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Choosing the right carpenter
Last updated 20th Sep 2018
In this article, we’ll take you through them step by step.
- Choose someone with lots of specific experience
- Ask about materials early on
- Get a detailed quote from each tradesman you’re considering
- Never pay in full upfront!
- Ask about a tradesman’s professional connections
- Ask about qualifications
- Find out what professional membership really means
Let’s look at each of these in a bit more depth.
Choose someone with lots of specific experience
It’s important you choose a tradesman who has plenty of recent experience of doing your sort of job. The more specific a tradesman’s experience, the more likely it is they will be able to quickly and efficiently deal with any snags that arise.
Tradesmen may advertise themselves as joiners, carpenters, or in some circumstances, cabinet makers. Although these professions overlap, and are all about working with wood, there are differences. Traditionally, a joiner creates the wooden structures for a house, such as window frames, doors and staircases, working on them off-site. A carpenter is someone who installs these elements, and works to repair and maintain them. A cabinet maker is typically seen as a more skilled role, working on fine furniture and other woodwork. Many tradesmen will have the skills to work as joiners and carpenters, while larger firms will often employ both specialties.
Trevor Diamond, of TD Joinery, has been a joiner for 17 years and has over 220 positive feedback ratings on MyBuilder. He explains:
Some people will hire a handyman to lay their solid wood flooring, to cut the cost of the project. However, someone who is not a time-served joiner may not know how much space to leave for the natural expansion that occurs, creating problems further down the road. They also may not understand how different conditions affect how different floors need to be laid.
It’s also worth, within the carpentry profession, finding someone who has a lot of experience of doing the particular sort of job you have in mind. So for example with me - I don’t particularly do kitchens. That’s because I like to do a job from start to finish - from the moment I walk into a property for the first time, I’m there til I’m done. I don’t like job hopping - having to wait for other things to be delivered and fitted, or for other trades to do their bit.
However, there are guys who are set up completely for doing kitchens - that’s what they do - and I’d say definitely go with one of those.
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As well as reading a tradesman’s MyBuilder feedback, ask to see photos of relevant work they’ve done. If possible - and particularly if yours is a big or expensive job - try to talk to one or two of their previous customers. A good tradesman should be happy to put you in touch with previous clients, and this will help you find out what they’re like to have around your home on a day-to-day basis, as well as to assess the quality of their work.
Asking these key questions could help:
- Did the tradesman stick to his initial quote, or did costs escalate?
- Was he easy to get hold of when needed?
- Did he complete the work to the original timescale?
- Did anything go wrong, and how did the tradesman deal with it?
- Did he protect the customer’s home properly before the job began, and clean up thoroughly afterwards?
Ask about materials early on
If you’re deciding which carpenter to hire for a large project (flooring your home, for example) make sure they all provide samples of the materials they’re going to use, for you to view and touch. ‘Solid oak flooring’, for example, comes in many shapes, thicknesses, forms and colours - and this should help you weed out anyone planning to save money by using lower-quality materials.
It’s also worth discussing who is sourcing which materials right at the beginning of the process. Charlie Bates, of Bates Carpentry and Building, has been a MyBuilder member since 2011 and has almost 300 positive feedback ratings on the site.
When it comes to basic carpentry materials - like timber - the homeowner definitely shouldn’t source them. And ironmongery, that’s definitely not something the homeowner should be choosing, because often the quality of the stuff they find is rubbish.
On the other hand, I rarely buy what I call the ‘choice’ materials - decorative bits like finished kitchen fittings and door knobs that everyone sees. Lots of people are quite particular about the style and want to get those themselves.
David Driver of D Carpentry has been a carpenter for 12 years, and has fantastic MyBuilder customer feedback. He explains that talking about materials early on can also save the homeowner a lot of money:
When it comes to materials, some people want to buy their own, which is fine. But I’d always suggest you have a conversation with the tradesman early on, to find out what your options are.
For example, I’ll always try to recommend the cheapest places for you to go. And there are some shops that members of the public can’t use - only tradespeople - so if those shops stock the things you want, I might suggest I buy the materials there, so you benefit from the trade discount I get. I think it’s important a tradesman goes the extra mile if at all possible.
Carpenter James Sloane works on a cabinet in his studio
Get a detailed quote from each tradesman you’re considering
Each tradesman who visits your job should produce a quote that breaks down all the potential costs involved. That means labour and materials, but also any extra expenses like waste disposal or the cost of hiring scaffolding.
As David points out, it’s important to make sure you’re happy with the way the tradesman presents the quote to you.
Everyone gives quotes in a slightly different way”, he says. “For example, for small jobs I will typically send my quotes as text messages to potential clients. That way, I’ve always got the record on my phone - my quote and their response accepting it. It keeps things really clear.
However, I’ll always ask the customer first, to make sure they’re OK with me quoting for the work in that way. And if they would rather have an emailed breakdown, that’s absolutely fine - I’ll do it that way instead.
Never pay in full upfront!
Jason Sims of A2Z Property Maintenance is multi-skilled, but a carpenter first and foremost. He has been a MyBuilder member since 2011, has lots of excellent feedback, and is City & Guilds qualified as a carpenter and joiner.
As he explains, the ways carpenters charge for their time sometimes depends on the type of project:
If someone has lots of little jobs for me to do, I actually quote for either a half-day or a full day. It works better than quoting for every little job, and that way they know where they are and I know where I am.
In terms of materials, I’ll include up to £20 worth of materials in that - things like screws, silicones, glues and rawlplugs.
David emphasises that you should never pay the full amount until the job is completed and you’ve inspected the work:
Especially with small jobs - where there’s little or no outlay for materials - I always just take payment when the job is completed. Even when starting big jobs, I would never take more than the cost of materials.
Because I feel I know what I’m doing, I’m confident that people will be happy with my work and the finished project. To be honest I think it’s people who are chancers, who make mistakes, they may want to try to get as much money as they can at the start - because they know that if they do make errors, the homeowner won’t want to pay the full amount afterwards.
Ask about a tradesman’s professional connections
Many home renovation tasks, like kitchen fitting, have carpentry as their main focus but also involve other work, like replastering or electrical rewiring.
If your project falls into this category, ask potential carpenters how they plan to deal with this. If the carpenter already has a network of trusted electricians, plasterers and so on who he usually works with, it may make the process go more smoothly.
As Charlie explains, he has a network of trusted tradesman contacts who he will call in to work with him on projects:
We’ve worked with some of the same people - specialist tradesmen - for a long time. We all get on very well, I trust them, I can rely on them 100% and they’re nice to customers!
Jason, meanwhile, takes a slightly different approach and does a lot of the smaller jobs himself.
If you’re multi-skilled, that can be really helpful. I’m a carpenter first and foremost, but I’m also multi-skilled because I used to work for the Ministry of Defence, and they put you on a number of different training courses.
Very often, it’s handy if a carpenter can also undertake tasks related to the main project. For example, if you want kitchen worktops fitted, generally speaking you’ll want it tiled afterwards. So if you use a carpenter who can also handle tiling, you don’t need to get several different people in.
The key thing for a good carpenter is just to be honest about what other work he or she can do. A lot of people, when they’re starting out, say they can do a lot of things and then they get themselves in a bit of a muddle.
Ask about qualifications
There are many good carpenters who don’t hold any professional qualifications. Many are time served, or learnt their trade as apprentices. However, having a relevant carpentry qualification - like an NVQ or a City & Guilds Diploma - is another indication a tradesman takes his profession seriously.
Find out what professional membership really means
Some carpenters are members of professional trade associations. Each association holds member tradesmen to different standards, however, so it’s worth checking exactly what sort of membership someone holds and what this means in terms of training or experience.
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