How to Start a Freelance Carpentry Business

Carpentry can be a highly rewarding career, as the creative process is one that allows you to see the fruits of your labour every day. If you enjoy working with your hands and seeing the culmination of your hard work each day, then becoming a carpenter could be a great fit. 

Read on to learn what carpentry training you’ll need, including what woodworking tools you can use, as well as ten tips to help you become a carpenter.

What is a Carpenter?

A carpenter is a professionally trained individual who works with wood and wood materials in constructing homes, commercial properties, and other specialized finished and building products. To become a certified carpenter you must complete the proper training, including classroom learning and apprenticeship training. 

What Does a Carpenter Do?

A carpenter can be responsible for a whole slew of various tasks and undertakings. Generally, carpentry duties can include any and all of the following: 

  • Repairing, renovating, and building wooden structures 
  • Measuring, cutting, and joining wood and wood materials 
  • Fitting, installing and repairing trims and mouldings, doors and windows, stairs, and hardware
  • Constructing foundations, laying floor beams and wood panelling for floors and walls
  • Creating cost estimates for clients, including reading, creating, and interpreting blueprints

Woodworking vs. carpentry

Some use carpentry and woodworking interchangeably. However, there are some slight differences between the two professions. Typically a carpenter works on construction sites, covering a wide range of tasks and responsibilities. On the other hand, a woodworker works in a factory or workshop and mainly focuses on producing furniture, home components, or products. Both can be contracted or employed by construction companies. 

Average Carpenter Salary

carpenter’s wage in Canada generally ranges from $17.25 per hour to $38.12 per hour. However, this range depends on the skill level and experience of the individual, as well as the province in which they obtain carpentry work. 

Where a mid-level apprentice carpenter might make $26.50 an hour, a fully certified and experienced carpenter or carpentry supervisor can earn the top range hourly wage, at $38.12 per hour, or even higher. In this situation, an experienced journeyman carpenter can earn an annual salary of $74,000 in Canada. 

Training to be a Self-Employed Carpenter

Typically an individual will need to complete a four-year apprenticeship program to become a certified carpenter here in Canada. Carpentry apprenticeships allow individuals to learn the ins and outs of a trade, gaining knowledge in the classroom and learning from experienced master-level carpenters on the job while also getting paid for it. Should you need funding for your carpentry training, there are various grants for trade apprenticeships available in Canada. 

Before opting for the four-year apprenticeship, there are available carpenter pre-employment programs that can help prepare you for the apprenticeship. Such pre-employment programs take less than a year to complete and will provide you with the skills you need to hit the ground running in the first year of your apprenticeship.

Apprenticeship Program Qualifications

However, if you would like to start an apprenticeship program right away, you generally need to be over the age of 16 and possess a minimum grade 10 education in Canada. If you qualify, individuals can sign up for an apprenticeship through institutions like the College of Carpenters and Allied Trades here in Canada. To complete an apprenticeship in general carpentry, you must complete 7,200 hours combined of work experience (90%) and in-school training (10%). 

Once the necessary schooling and work experience is complete, apprentices can write the Carpentry Certificate of Qualification examination. If passed, you will become a fully-fledged journeyman carpenter. At this point, you will have the necessary carpentry skills to start your career as a carpenter. 

Depending on the examination you take, you may only become certified in the province you apprentices and tested in. However, to practice your trade anywhere in Canada, and not just in the province you apprentice in, you can undergo an examination to qualify for the Red Seal certification. The Red Seal Program tests those in the trade industry on national standards to allow tradespeople to practice their career throughout the country while also receiving the Red Seal endorsement. 

Needed carpentry skills

To become a carpenter and run a successful business, you will need to use certain skills to help you. Math skills are essential for working in the carpentry trade as you will need to work with very precise measurements. Woodcuts must be calculated exactly, so using various equations and math disciplines like algebra, calculus, geometry, and statistics is a must. These skills will also come in handy when calculating costs for projects and clients. 

At the same time, mechanical and fine motor skills are just as important as you will be working with your hands every day. Whether cutting wood, assembling window frames, installing trim, or dissembling wooden frames, physical coordination is needed in every task. Since the job is a physical one, strength and stamina are also needed to become a good carpenter as you will be working with your hands and on your feet all day every day. 

Necessary Woodworking Tools

To become a successful tradesperson, you will need the right carpenter tools and construction materials. There are specific tools that every carpenter will need in their toolkit to get any job done right. Woodworking tools every woodworker and carpenter should have include:

  • Claw hammer
  • Assortment of chisels
  • Hand saws and feather board
  • Levels and moisture metres
  • Nail sets
  • A layout square, sliding bevels and callipers
  • Hand plane
  • Clamps and jigs
  • Sawhorse and workbench

Top 10 Things to Consider When Starting a Carpentry Business

Once you are a certified carpenter, you can begin practicing the trade in your own right. Consider covering the objectives below when you choose to work as a freelance carpenter or start your own carpentry business. 

1. Getting your carpentry licenses and business registration

Once your four-year carpentry apprenticeship is complete, you will be a certified carpenter, but you will still need other licenses to practice your trade legally. If starting a carpentry business, you will need to register your business and gain a business license for tax purposes. You can also register as a self-employed business owner.

Small business owners also need to determine how they will structure their new business. Your business structure might be that of a sole proprietorship or partnership. You can even incorporate your business to create a separate entity. However you structure your business, this will affect how you file your tax returns come tax season. 

2. Joining a trades or carpenter’s union

It is highly advantageous to join trade and carpenter unions, like the Canadian Councils of Carpenters . These unions protect the rights of trades workers while also providing a platform for further education and training. Such organizations also work to further the construction industry and create a competitive workforce for tradespeople. 

Joining a carpenter union can also help you network as it sees you learning and working with carpenters, contractors, and other trade-related professionals. 

3. Obtaining business insurance

Since carpenters work with their hands and with heavy machinery, it is essential that your carpentry business secure comprehensive business insurance. This will help protect you, your company, and your employees against accidents on the worksite. 

Finding a business owners policy (BOP) that includes coverage like general liability insurance, commercial auto insurance, and workers compensation insurance can help protect you, and your workers should an accident happen on the job. Carpenters insurance that protects against property damage and equipment breakdown is also a good idea. 

4. Finding your woodworking specialty or niche

Since carpenters can work on all sorts of job sites and tasks, it can be beneficial to provide a specialty or niche within the industry. The cabinetry business offers an array of lucrative services and products, as there is always a demand for home construction and renovations. 

When determining your niche, consider these types of carpentry:

  • Formwork carpenters: This discipline focuses on the construction of manufactured forms and frames to be used in construction projects of commercial buildings. 
  • Finishing carpenters: These skilled workers put the final touches on newly constructed personal and commercial buildings, including hardwood floors, closet doors, moulds and trims, and windows. 
  • Stage carpenters: This carpentry niche consists of designing and building sets for theatre productions, such as platforms, stairs, ramps, or entire theatre buildings themselves. 
  • Ship carpenters: These professionals work on the construction of frames and surfaces for small and large ships, as well as naval vessels. 

5. Sourcing materials and wood

Sourcing building materials is a must for any tradesperson. Knowing where to acquire quality wood and wood products will ensure you are working with trustworthy materials that will ensure stability and longevity for your clients. 

Many homeowners hire contractors who have the network to source quality materials at a decent price. Nurturing a network of trustworthy suppliers and other suppliers will hold your business in good stead as your clients not only receive your expertise in building structures but also in the material making up 

6. Tracking your raw materials inventory

Working in the trades industry means most likely dealing with a raw materials inventory . If you take on multiple jobs, it might become difficult to track what raw materials are going to what job site. Having an inventory management system in place that organizes and tracks these materials will save you time, money, and effort. 

7. Creating a portfolio

Many contractors and tradespeople will possess a portfolio of their finished work to illustrate to potential clients their products and services. In addition, curating a collection of photographs of your finished work will help you reel in more jobs, as customers can see first-hand the level of skill and expertise you have. For this reason, always snap some pictures of your finished work, with your client’s permission, to add to your growing portfolio.

8. Building an online presence (social media)

Since almost everyone is online these days, you have to go where your potential clients are, making online and social media marketing a must. To start, you will want to create a business website and join the social media platforms that your target market is on. 

SEO marketing is part and parcel of your online presence, as search engine optimization is what allows online users to find your business through search engines like Google. 

Many homeowners search for carpenters near them, so focusing on local SEO for your business site is a good idea. Overall, by optimizing your presence online and improving search visibility, you will be more likely to secure a greater number of carpentry jobs. 

9. Finding useful carpentry apps

Sometimes you might be caught out on the job site without the tools you need. Don’t worry, these days there is an app for everything! So when starting out as a carpenter, consider adding these woodworking and carpentry applications to your smartphone so you’re prepared the next time you’re up a ladder without a toolbox:

  • Smart Measure: This app is perfect for carpenters and woodworkers who have forgotten their tape measure on the job. The app uses trigonometry to help you find the distance, width, and height of any object when you collaborate and aim the phone at your target. Download for free on Google Play and the Apple store.
  • Stanley Level App: This portable level app provides reliable and accurate readings that is easy to use for any project. All you need to do is calibrate your phone with the app one time, and it will always be ready to use. Download for free at the App store.
  • iHandy Carpenter: This app offers users a comprehensive toolkit of five handy tools all in one app. Download from the Apple store starting at $1.99, and you’ll receive a surface level, level bar, a plumb bob, steel protractor, and steel ruler to help you with any project. 
  • Katana: This manufacturing and inventory management software and application can help small carpentry businesses track their raw materials and keep tabs on their ongoing projects. Sync with accounting software to make estimates, invoicing, and billing a breeze as it automatically consolidates sales orders for production and inventory management. 

10. Managing your finances

Working as a freelance carpenter or owning your own carpentry business means managing your finances. When billing clients, paying for project materials and tracking cash flow, the right financial tools are paramount. Business owners and self-employed tradespeople can manage their finances with invoicing and accounting software to make this task easier on them and their clients. 

Using a contractor invoice template can streamline the payment process and offer transparency to clients. Such invoices illustrate the total cost of your work, including materials and work hours, to ensure your clients know exactly what they are paying for. In addition, accounting software like QuickBooks Self-Employed can automatically track invoices and categorize client payments and business expenses to help you come tax season. As a small business owner, why not try QuickBooks Self-Employed software free when you get your carpentry business underway today!

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