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Occasionally people  who know me through the blog ask why I don’t just ‘become self employed’ as a carpenter, instead of faffing about for another three years learning occupational therapy.

Apart from this showing a highly optimistic view of my abilities, in Germany a carpenter/cabinet maker is under the authority of the Carpenters Guild, which decrees that even after a three year apprenticeship, no-one is ‘permitted’ to be self-employed unless they have completed a master carpenters qualification. This takes another two years and you have to practically be an engineer or mathematician to get through it. It also costs 15 to 20 thousand Euros.

Most of which goes to the Carpenters Guild.

The result is that most self-employed carpenters about are (1) mathematicians; (2) in debt, (3) largely keen to keep the status quo going, having invested so much in it, and (4) paying members of the trade guild and therefore able to keep things the way they are*.

And then there’s the startup costs. Carpentry here is machine intensive and machines aren’t cheap: I’d have to take on a frightening amount of extra debt to set up a workshop. I’d then spend 20 years getting stressed out making boring chipboard furniture to pay it all off. Except that the machines will be ‘too old’ and ‘too slow’ in twenty years time, so I’d have to start all over again.

Or I can learn to be an occupational therapist, which frankly sounds a whole lot more fun.

I’ll also be at least twenty thousand Euros better off…

*Quote from one master carpenter on the subject: “I had to pay to get my Masters’ Qualification, so you should too.”


Xtracycle outside trade guild office


In my last post, I mentioned that I was collecting certificates for the carpentry apprenticeship. these are the ‘other’ certificates issued for the practical exams by the trade guild, as opposed to the theory certificates from the state. I’d explain more but it really isn’t interesting.

For readers who haven’t been following the blog for the last three years -or have for some reason neglected to take notes- a local company took me onin 2012 as an apprentice carpenter –to my rather great surprise, and sent me to college for a year making different small projects before graduating to my first piece of furniture. Once the trade guild (and more importantly, the insurance company) were convinced that we could be trusted with sharp and fast moving objects, we were allowed to work in our companies.

Dissilusionment set in at this point: I’d joined the course to learn a creative job where I could make things like this (preferably with tools like this), the system wanted me to spend the next thirty to forty years making semi-disposable shelving units out of formaldehyde-filled industrial woods with ridiculously complex machines. Attempts to use hand tools whenever I could met with consternation.

I managed to pick up a work related injury, and the college suggested I take my exams six months early. They suggested this three weeks before the exam. Much revision ended in three days of exams and then making my final project in February -using hand tools most of the time: I am nothing if not stubborn- and suddenly I was finished.

The summer graduates will have an exhibition of their work hosted by the college and then be invited to a grand handout of certificates. As there were only three of us graduating now, there won’t be any exhibition and we were invited to tag on to the next awards ceremony, which incidentally would have finished late at night, some distance from our apartment and the nearest station, but then it was for the car mechanics so I guess they assumed everyone would drive there.

Which is why my apprenticeship ended on Friday, with me cycling down to the local trade guild office*, and picking up the final certificates from a bored secretary.

An odd way to finish two and a half years, but at least I finished.

*Which had a car park, but no cycle parking. A pattern emerges…


The long silence was not due to my having gone out on the lash to celebrate the end of the apprenticeship. That would be unlikely because 1: I am ‘somewhat’ older than the average apprentice and I don’t need any help to do more silly things in public, 2: An extreme introvert who tends to hide during parties, and most importantly 3: I really dislike the taste of alcohol. I appreciate this puts me in the running for the Most Boring Person on the Planet competition, but regular readers knew that anyway.

The last two weeks were mainly spent doing a translation job for a documentary (I now know enough about heart disease to make me seriously paranoid), getting my CV up to date, playing with the boys and Beautiful Daughter, and cycling through snowstorms to pick up ‘important’ pieces of paper from various offices.


Remember, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad organisation and poor time management.

Oh, and I now have the paperwork to prove that I’m a Real Carpenter, at least as far as the state of Baden-Württemberg is concerned. Still working in what we do next though…

The day began with us delivering our projects. There were two other students being tested, and they were busy unveiling very complex and very beautiful pieces of furniture that would have fitted quite well into an art gallery: a desk with glossy white surface atop an oak cupboard stood next to a tool box which opened in intricate ways to become a portable modelmaking studio. I couldn’t help feeling I was out of my depth.

Fortunately hand tool woodworking has something of a mystique even among carpenters, so the others were too busy looking at the carving on the lid of my box to notice the dodgy bits of the dovetails or the wonky hinges.

The exam was to make a child’s chair with a mix of traditional and modern joins. In seven hours. The three of us know each other and get on well, so we were more relaxed than you might expect. We also helped each other rather more than we were strictly supposed to, which I think irritated the examiners a bit, but it meant we all finished on time. As if this wasn’t enough, we also managed to discuss religion, ecology, global warming and the Tar Sands in the middle of all this.

Afterwards, we hung around for two and a half hours while the examiners poked at the exam pieces, and then at six thirty our tutor came out and told us unofficially that everyone had passed. We were not supposed to be told this, so I had to keep you in suspense for the weekend.

I am now a guild-registered carpenter in Germany, but I don’t have the paperwork so you’ll have to trust me for a couple of days…

Today I wandered over to my former employer’s workshop, tidied the tools away for the last time, swept the bench clean(ish), chucked some leftover pieces of wood into the bin, said my goodbyes, and left.



Thursday evening: the box outside the workshop and ready for delivery to college for the judging.

I didn’t take it all the way on the Bakfiets. I designed the project to be small enough for easy transport on the Xtracycle, but this plan was scuppered by having to take lots of tools and wood for the exam on the same day.

Yesterday the three of us being examined delivered our projects and built a chair in seven hours. The official letter to say if we passed or not arrives on Monday.

Right now I’m adjusting to the idea that I don’t have to do any more maths equations…



The tray fits, and even moves up and down, much to the suprise of some people in the company who were trying to covince me it would go horribly wrong. The box is oiled, waxed, polished and (since the picture) packed ready to go to college.

All I have to do now is get to college before seven in the morning today, hand the box in, build a piece of furniture in seven hours to a drawing I’ve never seen before, succesfully demonstrate how to use one of the machines, and survive an oral exam.

This time tomorrow, it’ll all be over…





The sliding tray last seen heavily clamped a couple of days ago.

Despite the ironmongery, the tray still managed to move out of shape again, and unfortunately it has to be exactly square or it won’t slide smoothly when the examiners play with it on Friday. The only thing for it was to pull two sides off and reset them.

I think I got it right this time.

I’ll let you know tomorrow…


Fitting hinges to a box seems to require a lot of time and a broad vocabulary. This is probably why they aren’t used in normal carpentry very much.

Another discovery today, was that soft leather stretches under pressure, so my carefully made strap needed shortening as it turned out to be entirely ineffective for holding the lid up.

I would like to point out the mess is not normal, but I’d be lying…


Finally managed the job that has been on my mind for ages: cutting the join at the top of the box to seperate the lid and the main body of the box.

I spent most of the day faffing about with the hinges, but by the time I’d managed that stage I’d run out of light and energy to take pictures…

More progress tomorrow, Hopefully.


Somwehere in the middle of those clamps is the sliding tray that will go inside the box. This is the second attempt, the first one I made went out of shape and wouldn’t have worked as a sliding unit.

As you can see, this time I’m taking no chances.

In other news, replacement hinges have arrived, the correct size, and brass to keep that important Steampunk vibe going…


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