Carpentry is one of the oldest professions — for as long as people have needed shelter to live in, there has been some form of carpentry. Today, carpentry has become a very specialized trade and most carpenters have a niche. The hallmark of all types of carpentry is that carpenters are experts in working with wood. There are some small exceptions to this for buildings that use steel studs or other types of metal framing, for example. However, for the most part, when you think carpenters, think wood.
Have they done the work being requested before?
This is an important question that can often be overlooked, with potential clients assuming that all carpenters work on all types of projects. As we discussed before, carpentry has several specialized skill sets, so it's important to make sure that any carpenter you're considering has worked on your type of project before.
Are they examples of their work?
Carpenters near you will have pictures of past projects they've done that they can share with you. The building process is impressive, and the change from beginning to end can be staggering, so these proud tradespeople will likely have work they'll be happy to show you.
How much experience do they have in your type of project?
This ties into the first question, however, it’s a bit more detailed. Many clients have fallen into the trap of only asking basic questions, like “Have you done a project like this before?” and failing to follow up with, “How many times?”
In many cases, it may not matter if a carpenter has only done a certain type of work once or twice, but it could make a huge difference if your project is complex — and that’s not something you want to find out mid-project.
Are they licensed (if necessary)?
Many municipalities will require permits for carpentry work, depending on the scale. These permits are only applicable if a certified carpenter will be doing the work. In addition, your carpenter may need to have a Red Seal in carpentry to obtain the correct insurance.
Are they insured?
There are three different types of insurance that carpenters will need to carry to conduct work safely. These are general liability insurance, professional liability insurance, and Worker's Compensation insurance.
Don't be shy about asking a carpenter you're thinking of hiring for proof of the appropriate insurance, and be wary if they can't provide documentation.
The short answer to this question is that a carpenter isn't always a builder, but a builder is most often a carpenter. Don't worry — we’ll clarify what that means below.
As we discussed above, there are many types of local carpenters who specialize in one or more distinct areas of carpentry. Depending on where you are in your construction process, multiple carpenters who are experts in their niche may be needed.
If a construction professional refers to themselves as a builder, they are likely saying that they are a general contractor or a construction project manager who can take more of a full-scope approach to your project. Most builders are carpenters by trade but have expanded their skillet to encompass more of the building process.
It can be a bit confusing because carpenters do build things, but when someone is referred to as a builder, it generally means that they are experienced in integrating multiple stages of construction and tradespeople on one project.
However, this is definitely a bit of a gray area. Make sure to clarify what type of professional you’re working with when you vet tradespeople, so you know exactly what their specialty is.
A carpenter is absolutely the right tradesperson to build a beautiful, sturdy deck for you. Depending on what you're picturing for the finished product, however, you might want to look at bringing in both a rough carpenter and a finishing carpenter.
Rough carpenters are experts at putting in the proper foundation to make your deck safe and secure, as well as grading the ground below and ensuring adequate drainage. They'll also be the best people to advise on what types of materials the structure of your deck should be made of, including foundation, stairs, and railings.
It’s important to note here that in most municipalities, you’ll need a permit to build a deck. Your carpenter will need to be licensed to have the expertise and certification to apply for the proper licenses.
Once the structure of your deck is complete, a finish carpenter can give your project a different level of polish and aesthetic appeal, putting that final touch onto your new deck.
If your vision of your new deck involves built-in seating or an outdoor kitchen, a finish carpenter will also be the best tradesperson to help you bring your unique space to life.
Many rough carpenters are very skilled at finishing, and others don’t prefer to do finishing work, so it’s worth it to ask upfront.
Licensing for carpenters can be complicated. Not everyone who refers to themselves as a carpenter is a licensed carpenter, handypersons often do carpentry work. Only some states require carpenters to be licensed for specific types of work.
In many cases, licensing is required in order to ensure that a carpenter has an adequate level of knowledge and experience. There are plenty of unlicensed carpenters with a wealth of experience and talent, but the licensing process is a way for employers and clients to feel secure that a tradesperson has a standardized level of knowledge and experience. Most licensing programs require four years of work experience and the passing of a certification exam.
Below, we’ll go through some common questions and misconceptions to help you untangle the licensing web.
Alabama, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, and Utah have state-level requirements for carpenters to be licensed to do certain types of carpentry work. While each state has its own list, some common types of carpentry often require licenses:
In some cases, lighter carpentry work on non-structural areas of a home doesn’t require a carpenter to carry a license. This may also mean they don’t have the proper workplace insurance, so make sure to ask those questions and weigh the risks accordingly.
Locations that fall outside city or municipal regions may have fewer restrictions on building permits. If you’re confident, you can have a non-licensed carpenter do structural work. This varies by location, so research the rules that cover your property before agreeing to have any work done.
Carpenters are integral to the home-building process, and their various areas of expertise are what allow the vision of a home designer or structural engineer to go from vision to reality.
If you’re unfamiliar with the home-building process, you may be surprised at first to learn that, in many cases, one carpenter does not handle the entire process. Particularly on large or complex projects, you’re likely to have several different types of carpentry experts. Beginning with rough carpentry to create the foundation and structure of your home, you’ll bring in framing carpenters for the exterior and interior walls, joint carpenters, roofing carpenters, and finish carpenters and cabinetmakers.
Depending on your location, finding the right carpenters near you can be simple, or you may have to look at bringing in the right pro from a larger city or town.
Other trades will need to work alongside carpenters during the building process. Homes are built in many layers and stages, so you can expect to have several trades working simultaneously at certain times.
Here’s a list of other trades you’ll need to build a house:
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