3 Challenges that Self-Employed Carpenters Face

By Jake Martin

4 min read

Carpentry and joinery are holy grails of the professional world: industries whose demand rarely seems to flag. Plus, with relatively low overhead costs and abundant work to be had, these industries are perfect for the enterprising self-employed carpenters with the right skill set.

Of course, they’re not without their own inherent challenges.

We’re not talking about splinters, sawdust, and the sound of sawmills here; you’re well prepped for those. But are you prepared for the other aspects of self-employment? You’ll need to consider scheduling, project management, and your own advertising and marketing.

Then of course, there’s balancing the books. Fortunately, QuickBooks Self-Employed is here to lend you a helping hand with that, so that you have more time to worry about what matters—real issues, such as:

How do you specialise in the industry as Self-Employed Carpenters? How do you protect yourself if, god forbid, a job goes sour and someone files a claim against you? And how do you even get started in the first place?

1. Getting started for self-employed carpenters

Carpentry is a specialised trade and one common way to break into this industry is through apprenticeship programs offered by larger construction firms. Apprenticeships are competitive. Typically you’ll need GCSEs in related subjects (maths, design and technology, etc.), but you can find more complete information and guidelines here.

Colleges also offer numerous courses that can help you develop skills crucial to the carpentry industry. The more varied your skill set, the more of a commodity you’ll become. Visit bconstructive and CITB for more information on bolstering your qualifications.

There’s also no replacement for good, old fashioned experience. If you have limited first-hand experience in the industry, applying to be a joiner’s mate or labourer can be an invaluable step in the right direction.

Some of the practical skills that you’ll need to excel as self-employed carpenters includes the ability to:

  • Understand basic construction concepts, including safety procedures, different building materials, building techniques, and the necessary tools and equipment.
  • Study and understand blueprints.
  • Envision and realise every stage of a project.
  • Build, repair, and install various (mostly wooden) fixtures.
  • Organise subcontractors from other disciplines (plumbers, electricians, etc.)
  • Perform physically demanding tasks, such as working atop extended ladders or in crawl spaces.
  • Know and operate within acceptable safety parameters.

Also, note that contractors will want you to have your Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card before allowing you onto their worksites. To qualify for your CSCS card, you’ll need to prove your competence and pass the CITB’s Health, Safety, and Environment test. For more information, please visit the CITB website.

2. Skill specialisation

Of course, it’s quite possible that you already have the professional qualifications you need if you’re contemplating building your own carpentry practice. The question you should be asking then is how do you set yourself apart in an industry when 62% of carpenters eventually set up self-employed practices?

Net.workspace suggests some roles you might want to consider, including:

  • First fixing – fitting the skeletons of buildings and wooden structures. This includes partition walls, staircases, and framing timber.
  • Second fixing – installing all the amenities. This includes cupboards and shelving, doors (including locks and handles), and skirting boards.
  • Machining – cutting timber, primarily for second fixing use.
  • Bench joinery – crafting and assembling items, primarily for first fixing use.
  • Shopfitting – crafting and fitting the interiors of commercial and public buildings. This includes banks, shops, and hotels.

It’s also never too late to accrue some new skills and pursue further education. Basic—Level 1—carpentry and joinery courses will help you dip your toes in the pool. Studying more advanced principles though, such as Level 2 and 3 courses, will help you hone your skills when you’re ready to jump in the deep end.

Whether you excel in all or one of these skills is up to you, but the more qualifications you have, the more you’ll be able to carve a niche for yourself in the carpentry industry.

3. Insurance

So everything is going swimmingly. You’ve built up your business, seen valuable ROI for the time and energy you poured into your enterprise, and you even have a fairly regular clientele.

Then an accident happens. Your staircase slips during installation and someone falls ten feet and injures themselves. Your customer trips on your two-by-four and breaks his femur.

Suddenly you’re facing legal action.

Large claims can make or break a business, so it behooves self-employed carpenters to protect themselves ahead of time and look into liability and professional indemnity insurance plans that make sense for them. Also, while not a necessity, health insurance can give you some blessed peace of mind if you need to stop working for an extended period due to health concerns or injury.

Note that unless you have personnel in your employ, you’re not legally required to have liability insurance, but it’s not a bad precaution to take just in case any injury or property damage occurs on the job. Also, some companies may not hire you at all unless you can procure evidence of insurance.

Information may be abridged and therefore incomplete. This document/information does not constitute, and should not be considered a substitute for, legal or financial advice. Each financial situation is different, the advice provided is intended to be general. Please contact your financial or legal advisors for information specific to your situation.

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