If I had a hammer... where would I use it in London?
May 10, 2007 1:22 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to learn carpentry in London - How do I go about that?

I found this question, but it's US-specific. Basically, I have a dream one day of building my own house, or at least participating in the building of it. I'd like to combine my interest in learning about timber framing and carpentry work with perhaps volunteering. I know Habitat for Humanity has a British offshoot, but from their website it doesn't look like there's much going on in the London area, although I wouldn't be averse to going up to Liverpool to work on something for a weekend. But I don't want to pitch up without knowing some solid basics. I nailed together scenery in my teens for a youth theatre group, but that's slightly different I feel. Where can I get started?

Salient facts - I work a regular day job (which is a professional, bit-more-than-9-to-5 deal, but rarely weekend work, occasional evening work, but rarely much past 8pm).
posted by Happy Dave to Grab Bag (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Generally, you wouldn't use a hammer much on a modern job site. You'd use a nail gun, if you were working on wood framed construction, a lot more.

That's only one thing you'd learn if you attended training programs recommended by the UCATT, Britian's largest construction trade union. Construction techniques and materials continue to change, and traditional "carpentry," as you put it, is becoming an obsolete skill set, replaced by sub-specialities cooperating to produce engineered structures, which perform better, and contain less material, with less waste. Roof systems are increasingly done by factory made trusses, which are stronger and cheaper than on-site built joist roofs, and floors are often delivered as engineered flooring systems, replacing beams and composite decks, because the engineered floors are quieter and cost less than older methods. Adhesives are replacing even standard nail type fasteners in more and more construction applications, because of superior strength and lower cost.

But it is not so easy to learn trade craft while remaining professionally employed. To learn useful trade craft, most training programs require you to actually construct buildings. This is hard to do on a part time basis. And frankly, construction is often hard, physically demanding work, with a fair amount of opportunity for injury. So finding projects and opportunities to apprentice is going to involve some effort and creativity on your part.

You could, perhaps, try getting on with EarthWorks for their upcoming weekend Timber Framing Course. You won't be a framer in 2 days, but you may have a greater understanding and appreciation of framers, thereafter.
posted by paulsc at 5:32 AM on May 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Also, a good way to learn about construction, is to do demolition. It's fairly easy to find places to help people take structures apart, and there is quite a bit an observant person can learn doing that, as a start. Demolition is also generally a bit more schedule friendly for the part timer.

Another thing to try is checking at some of the larger materials supply yards in the area, for jobbers who may be looking for part time help in the summer months. Competent builders generally avoid schedule troubles, but now and again, a run of weather, or materials delays are cause for putting projects on overtime. If you have some availability, making it known to contractors is step one in finding part time trades work. Step two is being willing to do most anything, and being competent to do it, or being such a fast learner and energetic worker it is worth someone's time to show you.
posted by paulsc at 5:49 AM on May 10, 2007


A couple of tangential points:

If you're interested in self builds, you might be interested in Grand Designs Live at ExCeL next month (as in the television show/magazine of the same name).

Housing Associations like the Peabody sometimes involve their future residents in the build - I'm pretty sure that was the case with BedZED.

You might like to volunteer with GO London. It's not an on-going commitment, just sign up for a few hours one weekend. Projects tend to be refurbishing community spaces or nature reserves. Often you're painting or clearing rubbish but there are bits of construction eg paths and steps. No prior experience expected.
posted by boudicca at 7:57 AM on May 10, 2007


Great answers folks, thanks. I think GO London looks right up my alley boudicca, and a good bridge into stuff like Habitat in the future.

And Grand Designs Live is a must I think.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:37 AM on May 10, 2007


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