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How to become a carpenter & joiner

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Carpentry has been around since humans first started using tools, and if working in a trade with that much history appeals to you - and you have a natural flair for crafting and designing - then you should read on...

Carpentry and joinery are slightly different disciplines - to put it simply, joinery is typically the construction of wooden fittings like doors, stairs, windows and furniture, usually done in a workshop using heavy-duty machinery like lathes and circular saws.

Carpenters on the other hand typically work on-site, installing the fittings made in a workshop, as well as handling other wooden constructions, like roof beams and flooring.

Though the trades are distinct, there is a lot of overlap when it comes to training and experience, and plenty of transferable skills.

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A day in the life of a carpenter and joiner

Carpenters can spend a lot of time on site, working in two distinct phases: ‘first fix’ and ‘second fix’.

First fix carpentry is the cutting, shaping and assembling of a building’s primary structure, such as stud-walls, floors and roofing - so you should be comfortable with heights. It’s an important job and one where you’ll need to have a know-how for structural design.

Second-fix is one of the last stages of a building project, adding the finishing touches which a joiner is usually responsible for. This includes architraves, doors, skirting and other internal wooden finishing, which is where a good eye for detail comes in handy.

As a joiner you may work more independently, designing and making bespoke items such as windows, doors, and furniture, both inbuilt and freestanding. You’ll spend a lot of time in a workshop because the joining of wood requires the use of specialist machinery. It is considered a more artisan trade than many others in the industry, and if you wanted to set up as self-employed, you’d have to build up a good reputation to market your business.

If you want to work on larger commercial construction projects rather than simply in peoples’ homes, you’ll need a Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card.

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Carpentry and joinery training 

Carpentry and Joinery can be taken as two separate trades when it comes to training, but some may wish to pursue both and master the entire craft of wood-working.

Training can be taken across four areas:

  • Site carpentry
  • Bench joinery
  • Shop-fitting joinery
  • Wood machining

Site carpentry will prepare you for life as a carpenter on-site, where you’ll be working as part of a large team consisting of various trades, constructing all the first fix elements of a building project along with much of the second fix.

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Joinery training will teach you the many ways of joining and crafting wood for the second fix stage of building such as staircases, architraves and doors.

Traditionally, you would start out as an apprentice taking around three years to learn the trade, building up your skills and knowledge over time; this equips you with all the necessary skills and experience to become a fully-qualified carpenter or joiner.

Alternatively, you can take a college course, and depending on your age and qualifications this could be free.

Other options include fast-track courses that can take up to six weeks, which may cost up to £3,000 - but there is little substitute for building up real on-site experience.

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Carpentry and joinery salaries

A carpenter or joiner starting out in their first year of employment can expect to start earning between £16,000 to £20,000, which will rise with years on the job and with any specialist experience gained.

Once self-employed you can earn anywhere upwards of £40,000. The price a carpenter or joiner charges can vary depending on the type of job, whether it’s bespoke, or the quality of materials being used.

The average day rate of a self-employed carpenter ranges between £150-£200 and up to £240 in London.

The rewards in these trades could last a lifetime, as you would learn to master working with one of earth’s most important natural resources.

A career in the trades