Step-by-step guide on how to become a carpenter in the UK

Carpenters are in constant demand in the UK, whether working on construction sites or building bespoke items in a workshop.

If you’re interested in going self-employed and want to combine this with an existing interest or skills in carpentry, a career as a carpenter can be a great way to go it alone.

Our comprehensive step-by-step guide reveals how you can become a carpenter in the UK.

What does a carpenter do?

Many carpenters work for construction companies, or directly for clients. Alternatively, if you’re doing work like building bespoke pieces of furniture, you could operate from your own workshop.

Depending on the nature of the carpentry you’re doing, your day-to-day work might include the following:

  • Cutting and shaping timber
  • Designing and building items like floorboards and doors
  • Making and fitting kitchens and assembling structures like staircases
  • Building entire interiors, for example for shops, offices, or restaurants

Carpenters often use skills from a variety of related trades, including plumbing, bricklaying, roofing, and tiling.

How much does a carpenter earn in the UK?

Carpenters’ pay in the UK can vary widely depending on experience and specialism. A beginner carpenter can expect to earn around £18,000 per year as an employee, rising up to £40,000 for more experienced workers.

However, as a self-employed carpenter, you’ll set your own rates. The way you price yourself will depend on the sorts of work you’re doing. For example, if you’re working on a project-by-project basis for carpentry or joinery, you might set an hourly rate.

Alternatively, if you’re manufacturing and then selling your own pieces made to your own specifications, you might sell them on a per-item basis, with the cost depending on things like materials and labour time.

It’s important to do some research about carpentry and joinery pricing, for example by seeing what competitors in your area charge, and setting your rates accordingly.

Step-by-step guide to becoming a self-employed carpenter

Now that you know what a carpenter does and how much they earn, are you ready to take the leap into self-employment? Read on for our tips on starting your career.

1. What skills and qualifications do self-employed carpenters need?

There is no set route into the carpentry business. However, if you’re thinking about starting out on your own, you may well have some carpentry skills already.

If you do want to develop these skills, though, you could consider apprenticeships and on-site experience or training before going self-employed. In addition, many colleges offer practical carpentry courses that could set you on your way.

If you wish to work as a carpenter on a building site, remember that you’ll need a Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card.

2. What equipment do self-employed carpenters require?

As a self-employed carpenter, you’ll need to provide your own tools. The items you require will vary depending on your work, but you’re likely to need some (or all) of the following:

  • Circular power saw
  • Hand saws
  • Chisels and rasps
  • Claw hammers
  • Various screwdrivers
  • Squares and levels
  • Tools for marking, for example chalk lines

3. Get the legal side sorted

Every self-employed person has a number of legal tasks they need to tick off, and carpenters are no different. You’ll need to register as self-employed with HMRC, which sets you up as a sole trader, and you’ll need to file your tax return and pay your bill according to the UK tax deadlines.

You might choose to hire an accountant to help you do this, but it’s perfectly possible to complete these yourself.

4. Get insured

It’s important to think about carpenter insurance before you start trading. It protects you in the event that something goes wrong – and remember, regardless of how careful you are, mistakes do happen.

  • Public liability insurance is a key cover for carpenters. It can pay out in the event of loss or injury suffered by a member of the public as a result of your work
  • You might also choose to take out personal accident insurance, which can cover medical bills and lost income if you suffer an accident that means you’re not able to work for a while
  • You should also consider tool insurance to protect the stuff you use every day
  • Finally, if you end up employing people in your carpentry business, remember you’re legally obliged to take out employers’ liability insurance

5. Finding clients as a self-employed carpenter

Now that you’re all set up, it’s time to win some clients.

Many carpenters work on construction sites, often contracted by construction companies. If you’ve done a carpentry apprenticeship then you’ll already have contacts with potential clients, and you should think about trying to make the most of these first.

Similarly, carpentry college courses generally include modules on developing your business. As mentioned above, remember that you’ll need a CSCS card to work on construction sites.

However, a good number of carpenters also work on a job-by-job basis, and may be contracted by members of the public. If this is how you intend to work, it’s important that you’re good at selling yourself.

Build a portfolio of your best carpentry work and make sure that it’s available online. You can build a website quickly and cheaply with some of our best tools for building a business website.

You should also consider signing up to online tradesman networks, which are becoming an increasingly popular way for carpenters and other tradesmen to find work. There are several such networks online, of which Rated People is perhaps the best known.

There’s also a range of simple digital marketing techniques you can use to make sure you’re being seen by potential customers, including online business listings and review sites. For more information, read our guide to online marketing for tradesmen, and our roundup of the best online review sites for small businesses.

6. Think about expanding your carpentry business

As your carpentry career progresses, possibilities for expansion might arise. Being self-employed, you have the ability to make your own decisions about the future of your work.

For example, you can choose to specialise in a particular area of carpentry. Alternatively, if you’re making bespoke pieces for public sale, you might be looking for new sales and marketing channels. In this case, you might find our guide on how to start an online shop useful.

Good luck – let us know how you get on with setting up your self-employed carpenter business in the comments below.

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