How to become a carpenter

Would you like to work with your hands and create things on a diverse range of projects? Take a look at our guide to starting a business in carpentry...

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Becoming a carpenter: what is it and who is it suited to?
Creating a carpentry business plan
Rules and regulations for becoming a carpenter
How much does it cost to become a carpenter?
How much can you earn as a carpenter?
Tips and useful contacts

Becoming a carpenter: what is it and who is it suited to?

Carpentry is a skilled trade that can be whittled down to three words: working with wood.

Simple as that sounds, the carpentry profession is a diverse one: projects range from the intricate shaping of skirting boards to the construction of a building’s entire skeleton – and everything in between.

The market

While dating back to biblical times and earlier, a report from market research house IBISWorld suggests there’s as much demand for carpentry and joinery as ever: over the past five years the housing market has rebounded, heightening demand, while non-residential construction has also increased.

Philip Clay is the founder of eponymous bespoke furniture business Philip Clay, started in 2013. He tells Startups: “Carpentry is always going to be a good business to be in as you are a skilled worker. Lots of industries need us.”

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Jack Leith, who launched handmade furniture business Leith Furniture with his wife less than a year ago, agrees: “There will always be a need for furniture,” he says simply.

And, despite mounting competition from steel and uPVC-based construction, the carpentry and joinery industry has seen a steady growth of 1.7% per year between 2012 and 2017 according to IBISWorld.

Despite advances in technology, Leith tells us woodwork is still a valuable trade: “The rise of technology has driven low cost mass produced goods but I’ve seen consumers move against this recently with a rise in demand for well-made, quality items.”

Nik James, founder and financial director of design and fabrication specialists Aldworth, James & Bond, suggests that advancing technology is also directly feeding industry growth, with carpentry “constantly evolving and improving, including a whole range of new technologies that now sit comfortably alongside more traditional techniques”.

The role

Carpentry is a fulfilling career for people who love to be hands-on and, importantly, is suited to those who draw satisfaction from creating things.

Those with a technical eye and visual mind are well-suited to the job, which often involves reading drawings and blueprints and envisaging each stage of a project.

Bespoke furniture specialist Clay names dedication as a key trait for becoming a successful carpenter: “An extreme amount of accuracy [is] needed during all stages of making a piece so patience and attention to detail is essential as well as the passion to finish a piece well (even if it involves late nights every now and then!).”

James, who takes on creative build projects, tells us it also helps to be “really good with maths, numbers and measurements”.

“You will need to be able to accurately survey the spaces where your joinery might be installed, or for when you’re cutting materials to length,” he adds.

Confidence in performing physically demanding tasks is also an asset – Clay cites the usefulness of “practical skills such as heavy lifting, climbing ladders and dealing with whatever the weather has to throw at you”.

You must also be a good communicator, comfortable with following instructions and asking questions. This is especially key when working on residential properties, where a client has trusted you with their personal living space. If you recruit employees, you’ll need to give instructions and feedback as well as handle employee paperwork. As James states, “a successful carpenter is also a good member of a team”.

Underlying it all, you will need to possess basic business acumen including the ability to manage cashflow.

One important thing to remember is that, as a tradesperson in carpentry and joinery, your reputation is your greatest asset – as Leith warns, “Don’t underestimate the power of word-of-mouth”.

Avoid being dubbed a ‘cowboy’ or ‘rogue’ by ensuring that you consistently provide good workmanship with a thorough approach. James tells us: “We benefitted from delivering high-quality work but always with a smile on our faces, and not letting our customers down.”

Having qualifications and joining with trade associations will also give your business credibility and indicate that you’re a trustworthy tradesperson.

Ready to carve out a career in carpentry? Read on to find out what should be included in a carpentry business plan…