Experience opportunity required by ex military joiner


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14 Aug 2014
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Evening all,

This is kind of a request for an opportunity to gain some experience from someone who is willing to offer it out.

My names Ross, I am an ex military man who picked up my carpentry & joinery qual in the mil. Due to most of the 15 years I served spent with a weapon in my hand and not a lot of time with any tools I am severely lacking experience and know how when it comes to constructing built in furniture and fitting stuff but mostly a real lack across the board.

I have recently decided to start working for myself as a (cough) self employed joiner and what I am finding is that my 'can do' anything attitude is great for winning customers but stressful to say the least when actually having to complete work I have no idea how to approach let alone put a price to. I have a;ready had to return to a couple of jobs to rectify some minor mistakes which attacks the self esteem and the pocket.

I am hoping there may be someone in the south yorkshire / sheffield area that may be able to offer up some advice or better still some time where I could be utilised as a second pair of hands as long as they don't mind a few questions every now and then.

Thanks in advance guys......
I've set up by myself recently too. Makes you realise how many different kinds of joinery work there are. I have tried to get work helping other tradesmen but they seem reluctant to give me any work, dunno why but you may find the same.

My advice, it's working ok for me is, if you don't know how to do something, find out here and practice it. Then let your customer know if you can do it.

Make sure you know what customer wants. Draw a design if needs be. People want quotes, price the materials plus a bit extra incase of unexpected developments or cock ups! Then work out how long it will take you and add a bit. So say it's a front door one day in the shop to make one day to paint and one day to fit. It probably won't take that long but plan for worst case scenario or you could lose out.

Whats your hourly rate/ day rate going to be? You need to be competitive especially as you haven't built up a good rep but you also need to cover your vehicle, tools and materials like screws and glue you wouldn't count in the price of a job. If you haven't got a tool you need for a job that's part of your quote. I know some guys ask for money up front for materials but I'd avoid that unless customer offers. If you can't afford all materials for a big job break job down and ask customer to pay once one stage is completed before moving onto next, agree on this before starting.

Prime all wood to be painted even if customer says they will paint. Untreated wood gets dirty and moves more. You don't know when the customer will get round to painting something so always prime and then the wood has some protection. Acrylic primer is cheap and good for different top coats.

Lastly be polite, punctual, professional, look smart (overalls, work boots, pinny). Be tidy in peoples houses, dust sheets, old bits of carpet to protect floors from dings incase you drop a tool. Masking tape when painting. Basic stuff really.

Good luck.
Thanks for your comments guys,

Yeah I certainly intend on persevering as perseverance ALWAYS wins. I have asked a few guys already but had similar responses to yourself fat ferret.

Ive been fluctuating as i am aware things are likely to take that little bit longer for myself so spread the cost of my daily rate across the job. I am trying to stick to £120 but still feeling cheeky about it but bills have to be paid. I am pretty good for tools as I have invested in festool and realistically am in need of a biscuit jointer now but everything else I pretty much have.

For the jobs i have done so far I have been waiting until the job is finished until submitting an invoice but hear what your saying about the bigger the job the more the need for breaking it down into segments.

Can't help but think spending some time with an experienced joiner would do me some good.

Thanks again guys
Rosssmith9":385e52hc said:
Can't help but think spending some time with an experienced joiner would do me some good.

This for definite, I see lots of people try and take this from hobby to business and miss out working for someone else. I see some builds and work in progress on the forum and just think how much better and faster it could have been done if they had the experience. Speed does not compromise the quality if done right, however it means you can turn a profit.

Such as
apprentices are allowed to do dry fits for the first 6 months, after this dry fits are banned, waste of time, it's like assembling twice as much furniture.
I had the fortunate pleasure of serving with Ross, we were instructors together at our military college. Makes little difference I guess but Ross is as 'stand up' as they come, professional, articulated and cares about what he does. It's tough choosing a military path, Ross and I both did our city and guilds between the ages of 16-19, but then choose different avenues. He went to serve with Airborne soldiers passing the necessary elite course that's required of you, and I went off to the Commandos. Therefore leaving our trades for dust, we were young and wanted excitement and to serve our country, which we did in Iraq and Afghanistan (most recent). Picking up the tools "again" is very challenging.
I've been out seven years now and been on and off the tools in this time, I'm fully committed to my trade and as most wood workers really appreciate what we can do with our hands. All this waffle really is just to say, I've gained further knowledge from this brilliant forum and continue to do so, and some awesome advice and help along the way from members via PM's etc.
It would be fantastic if any of you could invite him along to your workshop, an install...just as "look see" it really does help! I had the fortune to work with someone else for a while when I left and it made a HUGE difference. Also went to see a guy in Oxford for some days to over see/lend a hand in his workshop making kitchens. Big commute from Brizzle to Oxford with no wages, but needs must.
Thanks guys

Hi Ross

I am afraid I can`t offer you any work experience as I only just have enough myself.
I may have a bit of relevant advice though, I set up myself as self employed after being made redundant and then being unemployed for a few months. When the job centre threatened to stop my meagre job seekers allowance I mentioned what about starting a business. The advisor jumped at this opportunity and said they would help me to start. They clearly just wanted me off the unemployment statistics, even though they only gave me 50 quid a week instead of the 65 I was getting and expected me to start a business. Madness. So I started finding a bit of work and felt less depressed if equally poor.
The one good thing they offered me was a meeting with business link with a guy who actually seemed to know some stuff, he gave me a bit of confidence when I told him my plan and followed up a few months later. You may be able to get the same.

I have been going for 6 years now and have yet to actually starve. Ha Ha

Some good advice has already been offered but I will add a few points.

Don`t be scared of taking on something you have never done, someone else can do it, so why not you? You might not be as quick but if you are diligent and pay attention you can do a great job.

Learn Sketchup.
Customers love a visual representation of what they are going to get, but also slightly more importantly in my view you can work out how you are going to tackle the job and how much materials you need. Sketchup make is free to download and there is loads of free lessons on Youtube.

Youtube videos are a good way to learn. However be careful as I have seen plenty of confident fools doing stuff all kinds of wrong but sounding professional about it !!

Get a copy of some good books just for reference Ernest Joyce, Tage Frid, the joinery textbooks from city and guilds etc. I think there is a good books thread on here somewhere.

Forums such as this are a fantastic resource I often find I don`t need to ask a question as it has often been asked and answered before.

Be honest with customers.

Don`t under sell yourself. I did this a lot when starting out for fear of losing the work. I realise now that the price is the price and there is no point working for nothing. There is also an element of getting what you pay for. High quality work costs more.

Do not confuse the words Quotation and Estimate.

Write out a basic terms and conditions statement to include with quotes and estimates.

Word of mouth is King. I have had very little success with internet advertising but I get a lot of repeat customers and their friends.

Leave the customers house cleaner than when you arrived.

Good luck


Best wishes. You could try doing a bit of charity work to see if that generates any leads. My experience as a customer is that a recommended honourable person is almost more valuable than experience. A busy working customer wants someone who turns up on time and does exactly what was agreed.

Cheers Jim,

Definitely left the tools for dust when we were in ha shame we had to work with a few.

Wow thanks for the advice ollie thats great stuff. Yeah the visual thing is something I have tried to overcome with photographic examples and a scaled drawing both for my benefit and the clients but its still a sticking point as the customer I find, misinterpret what has been discussed or line drawn as part of the quotation. Sketchup, right Ill be taking a look at that very soon....top man.

I am at present a little hesitant purely on the basis I am lacking the required experience which naturally breeds the confidence in your ability and ultimately turning a profit quickly. I have however, been fortunate as I spent pretty much all last year on the sheffield business networking scene on a different venture so have managed to build a strong network of contacts / relationships & developed friendships which as soon as I opened a page on FB they jumped on me. I am getting repeat custom from my existing small customer base so not too bad for a new starter, like I said though a lot of ground work was done last year and seems to be paying off.

I don't intend on getting ANY cards or spending money unnecessarily on a website just yet anyhow, my AIM is to generate leads through existing customers and the relationships I already have within my network. I can only really work at my pace just now as I am taking baby steps and trying to minimise mistakes through research & planning. I have to say this forum is IMMENSE some of the reference material is great and to be getting such great feedback is very positive.

Well its definitely a small mountain to climb but a good one, done a few things post military career and I am enjoying myself more now I am ACTUALLY doing something (well trying lol)

I start a floor to ceiling, full wall book shelf incorporating deep section drawers job on monday.

Time to swim..........HARD

p.s. jim....love you bro cheers for the comments ditto
Hi Ross,

Best of luck with your venture into woodwork. It wont make you rich but each job will bring a great sense of achievement and in this business you never stop learning.

If you were closer I would be happy to offer some workshop time.

If you are providing a quote, with a firm price for a project rather than working on dayrate then I would say always obtain a deposit and stage payments for larger jobs. Sooner or later you will come across a non payer, so assess each customer. Buyers are more conditioned these days to ask for a discount / get extras for free: 'just jobs' / finding trivial snagging to delay parting with their money.

I would always aim to keep construction methods simple. Theres nothing wrong with using pocket hole screws for example, if the end result looks right.

If your work is a fitted piece of furniture, treat the measuring survey as a key part of the work (and include a cost for it), think about what information you need before hand and take a formatted list to fill in so nothing is missed (develop a standard list which you can add to as you learn, so you end up with a comprehensive list. the discipline of filling in a standard form is invaluable) Take plenty of images. Record the information in a hardback A4 notebook. Date each survey, job no, client name. Note if sales survey or construction survey. I create a folder on my computer for every job and all drawings, quotes, email attachments are copied across. Print out any emails relating to a project that confirm details -its annoying to have to spend ages searching emails to find a clients email confirming paint coloyrs, door knobs etc etc.
Hi Ross

For SketchUp I strongly recommend you take a look at this blog http://www.finewoodworking.com/blog/design-click-build Dave Richards is one of the authors and knows more about using SketchUp from a woodworkers perspective then anyone else I know. He also has a very reasonably priced DVD tutorial available.

Good luck in your new career. Don't be afraid to walk away from a customer if the job doesn't seem right. Make sure you get enough upfront to cover your material costs and some of your labour. Then stage payments to ensure you get a steady flow of cash.
Hi Roger,

Thanks for the steer on sketchup. I'll be treating myself to that dvd over xmas, there seems to be a lot happening at the moment difficult to fit everything in.

Hi Robin, thanks for the advice on the priced jobs i.e taking deposit and staging payments...I have recently taken you up on that advice and it certainly feels a little better having a piece of that pie as the job progresses. Great stuff.

I have been 'planning' on compiling a series of questions and documenting them to take to every job survey just need to knuckle down and get it done. I kind of started this new venture in a bit of a rush which is unlike me normally but there you go. Thanks so uch for the well wishes guys really appreciate it, its great to know there is this amount of support out there.
Re. pricing, I have a simple 'cost of doing business' spreadsheet that was really useful when I was first setting up - you're welcome to a copy if you like.

Best of luck with your new business.