Do carpenters only work with wood?

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Carpentry and joinery is a broad and varied skill set. This includes everything from creating beautiful furniture, to constructing formwork for concrete. Generally the trade is split into two broader groups:

  • Bench joiners
  • Carpenters (also known as site joiners)

A bench joiner will work almost exclusively with wood. They are usually based in a workshop and construct things like furniture, staircases, windows, doors, etc. It is rare they will work with other materials, but not completely unheard of.

do carpenters only work with wood

A carpenter works on-site building and installing items. This includes things like joists, roof timbers, studwork, doors, skirting and architrave, etc.

A carpenter will also mostly work with wood. However, they do carry out a very wide variety of different jobs. Several of these don’t involve working with timber. A few examples can be seen below:

  • Formwork (shuttering) – This is the process of building a frame to pour concrete into. In some cases the formwork will be made from plywood. However, this is not always the case, and sometimes it is made from other materials such as steel, aluminium, and fibreglass.

  • Metal studwork – This is more common in commercial buildings, and if a carpenter works in this type of environment, they will be very familiar working with this material. The process is very similar to wooden studwork, so it is not a difficult transition.

  • UPVC – Part of carpentry involves fitting windows and doors. For internal doors this will mostly be timber or hollow core doors. However, many external doors and windows are UPVC, or even metal.

    Most carpenters will be able to fit these, as the installation will be very similar to wood. Sometimes, this may even include glazing the window units on site.

  • Plasterboard and insulation – Whilst this is not exclusively a carpentry job, it is quite common for a carpenter to do this type of work. Especially if they are building the stud walls prior to boarding.

  • Facias, soffits, and guttering – This is another item that is often made from UPVC, and it is very common for the joiners that install the roof timbers to do this work also.

These are just a few examples, and this is certainly not an exhaustive list. There are many other small jobs that don’t involve wood, where a carpenter may be involved.

Why a carpenter may not do these jobs

Whilst a carpenter can perform many jobs that don’t involve wood, they often won’t end up doing them. Instead, a company that specialises in the job may be called in to do the work.

For example:

  • A UPVC company may be subcontracted to install all the external doors and windows.
  • Specialist installers may fit metal studwork
  • Shuttering joiners may be hired to do all the formwork
  • And often a labourer can install insulation and plasterboard

Whilst a general carpenter can do all of these jobs, there are people that specialise in just one thing. It is not uncommon for a carpenter to branch off and specialise in a niche area, such as window fitting, kitchen fitting, shuttering, etc.

This is often because they like doing that specific job, or they may just start specialising for more money.

A good example of this, is installing formwork and pouring concrete. This may not be the most glamorous of jobs, but it often pays very well, especially if your good at it.

The advantage of a general carpenter, is they have a very varied skill set.

A good carpenter will be needed on site from the very beginning of the job. They will often be present when the foundations are being set out and poured. All the way till the end of the job. Here they will be doing the more detailed finishing work, and even snagging the job before it is completed.

Also, if a company already employs a carpenter, they will often use them for a wider variety of work.  This means they will often be used instead of a specialist installer. The main reason for this is cost. But also, they are usually just as good at these specialist jobs.

If you already employ a carpenter on a salary (or more likely an hourly rate). It will usually be cheaper for them to do jobs other than a specialist company.

Another consideration, will be the schedule of the overall project, and the availability of carpenters on site.

If they are busy doing other work, it may make sense to hire the specialists, rather than break the carpenters away from jobs they are already doing. It really will depend from one job to the next.

Conclusion

Carpenters are highly skilled, and they have a wide breadth of knowledge. This means, they are capable of turning their hand to many different jobs on site. Generally, this will involve working with wood. However, it is quite common for them to work with other materials.

A carpenter will often have the most varied knowledge of any trade on site. This is because they are on site for the longest and they generally work with every other trade at some point during the construction phase. This makes them a very versatile worker.