A carpenter’s trade is wood. If you don’t take any pleasure from knocking two bits of wood together, then this probably isn’t the career for you.
Of course, it’s a far more skilled job than that. Carpenters (also known as joiners) are absolute specialists in constructing and repairing wooden structures and objects.
Without their manual dexterity (that’s being clever with their hands to you and me) and top notch knowledge of how to use tools, our houses world be collapsing on us and our doors wouldn’t open.
If you think carpenters just carve bits and bobs out of wood, you’d be wrong. Carpenters tend to specialise in certain areas or are dab hands at everything. Some carpenters do a lot of bench joinery, which is making staircases, fitted furniture, doors and window frames.
Others try their hand at fixing. You’ll find these fellas on building sites, either fitting staircases, floors, window and door frames, roof timbers (e.g. anything big and made out of wood), or putting in doors (and handles and locks), cupboards and shelving.
Other carpenters are experts in erecting wooden frames for houses and fixing roof structures.
Another area of work is formwork. This is a very precise line of work. Carpenters build wood structures in the shape of, say, a section of bridge or house’s foundations, into which concrete is poured.
Machining is another area of carpentry and is all about cutting and preparing timber for things like frames and floorboards.
Finally there are carpenters who kit out the interiors of shops, offices, banks etc.
So where do they work? You’ll find carpenters knocking about on building sites, working for local authorities, for construction companies or even building sets for theatre, film and television.
Salary & benefits
Trainee carpenters might earn between £13,000 and £16,000 a year.
Once qualified, carpenters can earn between £18,000 and £25,000 a year, rising up to around £30,000 a year with experience.
Self-employed carpenters set their own rates, with some earning more than £30,000.
Carpentry isn’t a desk job, so it isn’t strictly nine-to-five. Most carpenters usually work between 40 and 45 hours a week and they might work into the evenings or at weekends in order to get the job done.
The good news is that you don’t need any academic qualifications to become a carpenter. Employers will value practical experience, so site experience is important. Some start out as a joiner’s mate or a casual labourer before becoming a carpenter.
There is another route and that’s carpentry apprenticeships. The catch is that you might need GCSEs in subjects like Maths and English or vocational qualifications, like a BTEC in carpentry.
Alternatively, some colleges offer courses in carpentry, although employers will probably want you to have some onsite experience too.
Carpenters need to be able to follow technical drawings and designs, and have a good understanding of maths to make measurements and work out angles. Moreover, they need a keen eye for detail and, of course, a great deal of manual dexterity.
Training & progression
Carpenters might work to gain NVQs in wood occupations once they are in employment. Many will be looking to get a Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card as a number of building contractors stipulate that their workers must have one.
In terms of career progression, carpenters may choose to specialise in a particular area of carpentry, or go down the traditional skills route.
Many are self-employed and work hard to build up their business and establish contacts. Other carpenters might look to take on more managerial roles in construction and develop their careers from there.