A carpenter is a skilled tradesperson who puts together wooden structures, fixtures and fittings. Carpentry can cover anything from building partition walls to creating ornate furniture and bespoke art. Some carpenters even find themselves working on Hollywood film sets.
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 skills should a carpenter have?
- Machining – using specialist machinery to shape wooden boards and window frames.
- Forming – constructing wooden structures to hold concrete whilst it sets such as in the making of bridges or foundations for buildings.
- Installation – installing wooden structures on site. This can be primary structures such as support beams, door frames, floor beams etc. or it can be secondary structures such as skirting boards, floorboards, doors and cupboards.
- Joinery – although a separate profession in its own right, there is often a lot of crossover and carpenters often make doors, cupboards and window frames to be fitted in a property.
- Commercial fitting – carpenters are often used to fit out shops and other retail spaces. Sometimes they will simply make what is requested and fit it, at other times they may be asked to be involved in the design process.
How to become a carpenter
To become a carpenter you need to develop your woodworking skills as well as your mathematics and organisation. There are no specific qualifications required but most employers will expect you to have some on-site and carpentry experience.
You can take a course in carpentry at your local further education college or you could look to become an apprentice with an existing carpentry firm. Becoming an apprentice gives you the chance to earn while you learn, gain valuable hands-on experience and possibly continue working for the company.
As well as being able to understand detailed drawings and plans, you will need strong mathematical skills to calculate lengths and angles. You will also need to be meticulous and pay attention to the detail.
Salary and working life
On average a carpenter will start on between £17,000 and £24,000, rising to £35,000 the more experience you gain. Your working week will be around 35-40 hours and work can be spread across a range of different sites and locations.
Your career path could lead to construction management or start your own business.
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.
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