry are looking forward to seeing where commercial carpentry goes next.

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