The Job and What's Involved

Carpenters and joiners work with wood. Working on building sites or in workshops, they make, fit or repair doors, windows, staircases, floorboards, roof trusses and partitions. They use traditional woodworking tools, as well as specialised power or hand tools, for cutting, shaping, smoothing and finishing.

They begin by studying drawings and calculating angles and dimensions. It is important to choose the right wood for the job - this might be inexpensive wood used for basic construction, or a more expensive hardwood. They then measure, cut and shape it, using hand tools, power tools and cutting machines.

There are four different types of carpenter/joiner:

Bench joiners are mostly based in workshops, using woodworking tools and machinery to make prefabricated parts such as doors, staircases, roof timbers and skirting boards. Woodworking machinists prepare and shape timber using specialist equipment, and a large part of the job involves setting up, maintaining and operating machines safely.

Site carpenters, sometimes called fixers, work on site, fitting the prefabricated parts into buildings. First fixers do the work needed before plastering, such as fitting floorboards, staircases and window frames into place. Second fixers carry out the work after plastering - installing skirting boards, door surrounds, doors and shelving, as well as fitting door handles and locks. They work with prefabricated wood parts and other materials such as PVC.

Shopfitters specialise in producing and fitting shop fronts and interiors. They may also produce work for hotels, restaurants, banks, offices and public buildings. The work can involve bench joinery and on-site installation and fitting.

Formwork carpenters make moulds (formwork) for concrete structures, such as pillars for motorways and multi-storey car parks, bridges, suspended floors and staircases. Temporary wooden, metal or plastic structures, called shuttering, support and shape wet concrete until it sets. Formwork carpenters cut, shape, drill and fit together the shuttering to make the formwork.

The usual working week is 37.5 hours, Monday to Friday. On site, the length of the working day depends on daylight hours, but early starts are common, and carpenters and joiners may have to work in the evenings and during weekends to finish a job.

Many jobs involve travelling to different sites, sometimes with time away from home. Work can be seasonal, with shorter hours and sometimes layoffs in the winter.

Carpenters spend a lot of time standing, bending, kneeling or crouching. Outdoors it can be cold and windy, and the work can involve climbing ladders and working on scaffolding, roofs or in confined spaces. On site, they need to wear protective headgear and footwear and sometimes goggles, gloves and ear-protectors.

Bench joiners work in workshops and have to get used to a lot of wood dust. They also have to wear protective equipment such as ear protectors, goggles, face masks and footwear.

Carpenters and joiners may have to carry heavy materials and tools.

Starting salaries for trainees may be around £12,500 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Overall, there are over 240,000 carpenters and joiners working in the UK.

As well as working on new buildings, carpenters or joiners find work in a variety of different areas. This may include;

  • Building maintenance and repair.
  • Adding fittings and extensions to existing houses.
  • Working for building or mechanical engineering services, building contractors, local authorities and shopfitting companies.

Many carpenters are self-employed and work as sub-contractors. It is also possible to specialise in an area such as restoring old buildings or furniture making.

Education and Training

Employers usually expect entrants to have three to five GCSE's/S grades (A-E/1-5). Useful subjects are English, maths, science and technology.

It is also helpful to gain some work experience - either from school or during the holidays - to find out what it is really like to work in the industry.

It may be possible to train through an Apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work, Careers Wales; and for Northern Ireland contact

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Young people can gain employment straight from school and train on the job as craftspeople, attending college or a training centre to gain qualifications such as:

  • NVQ's/SVQ's Levels 1, 2 and 3 in Wood Occupations.
  • NVQ's/SVQ's Levels 2 and 3 in Wood Machining.
  • City & Guilds (C&G) Certificate in Basic Carpentry and Joinery Skills.
  • C&G Certificate in Carpentry and Joinery.
  • C&G Certificate in Fine Woodwork.
  • C&G Certificate in Machine Woodworking.

In England and Wales, there is a three-year Construction Apprenticeship Scheme. In Scotland, there is a four-year Scottish Building Apprenticeship Scheme, run by the Scottish Building Apprenticeship & Training Council.

It is also possible to begin training by taking a college course leading to a Construction Award (in England and Wales). The awards are at three levels: Foundation, Intermediate and Advanced. They are based fully on college work and do not involve work on site. Training for a Construction Award, combined with work experience, can lead to an NVQ.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Carpenters and joiners need:

  • Practical ability.
  • Good hand skills.
  • The ability to follow drawings, plans and written or spoken instructions.
  • To be fit and agile in order to cope with the physical demands of the job.
  • A careful, methodical and accurate approach to work.
  • Some ability with numbers for measuring and calculating quantities of materials.
  • To be able to work in a team with others in the same trade, as well as other construction staff, architects and designers.
  • Safety awareness.

Your Long Term Prospects

Experienced carpenters and joiners may be able to progress to technician level or move into construction management. Many become self-employed and set up their own firms, sometimes employing other craftspeople.

There may be opportunities to work abroad on contracts.

Get Further Information

CITB-Construction Skills, Bircham Newton,
King's Lynn, Norfolk PE31 6RH
Tel: 01485 577 577
Websites: and

CITB-ConstructionSkills Education Unit,
4 Edison Street, Hillington, Glasgow G52 4XN
Tel: 0141 810 3044

Construction Apprenticeship Scheme Helpline:
Tel: 0870 4177274

Construction Confederation, 55 Tufton Street, Westminster, London SW1P 3QL
Tel: 0870 8989 090

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