Along with stone, mud, and animal parts, wood was certainly one of the first materials worked by primitive human beings. Microwear analysis of the Mousterian stone tools used by the Neanderthals show that many were used to work wood. Indeed, the development of civilization was closely tied to the development of increasingly greater degrees of skill in working these materials.
Among early finds of wooden tools are the worked sticks from Kalambo Falls, Clacton-on-Sea and Lehringen. The spears from Schöningen (Germany) provide some of the first examples of wooden hunting gear. Flint tools were used for carving. Since Neolithic times, carved wooden vessels are known, for example from the Linear Pottery culture wells at Kuckhofen and Eythra. Examples of Bronze Age wood-carving include trees worked into coffins from northern Germany and Denmark, and wooden folding-chairs. The site of Fellbach-Schmieden in Germany has provided fine examples of wooden animal statues from the Iron Age. Wooden idols from the La Tene period are known from a sanctuary at the source of the Seine in France.
Two ancient civilizations that used woodworking were the Egyptians and the Chinese. Woodworking is depicted in many ancient Egyptian drawings, and a considerable amount of ancient Egyptian furniture (such as stools, chairs, tables, beds, chests) has been preserved in tombs. As well, the inner coffins found in the tombs were also made of wood. The metal used by the Egyptians for woodworking tools was originally copper and eventually, after 2000 BC bronze as ironworking was unknown until much later. Commonly used woodworking tools included axes, adzes, chisels, pull saws, and bow drills. Mortise and tenon joints are attested from the earliest Predynastic period. These joints were strengthened using pegs, dowels and leather or cord lashings. Animal glue came to be used only in the New Kingdom period. Ancient Egyptians invented the art of veneering and used varnishes whose composition is not known as finishes. Although different native acacias were used, as was the wood from the local sycomore and tamarisk trees, deforestation in the Nile valley resulted in the need for importation of wood, notably cedar, but also Aleppo pine, boxwood and oak, starting from the Second Dynasty.
Historically, woodworkers relied upon the woods native to their region, until transportation and trade innovations made more exotic woods available to the craftsman. Woods can be sorted into three basic types, hardwoods, typified by tight grain and derived from broadleaf trees, softwoods, from coniferous trees, and man-made materials, such as plywood and MDF.