What you need to know about hiring a carpenter

A carpenter is a member of the construction trade who builds, erects, installs and repairs objects which are made mainly from wood, although they are sometimes made from other materials. They are skilled craftsmen who carry out an extensive variety of woodworking, which ranges from constructing buildings to making furniture. Carpenters form one of the largest building trade occupations, about a third of which are self-employed whereas others will work for contractors. Hiring a carpenter can be the perfect solution to adding a little something special to your home.

When would I need a carpenter?

Carpenters are needed for a variety of different aspects associated with building a house. They are used for the framing walls and partitions, building stairs, making door and window frames and installing them, making cabinets and installing them, shaping furniture as well as many other smaller tasks.

What does a carpenter do?

Carpenters take on a variety of different tasks which all fall under the following jobs:

  • Reading and interpreting blueprints and drawings, which they then use to create an item.
  • Being given a task and having to plan the most effective and efficient way to complete it.
  • Having and using knowledge of different types of wood and their qualities, including grain, density and flexibility, to make an informed decision about which to use for the project.
  • Laying out, measuring, cutting, putting together and joining various items and materials.
  • Using a variety of different hand and power tools according to safety instructions and as effectively as possible.

What are the different types of carpenter?

Most carpenters that are used in houses and for building construction need a broad range of skills, so that they can adapt to the environment and perform many of the different tasks needed. However, often carpenters will specialise in one or two main areas, so that they can develop significant expertise.

Although this may mean that they lose out on certain areas, they will be more attractive to people who require their type of work, as they will be more skilled than other carpenters.

  • Rough Carpenter – this type of carpenter unsurprisingly does rough carpentry, which includes framing, formwork, roofing, and other structural and large-scale work which does not require joining or polishing.
  • Joister – this is type of carpenter lays floor joists, which are horizontal boards that are connected to the frame of a structure just below the door level. Floor joists give a position to which a floor is attached. They also add extra strength to the floor for holding weight, and are put on decking for buildings.
  • Finish Carpenter or Joiner – finish carpentry includes cabinetry, furniture making, fine woodworking, model building, parquetry, instrument making and other such wood fashioning. The focus here is on wood where exact joints and minimal margins of error are vital.
  • Trim Carpenter – this carpenter specialises in mouldings and trims, for example mantles, skirting boards, door and window casings, and other such ornamental work. Cabinet installers are also included in this bracket.
  • Cabinet Maker – although this seems self-explanatory, these carpenters perform fine and detailed work, concentrating on making cabinets, dressers, wardrobes, storage chests and other furniture.
  • Ship’s Carpenter – these professionals specialise in shipbuilding, as well as all maintenance and repairs on the ship/boat.
  • Framer – a framer is responsible for building the skeletal structure, or the framework, of buildings.
  • Roofer – this type of carpenter specialises in roof construction, focusing mainly on the rafters, beams and trusses.

What are the main jobs of a carpenter

Although the tasks which each of these types of carpenter perform varies according to their job, the main outline of their work is very similar and involves the same basic steps.

  • Firstly they will do the layout or design the project. This will include measuring, marking and arranging materials in accordance with local building codes and regulations. If the carpenter has to design the project then he or she will produce a number of designs before the final one is chosen and the layout is performed.
  • The carpenter will then cut or shape the wood, or whatever material is being used, using different hand or power tools such as a chisel, saw or drill.
  • Next, the carpenter will check that the work is all correctly in place and join the items or materials with nails, staples, screws or adhesives.
  • Finally, the accuracy of the work will be checked again with rulers, levels, plumb bobs, framing squares etc. to ensure that the item is of the highest quality. Any necessary adjustments will then be made.

If the carpenter is working with prefabricated items, such as stairs or wall panels, then their job is much easier as there is no need for as much layout work, cutting or assembly of parts. The reason that prefabricated components are designed and used is because they are easy to use and fast to install, generally only taking one operation to be installed.

What qualifications should a carpenter have?

Most carpenters train through an apprenticeship scheme with other carpenters. Through this method the apprentice can gain field experience whilst training towards the desired qualification. This on the job training often includes block release to college or training providers so that the appropriate NVQ/SVQ can be attained. The main qualification which you should look for is an NVQ/SVQ in Wood Occupations, between levels 1 and 3.

The Institute of Carpenters (IOC) offers various craft awards for carpenters/joiners who want to add to their qualifications and improve their skills. You should make sure that the carpenter you employ is a member of this institute, as clear evidence of their skills. Each member is provided with a bronze, silver or gold card which is representative of his or her ability.

If the carpenter is a member of this institute, any legal debates which may ensue in the future will be resolved more efficiently and easily, as the institute forms its own guidelines.

By 2010, the government required that all workers within the construction industry must hold a Construction Skills Certificate Scheme (CSCS) card, or they must be registered with an associated scheme. To be eligible for the card, the worker must possess an NVQ or an SVQ, or a satisfactory corresponding qualification, and have passed a health and safety assessment. Each card has a grade which is given according to the experience and qualifications of the worker. This will enable you to be able to choose the standard of your carpenter, which has been calculated against specific requirements.

How much will a carpenter cost?

The price that you pay a carpenter will vary greatly according to the size and type of the job. Most carpenters charge between £15 - £20 an hour for their work, although some will charge more if it is a particularly intricate piece of work, whereas others will charge less if you are employing them for a large job. You will have to pay for materials on top of this, although most will cover and include the cost of adhesives and use of their tools in the quote.

What should I check before I get the work carried out?

Before you hire a carpenter you should make sure that you get a number of different quotes to make sure that you pay an appropriate price for the work. In addition, make sure that you get all these quotes in writing, especially from the carpenter who you then choose for the job. Also ask each of these carpenters for their business license and local references.

If you are hiring a carpenter to carry out framing or do any substantial building work, then make sure you investigate to see if any city building permits should be obtained in order for the work to be carried out.

What questions should I ask the carpenter?

  • What type of carpentry do you specialise in?
  • Are you a member of the IOC, and if so what type of card do you have?
  • Can I see your CSCS card?
  • How long will the job take you?
  • Will you use your own tools or will I have to rent extra ones?

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