California has rigorous licensing and insurance requirements for carpenters and carpentry businesses. Proper licensing and insurance is crucial for operating legally and protecting your business from liability. This comprehensive guide will provide an in-depth overview of the licensing process, types of licenses available, steps for renewal, reciprocity with other states, bond requirements, and insurance requirements.

Introduction to Carpenter Licensing in California

In California, anyone providing carpentry services on projects worth $500 or more must hold a valid state contractor’s license. Unlicensed contracting is considered a misdemeanor offense and can result in fines or potential jail time.

There are two main license classifications issued by the California Contractors State License Board (CSLB) for carpenters:

  • C-5 Framing and Rough Carpentry Contractor – This classification is for general carpentry work like framing, roofing, siding, decking, and other structural woodwork. C-5 contractors can build and repair wooden structures and frameworks.
  • C-6 Cabinet, Millwork and Finish Carpentry Contractor – This classification is for finish and custom carpentry work like cabinets, furniture, trims, custom millwork, and any other final decorative wood details done inside a structure. C-6 contractors specialize in detailed woodworking and finishing work.

The CSLB handles all licensing for contractors in California. In order to be approved, all applicants must demonstrate at minimum 4 years of journeyman-level experience in the trade over the last 10 years.

Proper licensing from the state is a crucial legal requirement for anyone looking to start or operate a carpentry business in California. Performing carpentry work on projects worth $500 or more without a valid state license is considered illegal unlicensed contracting and comes with potentially serious penalties.

For first offenses, unlicensed contractors typically face misdemeanor charges punishable by up to 6 months in jail and $500 in fines. Penalties escalate for any subsequent violations, and in some cases repeat offenders can even face felony charges.

Maintaining proper CSLB licensing is essential for legally running a carpentry business and avoiding potentially serious criminal and financial penalties. This guide will discuss the licensing process in detail, including eligibility requirements, applications, exams, renewals, reciprocity, bonds, and insurance.

Requirements for Obtaining a New Carpentry Contractor License

The process of obtaining a new carpentry contractor license in California involves a series of steps and requirements. Here is an overview of what’s required for securing new C-5 or C-6 licensure:

1. Establish Your Eligibility

Before applying, you must first establish your eligibility for licensure. The main requirements include:

  • Being at minimum 18 years of age.
  • Having a valid Social Security Number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.
  • Being able to provide proof of your qualifying carpentry work experience (see next section for details).
  • Having a $25,000 contractor license bond filed by an admitted California surety insurer.
  • Not having any serious disqualifying criminal convictions on your record.

2. Document Your Qualifying Experience

One of the key eligibility requirements is demonstrating that you have sufficient qualifying experience in the trade. To meet the CSLB’s experience requirements for either the C-5 or C-6 classification, you must have:

  • At minimum 4 years of journeyman-level experience in the carpentry trade. This is full-time work, meaning you must document having worked at least 32 hours per week or 80% of the total hours per week if you worked part-time.
  • The experience must fall within the last 10 years prior to application.
  • Experience must be at journeyman-level or higher. Helper, assistant, or apprentice-level experience does not qualify.
  • You will need to provide detailed documentation of your experience, which can include W-2 forms, past business licenses, invoices, permits, contractor’s logs, etc.

3. Submit Your CSLB Exam Application

Once you have confirmed your eligibility, the next step is submitting your contractor license exam application to the CSLB. Here are the key steps in the application process:

  • Determine your desired contractor license type – C-5 for rough/framing carpentry or C-6 for cabinetry/finish carpentry. You can add multiple specialty classifications to your license as well.
  • Fill out the CSLB’s exam application either online or by paper. Make sure to include all required supplemental documents.
  • Pay the application fee of $450, plus an additional exam fee of $95 per exam. So $545 total for both trade and law exams.
  • If any information is missing or incorrect, the CSLB will return your application for corrections before approval.

4. Pass the Required License Exams

Once your application is approved, you will need to pass the license exams – one trade exam specific to your license type, and a general law & business exam.

  • The C-5 and C-6 carpentry trade exams cover carpentry concepts, techniques, standards, materials, hardware, tools, safety protocols, and more. Study the CSLB’s exam content guides and carpentry code books.
  • The law & business exam covers contracting laws, labor laws, project management, tax laws, and other legal/business concepts. Study the provided CSLB resource materials.
  • Exams consist of multiple choice questions administered at PSI test centers. You can register for your exam date after application approval.
  • You must pass both exams within 2 years of your application date or you’ll need to reapply and repay all fees.

5. Complete the Fingerprinting Process

As part of the approval process, all contractor license applicants in California must complete a criminal background check via Live Scan fingerprinting. Here is the process:

  • After passing your exams, the CSLB will contact you with instructions for getting fingerprinted.
  • Visit an authorized Live Scan service location to get your digital fingerprints recorded. Fees for fingerprinting services vary.
  • Your fingerprints are sent to the Department of Justice and FBI to check for disqualifying criminal convictions.
  • The CSLB reviews your criminal history as part of license approval. Serious convictions may result in license denial.

6. Pay Issuance Fees

Once you’ve passed your exams and have cleared the background check, you’ll pay the CSLB’s license issuance fees:

  • Issuance fees are $180 for a sole ownership license or $300 for a company license.
  • Any outstanding fees must also be paid at this time.
  • Once issuance fees are processed, the CSLB will issue your contractor license number.

The full exam pathway licensing process typically takes anywhere from 6 weeks up to 3-4 months for final approval. Plan accordingly as you work through the requirements.

Renewing an Active California Carpenter Contractor License

Once licensed, you must renew your C-5 or C-6 contractor license every 2 years prior to expiration to keep it active. Here’s an overview of the renewal requirements:

  • You must complete 8-12 hours of CSLB-approved continuing education courses per renewal cycle. Course requirements vary based on license type.
  • Pay the $360 license renewal fee.
  • Maintain an active $25,000 license bond through an admitted California surety company.
  • Submit your renewal application and fee payment to the CSLB before your license expiration date.
  • Late renewals up to 5 years past expiration incur additional fees. After 5 years expire, you must retake the license exams.

It’s essential to renew your contractor license on time every 2 years. Renewal applications can take 6-8 weeks to process, so submit early to avoid any lapses in licensure.

License Reciprocity with Other States

For carpenters already licensed in another state looking to do business in California, the CSLB does offer limited license reciprocity with 3 states currently:

  • Arizona
  • Louisiana
  • Nevada

To obtain a California contractor license through reciprocity, you must submit a reciprocity application to the CSLB along with proof of an equivalent active carpentry contractor license from your home state.

Reciprocity applicants are exempt from having to retake California’s trade exam, but you will still need to take and pass the California-specific law and business exam. Some additional experience documentation may be required as well.

The reciprocity application fee is $100, and all standard licensure requirements around bonds, insurance, and background checks still apply.

The CSLB’s reciprocity program can simplify the process for licensed out-of-state carpenters to obtain a California license. But options are limited only to those 3 states at this time.

License Bond Requirements

As mentioned in the eligibility section, all licensed carpentry contractors in California must carry a contractor license bond. This bond protects the public from any potential losses due to defective workmanship or contract violations.

Here are the important requirements to understand about contractor bonds:

  • All individual license holders and companies must file a $25,000 contractor license bond with the CSLB.
  • Bonds must be issued by an admitted surety insurer in California. The CSLB provides a list of approved surety companies.
  • The principal name and license number on the bond must exactly match your CSLB license.
  • Your contractor bond should be set to auto-renew annually. Most sureties offer 1, 2, or 3-year bond terms.
  • Your license cannot be made active or renewed without an active bond in place.

In addition to the standard contractor bond, you may also need a separate $25,000 qualifying individual bond filed for any RME or RMO that qualifies your license. Check with the CSLB on specific bonding requirements for your license qualifications.

Insurance Requirements

On top of proper bonding, the state also requires licensed carpenters in California to carry adequate insurance for protecting their business. Common insurance policies include:

  • General Liability Insurance – Carries a minimum requirement of $1 million in coverage per occurrence in California. This covers property damage, bodily injury and completion operation claims.
  • Workers Compensation – Required for all businesses with employees, even part-time or temporary workers. This provides wage replacement and medical benefits to employees injured on the job. Workers comp is not required for sole proprietors with no employees.
  • Commercial Auto Insurance – If company vehicles are used for business purposes, you’ll need commercial auto liability coverage starting at $1 million.
  • Other Specialty Policies – Some projects may require specialty insurance like builders risk or surety bonds. Discuss your specific needs with an insurance broker.

Maintaining adequate insurance helps protect your assets and covers liability from potential losses or claims. Work with a qualified insurance broker to evaluate your coverage needs.


All carpenters and carpentry contractors operating in California must follow the state’s licensing and insurance requirements outlined by the CSLB. Key steps include:

  • Establishing your eligibility for licensure based on experience, bonding and background checks.
  • Submitting a complete application with all required supplemental docs.
  • Passing the CSLB trade and law & business exams.
  • Completing the fingerprinting process for a criminal background review.
  • Paying all licensing fees for application, exams and issuance.
  • Renewing your contractor license prior to expiration every 2 years.
  • Maintaining active bonding and insurance policies.

The CSLB also offers limited license reciprocity with Arizona, Louisiana and Nevada for tradespeople licensed in those states.

Ensuring full compliance with California’s rigorous licensing and insurance rules is essential for legally operating as a carpenter or carpentry business in the state. This protects your business from steep penalties and covers liability from potential losses or damages.