How to Choose a Carpenter
Want a new kitchen? Or fitted wardrobes? A carpenter can help with that – and far more besides. Here’s how to choose one
Professional advice from: Florent Chevreuil of Ecosse Bespoke Carpentry; Tim Bywater-Owens of West London Carpentry & Decoration; Robert Ball of Robert Ball Bespoke Cabinet Maker & Joiner
Also in this series: How to Choose a Cabinet-maker l How to Choose an Interior Designer l How to Choose a Tiler l How to Choose an Architect l How to Choose an Electrician l How to Choose a Kitchen Designer l How to Choose a Plumber
A carpenter can help you with anything from building a new kitchen to fitting a wooden staircase or bespoke wardrobe. Consequently, it’s a good idea to understand the difference between types of carpentry, as different carpenters may have very different skill sets.
“Carpentry is split into many different fields,” Tim Bywater-Owens says. “In construction, you have first fix carpenters who do mainly structural work (beams, roofing, etc), and second fix carpenters, who are involved towards the end of a project (skirting boards, doors, etc). Separate to both of those are cabinet-makers, who typically just make furniture.”
A word on other terms: while ‘carpenter’ and ‘joiner’ sound different, they generally mean the same thing. However, sometimes the former is used to refer to someone who’s more involved with the construction side of carpentry. ‘Rough carpenter’ is often used to refer to someone who builds wooden frames/constructions. A ‘trim carpenter’, meanwhile, specialises in moulds and frames on windows and doors.
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This will vary from professional to professional, so always ask to make sure you know what you might be getting, as this is a key part of any carpentry job – solid wood will be more expensive than MDF, for example. Ask for samples, so you can see first-hand what you’re getting, the knots you typically might see in certain woods, and so on. Also find out if your carpenter prefers to source materials, or doesn’t mind if you do this.
“Wood prices vary greatly depending on their durability, quality, availability and provenance, so ask your chosen professional to guide you on this, as it can also vary from one supplier to another,” Florent Chevreuil says.
“A painted finish will be more cost-effective than other finishes, as the wood used will be more affordable,” he says, “but also because there will be less work involved in the sanding process.”
You should also check if the materials used are sustainable and eco-friendly. Florent says his company always uses wood and panels that are certified FSC/PEFC from responsibly managed forests.
This will depend on the type of carpenter you’re employing and the scale of the work in question. In general, Florent advises, “Ask what’s included in the quote and what’s not, and what materials are going to be used. Request samples of materials and finishes. What joints are going to be used, and what are the advantages and disadvantages?”
If you’re having furniture made, he says, “Find out about aftercare – how to look after the piece of furniture once the carpenter has gone.”
If your carpenter is doing a job that’s more integral to your home’s construction, he says, “Ask about the process, especially if there will be different trades involved (for example, electrician, plumber, floor fitter, painter). Will the carpenter need to organise other works? Moving a socket or radiator are common ones.”
More: 7 Times Bespoke Storage Made a Room
Good reviews are essential, along with a professional working manner and a tidy approach to housekeeping at the end of a project.
Robert Ball says when choosing a professional, ask yourself, “Do they provide an estimate and design drawings, and seem happy to talk about options and ideas? Do they get good reviews on Houzz? Are they easy to chat to and ask questions of? Do they have a friendly, polite manner, arrive on time for meetings, and not get pushy for a sale?”
Tim agrees and adds you should “ask lots of questions” when checking out previous work and reviews.
Check on housekeeping also, Robert recommends, in particular ensure they provide “dust sheets and floor protection in all areas, a vacuum cleaner to tidy up, and rubbish sacks to remove any waste, leaving the home as clean and tidy as they found it”.
When planning your carpentry and choosing who to hire, think about the level of detail as well as the scale.
“Bigger is not necessarily more expensive,” Florent says. “Design-wise, there’s more work involved in a set of bedside tables with drawers than in a full-height set of wardrobes with double doors, hanging rails and shelving, and this will add to the final bill.”
Again, it’s a good idea to see previous examples of work to guide your decision, as well as get a number of quotes from different carpenters. It’s also worth checking if there will be extra costs for items such as glue and screws.
Unlike, say, a gas fitter, carpenters don’t need professional accreditation to work. But there are qualifications to look out for, such as having City & Guilds technical training in architectural joinery, for example.
Find out how long they’ve been working in the trade, and in the particular field you’re hiring them for – building kitchens, for example. If you’re undertaking a major home refurbishment, check whether they’re comfortable working across a number of different types of carpentry jobs.
Professional bodies such as the Institute of Carpenters (IOC), the British Woodworking Federation (BWF) and the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) are useful resources, with member directories so you can check for qualifications/experience, and codes of conduct that members must follow.
Have you hired a carpenter for your home? Share your experience in the Comments.