There are some professions that it seems will never see a drop in demand. Carpenters and joiners are among those and anyone with skills in this area who might be thinking of starting their own business could do far worse than putting those valuable skills to use.
Carpenters and joiners make and install the wooden fixtures and fittings found in household and commercial construction projects. These include floorboards, kitchen and bathroom units, window frames and doors, etc.
Carpentry jobs are divided into two areas: structural or detail. Structural work is framework or roofing or other construction that becomes the skeleton of the building. Detail covers the more intricate work, such as cornicing and fitting staircases, dado rails, and skirting boards.
If you’re thinking of starting a carpentry business, the likelihood is that you will already have a professional qualification such as a City & Guilds in the required doctrines. Having a relevant qualification proves to customers that you have the right skills to do the job properly, plus you may be confident that your qualification is respected within your own industry.
Lack of training would result in low quality final output and this would significantly affect the competitiveness of your products in the market place. Therefore, if you are an individual with lack of knowledge and training, it would be a very good idea a follow a course on carpentry before you enter the business. A technical college would be the ideal place for training and education.
You might also be able to get into this line of work through an Apprenticeship scheme. To be eligible, you may need GCSEs in subjects such as maths, English and design and technology, or vocational qualifications such as a BTEC Certificate or Diploma in Construction (carpentry options).
Of course, if you’re an artisan and your chosen career is something creative, such as the intricate design and manufacture of furniture, then it may be possible that a formal qualification may not be necessary – the quality of your work will secure both interest and new commissions. However, it is important to ensure that the quality of your work is up to scratch. No matter how beautifully crafted, news of a bespoke chair or table whose leg has fallen off will travel quickly and lose you valuable future business.
As a joiner or carpenter, work may also fall into one or more of the following areas:
- First fixing (site work) – fitting the wooden structures, such as floor and roof joists, roof timbers, staircases, partition walls, and door and window frames
- Second fixing (site work) – installing skirting boards, door surrounds, doors, cupboards and shelving, as well as door handles and locks
- Machining – cutting timber for floorboards, skirting boards and window frames
- Bench joinery – making and assembling doors, window frames, staircases and fitted furniture
- Shopfitting – making and fitting interiors for shops, hotels, banks, offices and public buildings.
You could be skilled in all of these or you may want to specialise in just one or two.
If you are planning to do all the business tasks or hiring or subcontracting tasks, you’ll need to be proficient in the following:
- IT literacy
- Answering machine/fax/mobile phone
- Basic analytical and mathematical skills
- Project management
To work effectively as a carpenter or joiner, the following industry-oriented skills will be necessary:
- Knowledge of construction techniques, procedures, tools, equipment, safety and materials
- Proficiency in trim work, drilling and setting hardware for doors and windows, setting windows, stair layouts, etc.
- Ability to read blueprints
- Ability to give and receive verbal and written instruction
- Ability to manage paperwork such as employee time sheets, etc.
- Ability to envision all necessary steps to complete the task at hand
- Ability to perform physically demanding tasks such as crawling for long distances and climbing extended ladders
The hours in this sort of business will be long. Expect to work between 40 and 50 hours a week, Monday to Friday, plus some weekend work if required.
Site work involves working outdoors in all weathers, up ladders and on scaffolding or roofs. As a joiner or shop fitter, you would work indoors where conditions could be dusty. You would need to invest in protective equipment on all jobs.
- Starting salaries are between £13,000 and £16,000 a year.
- Qualified joiners earn between £17,000 and £25,000.
- Experienced joiners can earn up to £30,000 a year.
- Intricate work, engraving, etc, can command large sums of money
Overtime and shift allowances will increase income. As a self-employed carpenter and joiner, you will set your own rates.
A van will be a must, preferably one capable of carrying long pieces of timber and heavy tools to and from jobs, if you’re not working at your own base. Invest as much as you’re able and ensure that a small amount is put aside for branding on the side of the vehicle as well. There’s nothing as effective as mobile advertising while you’re out and about.
Commercial-grade carpentry equipment such as a table saw, joiner, planer, radial arm saw, compound mitre saw, shaper, band saw and dust-collection system will be required. Also, hand tools such as wood chisels, sanding blocks, mallets, gauges, etc, are a must. It’s always worth paying as much as you can afford for these – a good quality set of tools will last years.
At some point, as your business grows, you may need to employ staff. This can be daunting for someone who’s always been a sole trader but there is plenty of advice available. Read our guide here.
Marketing your business is vitally important. During economically uncertain times, especially in the construction trades, it’s crucial to keep an edge on the competition. Business cards, flyers, vehicle branding, are all methods of keeping your business in the public eye. However, events sponsorship, etc, is also a proven marketing technique.
Any construction trade will need to have adequate insurance. While not a legal requirement, public liability insurance is a must for working at clients’ properties; however, if you employ staff, by law you must have employers’ liability insurance. You will also need professional indemnity insurance in case you damage a client’s property. Don’t forget that, if you a self-employed sole trader, it makes good sense to have health insurance in case you’re unable to work through sickness or injury.
Health & Safety
In any construction trade, health and safety issues are of paramount importance.
- Whenever possible, ensure that your working area is kept clear of debris
- Ensure tools, especially mechanical bench equipment, are in good working order. The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 covers this point
- When sawing, drilling or chiselling, or using any mechanical bench equipment, ensure safety glasses are worn at all times
- Using solvents or creating dust? Ensure that your working area is well ventilated and that you’re wearing suitable breathing apparatus.