So you’re thinking about becoming a carpenter? Well, you’ll be entering one of the most versatile and vital professions in the construction industry if you do. Carpenters are skilled craftsmen and women who do a huge range of jobs - constructing and repairing building frameworks, making and installing fixtures like doors, stairs and window frames and cutting and shaping floorboards and roof timbers.
Below we'll tell you everything you need to know about being a carpenter, including;
- Day-to-day work
- Career progression
The list goes on and on because everywhere you look, every building you see will at some point have been worked on by a skilled carpenter.
Good carpenters are in demand though and you can expect plenty of varied and interesting work throughout your career.
FACT: The construction industry will need an extra 4,320 woods trades and internal fit-out occupations, including carpenters, every year until 2020 to meet demand. The Federation of Master Builders' most recently quarterly report also highlighted that companies are particularly struggling to recruit carpenters.
Carpenters v joiners: what’s the difference?
Carpenters play a vital role in the construction industry from putting down floorboards to fitting skirting and window frames. They will work on both commercial and domestic projects and projects can be extremely varied.
For example, they are also involved in fitting out shops, building shop fronts, forming casing for concrete structures while they set and making shelving for retail outlets.
Carpenters and joiners have pretty similar roles and there is a lot of crossover, but typically a joiner will be involved in making the wood pieces or constructions that a carpenter then installs on site. Joinery also tends to involve cutting and fitting joints of wood without screws, metals or fasteners i.e. wooden doors.
Both jobs are highly skilled and require a good knowledge of woodwork, power tools, design and construction.
What experience and skills do I need?
You’ll need to put in some study and get carpentry qualifications plus most employers require a bit of on-site job experience.
Becoming an apprentice carpenter is a great way to learn on-the-job and you’ll be paid at the same time. You could also get work as a labourer or joiner’s apprentice and pick up some experience that way. If you don’t qualify for an apprenticeship you can take a course at a local college to pick up the know-how you need to progress.
Don’t forget to brush up on your literacy and numeracy skills too – you’ll need to be able to read technical drawings, take measurements, calculate quantities and angles so a good level of maths and English is a must.
What will I do on a day-to-day basis?
You can expect a lot of on-site and outdoor work if you train to become a carpenter, some of it weather dependent. What you do will hinge entirely on the project you’re working on but it’s likely to be pretty creative – you could be building door frames, installing stairs or measuring skirting boards. Or you could be constructing wooden frames to support permanent structures whilst they are built.
Expect some long hours and irregular days if a project is nearing completion and you won’t stay in one place. You’ll move around on different jobs, meeting lots of different people.
Career progression and salary.
FACT: Carpenters earn between £17,000 and £27,000. Experienced carpenters earn around £38,000, according to Randstad's salary checker.
Depending on what interests you, you could work in residential carpentry, building and remodelling domestic homes, in commercial carpentry working on office buildings or in industrial carpentry, making wood frames and scaffolding for pouring concrete forms or erecting wood braces in tunnels, mines, power plants and so on.
About a third of carpenters are self-employed which means you can set your own pay and hours. You can become a master or chartered carpenter, earning up to £40,000 a year and you could eventually open up your own joinery. You could even specialise in historical buildings and restoration.
Once you have experience as a carpenter there are a number of areas you can specialise in:
- Heritage carpentry – in this area you would concentrate on rebuilding, restoring and renovating buildings of historical importance. You might train specifically in traditional techniques.
- Set design – you could find yourself working in the film industry building sets for big budget Hollywood movies.
- Shopfitting – the scope for fitting out different shops is immense as companies seek to create their own unique spaces and brand. You could work with big high street names or small quirky independents.
- Furniture design – some carpenters concentrate on furniture, making everything from wardrobes and cabinets to dining tables, shelving and chairs. If you are creative then this side of carpentry could appeal to you.