How do I choose a carpenter?

How to find the right wood-worker for you
When you choose a carpenter, take time to ensure that you don't build any headaches along with your home project.

Start your search by checking our profiles of carpenters in your area.

Then follow this checklist for narrowing down the list to a carpenter that's right for you:
  • Look for carpenters who specialize

    Look for someone who specializes in the job you need finished. A trim carpenter (who deals with interior molding and trim) is not a framing carpenter (roofs and walls), who likewise is not a cabinetmaker.

    Make sure you contact the right one for your home improvement project. Simply explain the work you need done and contractors will let you know if it's within their expertise.

  • Be as specific as possible about what you want

    When it comes to carpentry, the more details you can give, the better the outcome. Have plans available, which your architect should draw up before you meet with a carpenter. Also, get your architect to provide a lumber list. This will give a prospective carpenter the information necessary to write an accurate estimate.

  • Get estimates from at least three carpenters

    Because you'll have a lumber list and architectural plans, you'll be able to get a true comparison between different carpenters and contractors.

    If you want to know why one carpenter is significantly more expensive than another, get an explanation and decide whether you are willing to pay for the difference.

  • Ask for references

    Obtain references from the carpenter and follow up on them. If possible, get recent ones. If you're looking for someone to do a big exterior job, it may be possible to drive by similar work the carpenter has done for other customers.

  • Understand the contract

    If you're serious about using a carpenter's services, look at a copy of the carpenter's contract or a template. A contract should include a specific description of the work to be done, a payment schedule, a start date, and an estimated completion date.

    When you do make a final decision, attach the lumber list to the contract in order to avoid differences of opinion later.

  • Check the carpenter's insurance

    Make certain the carpenter provides you with a certificate of insurance before any work begins or money changes hands. Also, ask whether your carpenter is open to a payment schedule that follows the project's progress. It's better to find out in the interview process if this would be a problem.

Of course, you should pay attention to your impression of a prospective carpenter, and keep these questions in mind:
  • Does the carpenter seem competent?
  • Does she take you seriously as a customer?
  • How does he treat you?
  • Did the carpenter arrive on time?
  • Did she answer all your questions to your satisfaction?
  • Did the carpenter make good on any promises — like their time of arrival, when an estimate would be ready, or any follow-up communication?

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