Carpenter Career Information
Wherever you live, buildings (from homes to offices to schools) likely surround you. Each of these structures stands because of skilled trades workers known as carpenters. These trained professionals are also partly responsible for building bridges, roads, and other large-scale projects. When you look at just how many types of construction projects that carpenters are involved in, the vital importance of carpentry professionals is clear.
What is a Carpenter?
The question "What is a Carpenter?" can be answered simply this way: A carpenter is someone who builds and repairs residential, commercial, or industrial structures.
The more detailed answer, however, is that these structures can range from homes to commercial buildings to roads and can include individual components such as cabinets, staircases, doorframes, building foundations, and much more. And, although you may think that this occupation only requires physical strength and basic technical skills, carpentry actually requires a strong foundation of specialized expertise and experience in order to ensure that all jobs are completed in accordance with local, state, and national building codes.
Within the carpentry profession, there is a wide range of titles that can come along with the job. If you are considering this field, then check out some of the positions you could land:
- Residential carpenter specialist
- Pile driver
- Floor coverer (aka floor layer)
- Interior systems carpenter
- Drywall applicator specialist
- Acoustical carpenter specialist
- Lather specialist
As you gain experience within the industry, you could advance into managerial positions such as:
- Crew leader
- Lead hand
- Site manager
- Project manager
- Job coordinator
- Job planner
- Safety director
Can You Give Me an Idea of What a Typical Carpenter Job Description Includes?
A carpenter job description can include a broad range of tasks that begin at the initial conception of a project and extend through to the final inspection. Therefore, on any given day, a construction carpenter might:
- Conceptualize building projects
- Sketch, or otherwise illustrate, construction drawings
- Read and interpret blueprints and building plans
- Identify and calculate the types and amounts of materials needed
- Calculate the labor requirements to complete the project
- Develop and present budgets, quotes, and deadlines
- Obtain work permits and file appropriate documents
- Maintain records and prepare progress reports
- Select, lay out, and construct building footings and foundations
- Build, plumb, and brace concrete forms
- Lay out and install floor joists
- Frame walls and ceiling joists using wood or metal studs
- Assemble, erect, and sheath interior and exterior walls
- Lay out, frame, erect, and sheath gable and hip roofs
- Install panels for built-up, lap seam, and standing seam roofs
- Install interior and exterior windows and doors
- Lay out and build interior and exterior stair units
- Choose and install insulation materials and vapor barriers
- Install exterior wall insulation and flashing materials
- Affix wood, vinyl, and metal siding to exterior walls
- Apply stucco, masonry veneer, and other exterior finishes
- Install fiberglass and wood roofing shingles, as well as wood shakes
- Complete roofing jobs by closing up valleys and ensuring watertight seals
- Select and apply appropriate drywall type and mud
- Finish drywall surfaces using compounds, joint reinforcing tapes, and other materials
- Install suspended ceilings and other ceiling systems
- Measure, cut, and install interior moldings around floors, doors, windows, and ceilings
- Build, lay out, and install kitchen base and wall cabinets, countertops, and backsplashes
- Install bathroom fixtures and other finishing items
- Build and finish closets and architectural details
- Lay carpet, hardwood flooring, laminate flooring, tile, and other flooring materials
- Paint and apply wallpaper and other surface finishes
This is just a sampling of the items that can make up a carpenter job description. If you choose to focus on a specific area of carpentry, you could also perform many other tasks.
Additionally, many carpenters who take on remodeling or restoration jobs will not only be responsible for these types of tasks from a construction point of view, but also from a repair one. So, you will not only need to know how to install or build items, but also how to fix everything from damaged drywall to old roofs to uneven floors.
Furthermore, some individuals take the alternative path of becoming a piecework carpenter, a term which refers to a craftsperson who builds and repairs items, rather than structures. This can include a carpenter who focuses on creating furniture, cabinets, and other such items.
How Do I Become a Carpenter?
The question "How do I become a carpenter?" can be answered in a couple of different ways. However, a formal education, combined with an apprenticeship program, is generally the quickest and most streamlined option. Alternatively, you can start out as a carpenter's helper, gaining experience and technical knowledge over time. If you choose this path, it's important to understand that, although you can eventually take on more advanced jobs, your work won't necessarily be recognized in the beginning as that of an actual carpenter.
Are There Any Carpenter Education Requirements I Need to Know?
It is important to understand what kind of carpenter education requirements you may need to meet. Technically, there are no carpentry education requirements if you are just looking to obtain low-level carpentry-type work in the building and construction industry. However, if you want to go beyond an unskilled laborer position, then a formal education is a must.
Generally, the best way to join the carpentry profession is through an apprenticeship, which typically consists of paid on-the-job training in conjunction with classroom learning from a vocational school, college, or university program. Some of the benefits of an apprenticeship can include:
- Learning from qualified professionals who can provide long-term mentorship
- Having the chance to gain experience in a variety of building and construction areas
- Completing in-class training components to complement your on-the-job education
- Enjoying a comprehensive learning experience while earning a paycheck
Additionally, by choosing to complete an apprenticeship, you can set yourself up for increased career opportunities as well as the chance to fetch a higher wage.
Apprenticeship programs are offered by a variety of organizations, such as private companies and labor unions. Some are even held in partnership with post-secondary institutions. These programs are structured to provide hands-on training along with theoretical classroom components, which can allow you to develop your skills and knowledge through a balanced approach to learning.
After completing a program from a trade school or college, you can qualify to receive an associate's degree, diploma, or certificate, depending on the specific school and program you choose. An associate's degree program can be very valuable if your ultimate goals extend to working in management since many leadership roles require a degree credential in a related field. However, if you are more interested in the hands-on aspect of the profession, then a diploma or certificate program can provide the technical knowledge needed to meet the demands of the job.
When choosing an education option, it's important to realize that not all apprenticeship programs are equal. The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training, as well as state apprenticeship councils, help to regulate the quality of education attained through apprenticeship training by allowing registration of programs that meet federal guidelines.
In order to ensure that the apprenticeship program you choose is up to industry standards, you should consider a program administered by one of the following organizations:
- Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC)
- Associated General Contractors, Inc. (AGC)
- United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (UBC)
- National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)
Plus, by completing a recognized apprenticeship program, you can have the chance to earn skills in specifically prescribed disciplines. This is because the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Apprenticeship Training, Employer and Labor Services requires carpenters to obtain a specific number of training hours in the following areas:
- General knowledge
- Concrete formwork
- Wood framing
- Metal framing
- Exterior finishing
- Interior finishing
- Supplemental skills
Once you complete your apprenticeship training and are awarded journey worker standing, you will be required to keep up your status by obtaining continuing education credits and periodically (typically annually or biannually) providing evidence of employment in the field. This ensures that your skills and knowledge are kept up to date and that you are capable of performing work that meets industry standards.
What are the Typical Qualifications Needed for Entering an Apprenticeship Program?
Generally, gaining admission into an apprenticeship program requires that you meet some or all of the following requirements:
- Be at least 17 years old
- Possess a high school diploma or GED equivalent
- Take an aptitude test
- Complete an in-person interview
- Hold a valid driver's license
- Meet minimum physical standards
- Be a legal citizen or be able to provide proof of residency
- Submit to a drug-screening test
If you are a military veteran, you may be eligible for special consideration, which could allow you to bypass some of the above conditions.
Additionally, entrance requirements vary within different states, organizations, schools, and unions. So, if you're considering applying to an apprenticeship program, it's best to check out the prerequisites in your area.
Are There Any Other Certifications I Need to Become a Carpenter?
The short answer is no, but there are certainly benefits to gaining certification in addition to acquiring journey worker status.
Industry certification can provide you with the chance to demonstrate your level of expertise to potential clients and employers. It can also show that you are committed to professional standards, are capable of performing additional tasks, and possess a specified level of knowledge.
There is a wide range of industry-recognized organizations that offer certifications and other endorsements. Here are some of the certifications that could add value to your resume and help you on the job site:
- Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) 10-hour, 30-hour, and Hazardous Communication (HCS or HAZCOM) certifications
- First aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and automated external defibrillator (AED) certifications
- Mold, lead, asbestos, confined space, and other awareness training course certifications
- Fire protection and site inspection certifications
In addition, you can obtain certification in "green construction," which is a growing area of the industry that focuses on environmentally conscious building practices. These types of programs will help you acquire knowledge and skills related to energy efficiency, sustainable materials, and more.
If you want to pursue an industry-recognized credential in this area, then consider the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.
You should also keep in mind that, although initial certifications in any area can be valuable, ensuring that you maintain them is also vital. In some cases, you will be required to keep safety certifications up to date just to be allowed to work on job sites.
How Long Does It Take To Become a Carpenter?
In general, you can expect to spend three to four years obtaining a combination of classroom and on-the-job training in order to become a carpenter. While you won't technically be considered a carpenter until reaching journey worker status at the end of the training period, you will have the opportunity to pursue a paid position in the field for the duration of your training.
If you have already completed some college or university education, then many apprenticeship programs will give you credit for prior learning. You can even receive credit for work experience you possess in the construction field. It is important to note that any education and work experience credits will likely be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, so if you want to explore this option, then checking around for the best use of your experience is key.
Additionally, after becoming a journey carpenter, you can go on to obtain master certification, which typically requires multiple years of consecutive experience as a journey worker. This can help you earn a higher wage or qualify for teaching or management roles. You can even take on your own apprentices, allowing you to share your expertise with the next generation of carpenters.
How Much Does Carpenter Training Cost?
Tuition for post-secondary carpentry programs can vary from a few thousand dollars to well over $10,000. This broad spectrum reflects a variety of factors. So, before choosing a program, you should consider what is included in the tuition cost. Here are some questions to ask:
- Will I graduate with a certificate, diploma, associate's degree, or bachelor's degree?
- Does the school provide employment assistance?
- Will I receive help finding an apprenticeship opportunity?
- Is the school accredited?
- Does the school have a good reputation within the industry?
- Do I have to purchase training materials and tools separately?
- Does the school have connections with local unions and employers?
- How long is the program?
- Are industry certification examination fees included in the cost?
- Does the school offer industry-current training facilities?
These answers can provide a better picture of the value you will be getting for your tuition dollars, helping you to make a more informed choice.
Also remember that, since carpentry students enjoy a unique blend of classroom instruction and paid in-the-field training, assessing the cost of tuition requires taking into consideration the wages earned for the duration of the training.
In addition to tuition, fees for certification can be $350 to $600 or more. Re-certification fees (which tend to be due on an annual or biannual basis) can range from approximately $50 to $150.
What Can a Carpenter Program Teach Me?
A carpentry program can give you the opportunity to receive training in a broad range of areas, including:
- Workplace safety
- Performing CPR, first aid, and AED procedures in emergency situations
- Understanding the importance of personal safety equipment
- Properly using, inspecting, and maintaining tools and equipment
- Estimating and quoting needed materials
- Calculating for area and volume of structures
- Accurately cutting and leveling materials and structures
- Computer technology
- Using business computer applications to prepare bids and presentations
- Modeling building plans using CADD programs
- Communicating with clients and suppliers using email applications
- Government regulations and building codes
- Adhering to local, state, and national regulations, laws, and codes
- Complying with industry standards and passing inspections
- Meeting EPA and OSHA safety and environmental guidelines
- Following Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) information for proper material use and disposal
- Recognizing jobsite hazards
- Using "green" building practices
- Project management
- Preparing quotes and negotiating contracts
- Coordinating sub trades and workflows
- Managing projects to meet deadlines
- Maintaining quality control
- Monitoring project progress and preparing reports
- Obtaining proper permits and filing required site and safety reports
- Building design and planning
- Interpreting blueprints and building models
- Understanding building specifications and standards
- Creating illustrations of plans, layouts, and concepts
- Construction and building
- Following residential, commercial, and industrial building processes
- Using tools and technologies that best suit the job
- Understanding carpentry applications and methodologies
- Choosing and securing appropriate building materials
What is a Typical Carpenter Salary?
When examining a typical carpenter salary, it's important to look at a number of factors, such as certification level, geographic location, years of experience, specialized knowledge, and type of work environment.
As an entry-level carpentry apprentice, you can expect to earn a percentage of the full pay of a journey-level carpenter. According to national apprenticeship guidelines, you could begin at approximately 30 to 60 percent of a full salary (depending on a number of factors) and receive five-percent increases at set increments (often every 1,000 hours worked) throughout your training. *
To give you an idea of what you could look forward to once you receive journey worker status, here are some national carpentry salary estimates from May 2011: **
- The median hourly wage for carpenters was $19.24, which works out to $40,010 annually.
- The lowest-earning 10 percent received average wages of $11.96 per hour ($24,880 per year).
- The highest-earning 10 percent were paid approximately $34.56 per hour ($71,890 per year).
Approximately 39 percent of carpenters work for themselves. This figure shows that the carpenter salary range estimates are not necessarily representative of what all carpenters earn. This is because self-employed individuals don't receive a normal paycheck. Instead, they make a profit on each job they complete.
On top of experience and certification factors, answering the question "How much does a carpenter make?" can depend on where you live. For example, Hawaii, Alaska, and California are the highest-paying states, and South Dakota, Mississippi, and Alabama are the lowest-paying states, respectively.
What is the Outlook for the Carpentry and Construction Industry?
Society will always need buildings to be built, maintained, and repaired, making the carpentry and construction industry a vital one. With changes in the economy, employment opportunities tend to ebb and flow, but according to national estimates, the outlook is a positive one.
The U.S. Department of Labor projects that positions for carpenters will grow by 20 percent from 2010 to 2020, which could amount to an additional 196,000 jobs. *** This is a faster rate than what is predicted as the overall average for all occupations.
Is There Room for Advancement in the Carpentry Field?
If you choose to pursue a career as a carpenter, then experience in the field can bring a variety of opportunities for advancement. By opting to work for a large contracting firm, you could eventually move up to a role in project management or administration, meaning you could prepare bids for large projects, coordinate on-site workflows, supervise sub-contracted trades, and more. Additionally, once you gain a well-rounded skill set and substantial experience, you could decide to venture down the entrepreneurial path and become an independent contractor.
What are the Pros and Cons of a Carpentry Career?
- The work can be challenging and creatively driven. While there are set standards for building, a large part of carpentry work involves using problem-solving and critical-thinking skills to complete the task at hand.
- You can earn a competitive wage. Compared to the earning potential of similar professions, carpenters typically receive a competitive salary.
- Completing projects can be satisfying. Upon completing a project, you can enjoy a feeling of pride and satisfaction from knowing you have created something using your hands.
- You can enjoy the outdoors and be physically active. Carpentry can give you the chance to spend much of your time outdoors while doing work that gets you moving.
- No day is the same. As a carpenter, you can enjoy knowing that each day will present you with the chance to meet new people and take on new tasks.
- You can earn while you learn. Carpentry training requires extensive hands-on education, which is typically completed through paid apprenticeships. This means you can earn a paycheck throughout most, if not all, of your training.
- There is a potential for injury. There are physical dangers to pursuing a career within the carpentry field. You could be working with high-powered equipment, lifting heavy materials, carrying out work at elevated heights, and more. Of course, following safe working practices can help minimize these risks.
- Work schedules can fluctuate. While most carpenters work full-time hours, there are often deadlines that need to be met, which can mean overtime in the evenings and on the weekends. Additionally, since you could be working on a contract basis, slow times may mean unexpected days off. Plus, bad weather could cut workdays short.
- Quality control can take a lot of time. While the work can be satisfying, taking measurements and checking your work takes up a lot of time as a carpenter, which can be a repetitive and fussy job.
- The work may not always be stable. As a carpenter, you may be working as a subcontractor for a variety of different contracting companies or for different clients (if you start up your own business). That means you may have to deal with the realities of some people not paying their bills on time, or at all. This is a common drawback to all careers in the skilled trades industry.
- It's a male-dominated field. If you are a female, you might be the only one on your crew. (According to national statistics, women made up approximately 1.4 percent of carpentry workers in 2010. ****) While this most definitely isn't a reason to stay away from the field, it is a fact that you should be aware of.
Is Carpentry a Good Career Choice for Me?
You might be interested in a career within the carpentry and construction trades, but before you jump into your new career, it's a good idea to ask, "Is carpentry a good choice for me?" In order to determine whether this career aligns with your personality, strengths, and values, you may want to try answering the following questions:
- Do you enjoy working with your hands and being physically active?
- Would you like a career that involves a variety of tasks and settings?
- Are you interested in a career that entails working outdoors?
- Would you appreciate the opportunity to continually hone your skills and learn new things?
- Do you take pride in everything you do?
- Would you enjoy using logical-thinking, math, and problem-solving skills on a day-to-day basis?
- Do you have the ability to handle detail-oriented work in order to meet exacting standards?
- Are you a team player who also possesses the ability to work independently?
- Do you have a strong work ethic and the ability to see a project through to completion?
If you're still unsure whether a career in carpentry might be a good match, then consider volunteering with an organization such as Habitat for Humanity. This could give you a taste of the work and allow you to meet local carpentry professionals, who can offer further advice.
Where Do I Go from Here?
Now that you are armed with facts and insight into the essential field of carpentry, you are likely ready to make an informed decision about your career future.
Take the first step toward becoming a carpenter by checking out this guide to carpentry schools today!
* United States Department of Labor, Office of Apprenticeship Training, Employer and Labor Services, National Guidelines for Apprenticeship Standards, website last accessed September 13, 2012.
** Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last accessed on September 13, 2012.
*** Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, website last accessed September 13, 2012.
**** Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Current Population Survey, 2010, website last accessed September 17, 2012.
Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), website last accessed September 12, 2012.
The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), website last accessed September 13, 2012.
The National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER), website last accessed September 13, 2012.
The National Association of the Remodeling Industry, website last accessed September 12, 2012.
American Institute of Contractors & Constructor Certification Commission (AIC), website last accessed September 13, 2012.
CareerOneStop, website last accessed September 12, 2012.
The National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc), website last accessed September 12, 2012.
United Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC), website last accessed September 13, 2012.
National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), website last accessed September 13, 2012.
Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA), website last accessed September 14, 2012.