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Stephen Long

Stephen Long on the characteristics of quality carpentry

By Stephen Long

Director - SL Carpentry Ltd.

Pride and attention to detail describes the style of Stephen Long and his team of carpenters who deliver superior workmanship for their domestic and commercial clients.

Stephen established his company, SL Carpentry Ltd, in 2019 after building the experience and skills to take on bigger projects. Having himself debuted into the trade at the age of 16 with an apprenticeship, Stephen is passionate about high-quality work and preserving the trade’s traditional techniques and skills.

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What aspects of carpentry does your business focus on?

A lot of our work is refurbs – through one of our main clients we work on a lot of big multi-million-pound houses and country mansions; some owned by celebrities.
Quality over quantity is our ethos. We do things to a high standard; we’d rather take the time to do it perfectly than have to do it twice. We've been offered and turned away a lot of work on quick builds where they expect you to do four or five plots a day.

You obviously take a lot of pride in what you do; what details in your work make you especially proud?

It’s all in the detail. The fact that, especially with wood, you can have something which is very customised. Even with the same product and style of timber, every finish looks different and unique. I enjoy working with it and seeing the results, especially for our domestic clients.

People save and spend a lot of money on refurbishing their houses – a big kitchen might cost someone £30,000 to refurb and that's a lot of money – and there’s a lot of pride in seeing the joy in them when they walk in and see the finished product.

But I also take it very personally when there are snags or anything is wrong, even if it is just a defect in the product or something out of our control, I still take it to heart quite a lot.

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"I’m trying to get the younger generation involved because skills in our trade are dying out. There aren't enough younger people coming through to learn skills, especially in the joinery side of carpentry."

What are the biggest changes you’re seeing in the industry at the moment?

The biggest change we’ve found recently, especially with timber, is people are now more conscious of where it comes from.

I don’t think people realised how much timber – especially plywood and oak – came from places like Ukraine, Russia, and Eastern Europe. We’re all now very conscious of where it comes from and that goes alongside the carbon footprint and sustainability agenda.

Many of the clients we deal with have carbon footprint policies and are now conscious of where they source things from. Renewables are also a big thing now. There used to be a lot of wastage within our industry; things have got better and moved forward but there’s still quite a long way to go.

What impact is the cost of living having on your trade?

Materials like timber have gone up in price massively for several reasons. But labour is the biggest thing for us because we try to pay our people well and above the average. The people that work for me do a very good job and work very hard so they should get paid well for it.

We approach it with negotiation and justification of our worth. We never want to be the cheapest supplier, but we don’t want to be the most expensive either.

You started your career with an apprenticeship; what does the skills agenda look like now within carpentry?

It’s one of those jobs that a lot of people just give it a go. Carpenters should really have at least a level three in carpentry in my opinion: I’ve done it and I know how simple it is to get a certain level of qualification.

Apprenticeships are good but one of the older guys who works for me is probably one of the best chippies I’ve ever met, and he has no qualifications: it’s all skill and experience.

I also believe in upskilling people, especially with construction. It’s trying to find the right people with the right attitude – people who want to do well, improve, and give a customer the best possible service. If you find someone with potential, I believe you should train them up.

I’m trying to get the younger generation involved because skills in our trade are dying out. There aren’t enough younger people coming through to learn skills, especially in the joinery side of carpentry because it’s all done by machines now. I’m passionate about doing things by hand rather than using machines. It’s the way I was taught and with all our apprentices, we try to encourage them to learn the hand way of doing things before they use machines.

"The biggest change we've found recently, especially with timber, is people are now more conscious of where it comes from."

Stephen Long - Director, SL Carpentry Ltd.

What are you currently reading, watching, or listening to?

I’m a keen reader. At the moment I’m reading George R. R. Martin’s Fire & Blood. It’s the backstory to his series A Song of Ice and Fire. I enjoy the surreal escapism.

Where is your favourite place to visit when you need to get some down time?

The two places I really enjoy are Bath – it’s the team I support for rugby, and I always enjoy the history of the place – and Scotland. My father’s side of the family is all Scottish and it’s somewhere where unfortunately I don’t spend enough time. If we had the opportunity, my other half and I would move up to Scotland in a heartbeat; it’s a beautiful part of the world.

Stephen Long