Carpentry 101: carpentry basics for beginners
Carpentry involves the cutting, shaping and installation of wood for buildings and structures. Carpentry is a skilled trade which dates back thousands of years, but is still used widely in modern construction. Carpenters are often involved from the start of projects, constructing timber (wood) components of roofs, walls and floors in buildings, as well as working on the latter stages to construct window frames, skirting boards, doors and more.
Carpentry is an integral role within construction, and is well suited for those who are good with their hands, enjoy using tools, and appreciate the feeling of pride in doing a good job.
Types of carpentry
Carpenters tend to specialise in one or two kinds of carpentry, especially when they’re working on larger construction projects. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Formworkers, sometimes known as concrete carpenters, are a specialised type of carpenter who construct formwork to support the building process. Formwork is the moulds that concrete is poured into to create bridges, staircases, foundations and beams for buildings, and much more. Formwork can be temporary or permanent, and is usually constructed using metal or wood. It is an essential part of the building process, and formworkers can demand high salaries.
Find out more about how to become a formworker here.
Framers repair and build structures made of wood or wood products. They usually work early in a construction project, building what becomes the framework for the rest of the structure. Framers measure, cut and assemble the wood needed to build residential, commercial and industrial buildings. They can work on new construction projects, repairs or additions to existing structures.
Cabinet making is a highly specialised kind of carpentry. They build, repair and install wooden cabinets, furniture and fixtures. They are employed by custom furniture manufacturers, construction companies and cabinetmaking contractors, or they may be self-employed. Cabinet makers can construct custom furniture for clients or work on large-scale projects alongside other carpenters.
What about joiners?
Joiners, sometimes called finish carpenters, aren’t typically considered to be carpenters, even though their work is similar. Joiners tend to specialise in lighter, more ornamental work than carpenters, including fine woodworking, fittings, doors and windows, and furniture detailing. Joiners usually work in workshops, using non-portable machinery to construct joints and intricate detailing, whereas carpenters are usually found on a construction site, working on larger fittings.
Find out how to become a joiner here.
What you need to know
Carpentry 101: these are the basics that all carpenters should know.
Health and safety
Set your work area up, keep it tidy and make sure there are no trip hazards – it’s a quick job, but working safely is the most important aspect to carpentry. Depending on what you are working on, and where, you may need goggles, gloves, dust masks, ear plugs, steel toe-cap boots and a hard hat. Check in with your site manager and obey the safety signs if you’re unsure.
Measuring like a pro
Measure twice, cut once! Accurately measuring where to cut is an essential component of carpentry, so make sure to learn how to use a tape measurer with great accuracy. Double (or triple) check all your measurements – it’s worth taking a bit longer when measuring materials to make sure you’re spot on. It’ll save you time in the long run and is great practice for all carpenters.
Get to grips with tools
Carpenters use all sorts of tools, from the humble pen and paper to power tools like wood saws. Most importantly, learn how to use them safely and how to put them away correctly. Tools make a carpenter’s job much simpler, but only if you know when to call upon each one – so make sure to learn which carpentry task requires which tool.
How to cut straight
You've measured perfectly, you know which tool to use and how to use it safely, now you just need to be handy with whichever saw you are using and get a perfect cut to finish the job off nicely. 'Let the saw do the cutting' means exactly that. If you are getting tired wrists or sore hands when using a hand saw, you are pushing too hard and more likely to wander off course. Keep your index finger pointed down the length of the blade to help keep it stable and apply the minimum amount of pressure.
How to get into carpentry
There are many ways to get into carpentry, and for some roles, there are no formal qualifications required. Let’s explore some of the ways to become a carpenter.
Work experience is a great way to get into the construction industry. You can gain work experience while at school or college, by working weekends and holidays with a relative or at a carpentry company. Alternatively, you can start working in a different role, such as a general construction operative or bricklayer, and work closely with carpenters to gain some hands on experience and learn the tricks of the trade.
Work experience is highly valued by all employers – learn more about it here.
There are specific carpentry courses which you can take at college or a training provider. Courses typically involve a combination of classroom learning and hands-on work experience to give you the practical and theoretical knowledge required to succeed. Some relevant courses include:
- Level 2 or 3 Diploma in Carpentry and Joinery
- Level 2 Diploma in Bench Joinery
- Level 2 or 3 Diploma in Wood Machining
- Level 2 Award in Timber and Panel Products.
To get onto these courses, you’ll usually need:
- 2 or more GCSEs at grades 9 to 3 (A* to D), or equivalent (level 2 course)
- 4 or 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or equivalent (level 3 course).
Find out what equivalent entry requirements mean here.
For further information on what to expect during a construction course, click here.
Apprenticeships are a tried and tested route into carpentry, and it’s how many carpenters learn the trade. As an apprentice, you will be fully employed (and paid) by a construction company, with your time split between your employer and a learning provider.
You could take an intermediate apprenticeship in carpentry and joinery, which usually takes around 2 years to complete. Following this, you could progress onto higher level qualifications or specialise in other areas of carpentry, such as heritage and historical renovation or cabinet making.
Find out more about apprenticeships here.