A joiner is a craftsman who works with wood. Over the years, the precise meaning of the term has changed, and its use is not always consistent. The distinction between a joiner and a carpenter is not always clear. In some cases, the term "joiner" refers to someone who creates objects that fit together with joins rather than nails, while sometimes it refers to a woodworker who produces finely detailed work, with or without nails.
In traditional joinery, wooden items such as furniture, chests, cabinets and window frames are crafted so pegs and slots fit together to form a firm, tight join. This technique has its origins in the Medieval period, when wooden objects were built without expensive iron nails. Traditional joinery techniques are still widely regarded as a sign of quality in home furnishings.
Joinery is one of a number of wood crafts with traditions dating back centuries. Cultures around the world have used joinery techniques to create furniture and other wooden objects. Traditional Chinese woodworkers are known for using joinery to produce strong but elegant chairs, tables, and chests. The origins of the modern trade of joinery, however, are in Medieval Europe.
The term "joiner" originated in the 14th century, coming into English from French. The word derives from the French for "to join" and initially referred to a carpenter who did lighter work, often specializing in ornament. In American English, the term is seldom used, although some names preserve the older usage. The main union for wooodworkers in the United States in the early 21st century is The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (UBC), which was founded in 1881, but joinery is no longer considered one of its crafts. The UBC uses the older definition of a joiner as a craftsman who works without nails.
In the United Kingdom, where the term is more widely used, the craft is usually divided into two specializations. Bench joinery is the creation of wooden components in a workshop environment, while site joinery and site carpentry deal with the assembly and installation of wooden components at the site of construction. Roughly speaking, site carpentry refers to the creation of wooden structures, while site joinery refers to the fitting of smaller wooden components such as windows, stairs, shelves, and doors. Cabinet making is another aspect of joinery. Although glazing, the installation of window glass, is a separate craft, some joinery businesses have expanded from simply creating window frames to installing complete windows.