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When Should You Hire A Carpenter Vs A General Contractor

Austin Landes, CIC
6 minute read

If you own a commercial or residential building, chances are you will eventually need certain repairs. You might also be thinking about a complete renovation or remodel to keep your property up to date.

For many, this can be a very confusing process. If you do not have any construction knowledge, it can be difficult to even know who to call.

When you need woodworking done, you will usually call either a carpenter or a general contractor. Each has pros and cons, and in this article, we hope to provide some clarity about the carpenter vs. contractor debate, and which one you should ultimately call for your project.

What is a carpenter?

A carpenter is a skilled craftsman specializing in cutting, shaping, repairing, and installing wood materials in or on a structure. This could be the interior trim, cabinetry, or shelving. Carpentry contractors may also frame houses or interior walls.

What is a general contractor?

A general contractor usually deals directly with the property owner and oversees a project, ensuring it’s completed on time, safely, and according to specifications. Unlike a carpenter—who specializes in a trade—a general contractor will usually not perform the work themselves. Instead, they will subcontract the work out to various trade contractors.

Should I hire a general contractor or carpenter?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer for which type of contractor you should hire; what works for one person will most certainly not work for another. At the end of the day, what matters is how comfortable you are with managing your projects, what kind of contacts you have amongst contractors, and what level of involvement you want in completing a job.

Before hiring a carpenter or a general contractor, you should ask yourself these questions:

Are multiple trades required for the project?

If yes, you should consider hiring a general contractor instead of a carpenter.

Does the project require more than carpentry? For example, a bathroom remodel might have quite a bit of wood-related work, but it might also involve plumbing, electrical, and tiling.

If your project requires a skilled trade other than carpentry, then a general contractor would be a safer choice. They will know quality contractors in your area who can complete your project. They will coordinate all the work and material sourcing and ensure everything goes according to plan.

Hiring a reputable general contractor is also a safer bet if you don’t have the experience or time to manage a project yourself.

Do you have any construction knowledge?

If yes, you should consider hiring a carpenter instead of a general contractor.

Many projects run into problems because the owner doesn’t truly know what work needs to be completed. This is why you see some DIY home renovations take years—the homeowner is not a construction expert and gets in over their head.

If this is a concern at all, a general contractor would not be a bad idea. If, however, you have extensive construction knowledge and experience, you might consider hiring the carpenter yourself instead of through a general contractor for cost savings.

In addition, maintaining a direct relationship with the carpenter means you will have more control over your project.

Are you making minor touch-ups or doing a larger project?

If you are just making minor wood-related touch-ups, you should consider hiring a carpenter.

If all you want to do is touch up some trim work or some other minor repairs, hiring a carpenter directly is often the preferred method. The larger and more intense the project is, the more you might consider speaking with a general contractor.

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Our Tips

Make sure whoever you hire has insurance.

Before you write your first check or have any contractor begin work on your property, make sure the contractor has general liability and workers compensation insurance. The contractor should also put you on their general liability policy as an additional insured. If they don’t, you can be liable for certain damages the contractor causes while working for you.

You can check their insurance by requesting a certificate of insurance (COI). Make sure you are listed as a certificate holder on the document and none of the text looks altered. If you are concerned, call the insurance agency listed on the certificate to confirm that coverage is in place.

If you have family or friends in the construction industry, ask for their opinions on your project.

The construction industry is one of the largest industries in the nation. Have a trusted family member or close friend review your project—you might realize you are in over your head (and thus need to hire a general contractor). Your trusted resource might also let you know if a project is simple and something a carpenter can easily handle.

Getting a second look from someone with your best interests at heart is always recommended. Often, this can keep you from either paying too much or starting a project that will ultimately balloon into something difficult to manage.


Knowing which contractor to hire means understanding the difference between general contractors and carpenters. In general, if the project is small and easy, hiring a carpenter directly is the simplest, most cost-effective route. If the project is larger and more complicated, or if you have no idea what you are doing, a general contractor can bring a level of expertise that will keep your project running smoothly and on budget.

Austin Landes, CIC

About The Author: Austin Landes, CIC

Austin is an experienced Commercial Risk Advisor specializing in property & casualty risk management for religious institutions, real estate, construction, and manufacturing.

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