When Pauline Paradis, of Poland, wanted additional cabinets to fit into odd-sized spaces in her home, she searched for a local custom woodworker to help her create the functional cabinets and closets, as well as a kitchen island, that would meet her needs.

Local woodworkers such as David Barber of Forwood Thinking, LLC in Durham, who has created six pieces for Paradis, begin nearly every project by visiting the potential client at their home or office. This is important to note because you can walk into a store and buy something off the shelf, but a custom carpenter can build something that fits into a particular space.

It’s also about aesthetics. Although Barber is well educated, experienced and versatile when it comes to design, he can work with other designers as well as homeowners who want something created from their own design.

“It’s collaborative, not competitive,” he said, adding, “I want to create something that feels good and looks nice, and I want to work with people who appreciate quality and craftsmanship.”

That’s another important tip: know what a carpenter’s skills are and how they match your home improvement needs.

“When you get into custom woodwork,” said Wes Sunderland, president of the Guild of Maine Woodworkers and a professional woodworker with 50 years’ experience, “it’s really quite different from the mainstream, and it’s generally higher end.”

“People think that they might not be able to afford [custom pieces],” said Barber, “but I’ll work with people within their budget.”

The Guild of Maine Woodworkers is a group of individual woodworkers, said Sunderland. “We’ve got about 20 members and although most are hobbyists who make items simply for the joy of it, four or five are professional woodworkers.”

There are a lot of reasons why people prefer handcrafted and custom items, particularly furniture.

“It’s unique,” said Barber, and often becomes “a show piece” for the home.

Jack Kline, who is formerly from Lisbon Falls but presently living elsewhere in New England, learned furniture making alongside Barber and specializes in the recreation and restoration of antique Chinese furniture.

“I photograph the process, and write a narrative,” for the client, said Kline. “What they’re buying is a story.”

Barber is proud to be a part of the growing “made in Maine economy,” and is inspired by the locally sourced raw materials — oak, maple, cherry, birch and American walnut –that he uses. 

By purchasing a unique, handcrafted piece of locally sourced custom furniture, whether it is one’s own design or something designed in collaboration with a professional custom woodworker, “Every time [a customer such a Paradis] looks at the joints, the grain patterns, and the overall craftsmanship,” said Kline, they will know that theirs is not just a one-of-a-kind piece, but also that it is “a living artifact of human effort” that will fit and function perfectly for many years in the space for which it was created.

Tips for choosing a carpenter

Before you choose a carpenter for your project, you should take a look at the different kinds of craftsmen and what their particular skills are. Since there are many different kinds of carpenters, it helps to know what their skills are and how they match your home improvement needs.

The first thing that you should know is what a carpenter does. A carpenter works with different kinds of woods and other building materials to build or repair or make things that include shelving, cabinets, furniture, trim work and framework for houses.

One of the types of contractors that are most commonly hired is a residential carpenter. They build homes because of their high level of experience in almost all areas of building a home. These are the carpenters that put up the framework of houses, as well as work to build all of the walls within the house. Residential carpenters also do great things like install flooring, as well as handle much of the finishing touches that give a home character. In many cases, these are the people that are on jobsites until they are completed.

Carpenters not only have formal schooling, but they get most of their knowledge of the trade by experience. They will often work as apprentices and it’s not uncommon for carpenters to begin their career as what is called a rough contractor, while moving up to becoming a finish carpenter. Some contractors choose to keep working as a rough contractor and begin to focus on specialties such as framing.

Following is a more detailed look at the difference between rough carpentry and finish carpentry:

Rough carpenters

A rough contractor is also commonly referred to as a framing carpenter. They are most often just referred to as framers. These are the people that build the structure of a home. They build walls of houses and buildings using wood, as well as other types of materials for framing.

Framers need to have experience and skill to ensure that all things are square, plumb and level so the finish carpenter can do his or her work. Good framers will include the blocking that is essential for cabinet hanging, windows and doors.

Finish carpenters

Often when we think of finish carpentry, we think of trim. Actually, there are different types of finish carpentry that include many aspects of what makes a house a house. For instance, windows and roofs, doors and cabinets are also done by a finish carpenter. Anything you can see in your home is likely the work of a finish carpenter.

One shouldn’t forget about cabinet makers, who stand in a category of their own. These are people that are highly trained in their field to make furniture and cabinetry, they might be a bit pricey, but a good cabinet maker will give your home a look and feel that is durable and unique.

Projects that require a carpenter

There are many projects that will likely require you to call a carpenter. They might include specialty additions to the home such as any kind of shelving that is built in, cabinetry, window benches, breakfast nooks, stairs, pocket doors, crown molding and trim work, surrounds for the fireplace, customized decks and benches, dormers for the roof, finishing and laying hardwood floors and walk in closets, as well as Cedar shakes and siding, and framing.

What you should know when choosing a carpenter

When you’re looking for a carpenter, there are some things that you should know to ensure that you get quality work that will last for years:

Ask to see all licenses, certificates and insurance and make sure that they are all current.

You should also get more than one proposal so you can choose the best quote for the job you’ve specified.

Make sure to ask for references from previous customers. Word of mouth is essential.

Be sure that you have all of the warranties, guarantees and promises in writing before the work begins.

Agree on a start and finished date and add them to the contract

Look any contractors up with the state and consumer protection agencies in your area.

– Courtesy of Planet Handyman.


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