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How to Become a Carpenter

By Publisher
| Last Updated November 6, 2020

Carpenters are well-compensated and in high demand. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average carpenter made $48,330 in 2019. Over the next decade, 89,000 carpenter positions will become available each year. The benefits of being a carpenter extend beyond the financial. The work of a carpenter is varied, interesting, flexible, and rewarding.

To enjoy these benefits, you need to know how to become a carpenter. This guide outlines that process and helps you start building your career today.


How to Become a Carpenter: Initial Steps

Becoming a carpenter most often begins once a person has a high school diploma or GED. If you're still in high school and are considering a career as a carpenter, you can take some initial steps now to prepare. If you've already graduated from high school, these initial steps remain important.

Assess Your Skills and Determine If Carpentry Is a Good Fit For You

To prepare to succeed as a carpenter, you'll need specific skills. Before training to become a carpenter, it's wise to evaluate yourself for these skills and determine what you need to learn and strengthen.

Attention to Detail: Attention to detail is key to a carpenter's success. Carpenters must be precise in measuring, cutting, and modifying construction materials. In carpentry jobs, fractions of measurements mean the difference between success and failure.

Aptitude for Math: Carpenters must work with measurements to calculate the area of various spaces. Math skills—especially trigonometry, algebra, and geometry—are essential to this work. Having a natural talent for math can be advantageous if you're pursuing a career as a carpenter.

Even people who struggled with math in school can make successful carpenters, though. That's because carpenters use math in practical applications. Applying mathematical concepts to real-world problems can make abstract concepts easier to grasp.

Dexterity: Precision demands both a keen eye and nimble fingers. As a carpenter, you'll use your hands to manipulate construction materials. Strong hand-eye coordination ensures a carpenter completes the job well while staying safe.

Physical Strength: As a carpenter, you'll rely not only on your hands but on your overall physical strength. Some standard tools and materials can weigh up to 100 pounds. You'll also need to be comfortable standing for long periods. Frequent bending and climbing are also regular parts of the job.

Problem-Solving Skills: Carpenters must combine physical and mental strength to solve problems as they arise. New problems requiring new solutions occur every day. A successful carpenter must apply creative and analytical thinking to devise these solutions.

An ability to visualize 2D blueprints as 3D structures is also helpful. Visualizing a finished project can both prevent problems and solve them.

Reading Comprehension: Completing jobs and addressing issues as they arise can require reading installation instructions. These can include technical documents and product specifications. Strong reading skills can make deciphering complex documents easier.

Business Skills: Some carpenters are self-employed. If you choose this path, your financial success will partially depend on your business skills. Self-employed carpenters must bid for jobs, manage workers, and track inventory.

Take Steps to Improve the Necessary Skills

If you're still in high school, some courses may be worth extra attention on your part. These include math and English. In addition, business and art courses, especially mechanical drawing, can be helpful. If your school offers a woodworking or shop class, you can gain relevant education and experience.

If you have finished high school and think your reading or math skills could use a refresher, online and in-person programs and tutors can help.

You can work to build your physical strength and stamina at any age. You can also work on polishing your interpersonal skills.


How to Become a Carpenter: Formal Education and Training

You've earned your high school diploma or GED and evaluated your skills. Now it's time to begin your formal training. Some carpenters enter apprenticeship programs immediately after graduating high school, while others pursue a pre-apprenticeship carpentry training program.

Pre-Apprenticeship Education

Many trade schools and vocational colleges offer pre-apprenticeship training programs. These may include options for individuals pursuing careers in carpentry. These programs differ in cost, length, coursework, and other requirements.

In general, pre-apprenticeship programs teach the basics of carpentry. They also help you polish the skills you'll need to be successful in the industry. Coursework often includes basic math and science. During the program, you'll learn carpentry terminology for tools, equipment, and materials. You'll learn to draft and interpret blueprints and manage projects.

Carpenter education programs also teach workplace safety, building codes, and other government regulations.

Finally, many programs offer the option for training in carpentry specialties. These include roofing, framing, finishing, and machine woodworking.

Most pre-apprenticeship carpentry education programs take eight to 24 months to complete. Some programs may be shorter, and some may include online options.

On average, trade school tuition can range from $3,600 to $14,500 per year. This number varies significantly across programs and colleges. Public colleges can be considerably less expensive than training at a private institution.

The carpentry course's length, requirements, and type of certification you'll earn will depend on the type of program you choose.

Certificate and Diploma Programs

Certificate and diploma programs are the most basic and, usually, quickest training options. They combine classroom instruction with hands-on training.

Associate Degree Programs

Some schools offer associate degrees in carpentry. These programs take longer to complete—usually two years. Some aspiring carpenters may be discouraged by the length of these programs. Yet, these more extended associate degree programs offer significant advantages.

Pursuing an associate degree in carpentry allows for more comprehensive instruction. This degree level also allows for more hands-on practice. By completing an associate degree, you'll attain a broader range of knowledge and skills.

Most associate degree programs include general and carpentry-specific coursework. The more general courses can be especially helpful if you ever decide to pursue a management position.

Many higher-level positions require or prefer candidates who have a degree. Earning an associate degree early on can position you for advancement later.

Apprenticeship Programs

Most carpentry apprenticeship programs include technical training. They then combine this with extensive, supervised, and paid on-the-job training. Throughout your training, you'll work under the supervision of one or more experienced carpenters.

If you previously completed a pre-apprenticeship education program, your apprenticeship program may waive some coursework requirements.

As an apprentice, you'll likely begin your hands-on training by completing basic tasks. These might involve measuring and cutting. As you prove your competence, your supervisors will give you more complicated tasks. At this point, you might find yourself interpreting blueprints or helping to build wooden structures.

To find an apprentice program, check with trade unions or contractors' associations. The United Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC) is among the largest carpenters' unions.

Contractors' associations promote high standards, professionalism, and integrity in the industry. A major contractors' association for carpenters is the Construction Employers Association.

Individual employers sometimes offer apprentice programs as well.

Finally, the BLS offers a searchable directory of apprenticeship programs available near you.


How to Become a Carpenter: Licensing Requirements

Most states do not require carpenters to become licensed except under certain conditions. In general, carpenters must be licensed if they are self-employed or if the work they perform is valued above a defined dollar amount.

Finally, all carpenters and other contractors must pass a standard OSHA training course. OSHA is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The OSHA course certifies a carpenter as competent in workplace safety and only takes about 10 hours to complete.

Beyond these basic requirements, individual states have different regulations governing carpenter licensing. At least six states require carpenters to be licensed for certain types of work. These states include:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Hawaii
  • Nevada
  • Utah

State regulations and requirements are subject to change. Municipalities can also impose conditions on contractors. So, you should check with the relevant local and state offices in your area. The National Association of State Contractors' Licensing Agencies (NASCLA) represents these agencies and provides a listing of their offices.

If state or local agencies require you to be licensed, you may need to meet the following conditions:

  • Prove that you have a set amount of education and experience
  • Pass a licensing exam
  • Buy liability insurance

Besides professional licensing requirements, often apprenticeship programs and employers prefer candidates with a driver's license. Some even require it because carpenters often need to drive to job sites and may need to drive a company vehicle. A clean driving record and vehicle insurance are also helpful.

Specialized Professional Certifications

Some carpenters choose to pursue specialized certifications.

Perhaps you are interested in sustainability. If so, you might explore certification programs that focus on green building practices. The U.S Green Building Council (USGBC) and Green Advantage offer these types of programs.

The USGBC is responsible for administering the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification program. Many businesses pursue this certification when constructing new facilities or remodeling existing ones. Being a USGBC-certified carpenter can make you stand out to these potential clients.

Green Advantage likewise grants credentials to contractors with expertise in sustainable building practices. It offers two levels of certification for workers and supervisors.

If your interests focus on a carpentry specialty, you can also pursue licensing in that area. Some carpenters have a passion for wood flooring. They might become a certified professional with the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) with specific testing.

Perhaps you enjoy the challenge of remodeling existing structures. If so, you might become licensed with NARI. NARI is the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

Finally, once you become a carpenter, you might explore related areas of construction. Many carpenters find their skills transfer well to other careers. For example, some carpenters pursue more training in heavy equipment operation.


How Long Does It Take to Become a Carpenter?

Different people take different paths to become a carpenter. Depending on the route you choose, the time it takes to complete your training can vary.

Apprenticeship programs can take up to four years. If you complete a pre-apprenticeship program, that coursework can add another two years.

As you calculate the time it will take you to train as a carpenter, there is another consideration to keep in mind. Carpenters and other tradespeople are usually paid for their on-the-job training. So, you'll likely begin to enjoy the financial rewards of a career in carpentry more quickly than you might in some other occupations.


Opportunities for Continuing Education and Advancement

Completing your training is a significant accomplishment. Successful carpenters understand, though, that their training is truly never finished.

Successful carpenters continue to learn as they tackle new challenges each day. Successful carpenters also pursue continuing education. Many of the organizations that offer apprenticeship programs offer professional development as well. Check with your trade union or contractors' association for the opportunities they offer.

Pursuing these opportunities keeps you up to date on best practices in the industry. These offerings also make you more marketable to potential clients.

Extra training is especially beneficial if you intend to seek a management role. Carpenters can work to become lead carpenters, first-line supervisors, and general construction supervisors.

Some carpenters prefer the flexibility and autonomy of self-employment. If this describes you, you might choose to become an independent contractor.


Follow These Steps to a Career in Carpentry

Becoming a carpenter is a viable and rewarding career path. The work of a carpenter is challenging and satisfying. Carpenters work in various settings and on an unlimited variety of projects.

Furthermore, carpenters are well-compensated, and the opportunities for advancement are many.

Knowing how to become a carpenter is the first step toward enjoying these benefits. Carpentry training programs can help to polish and enhance the skills you need to position you for success as a carpenter.

As you begin to build your career, count on our zip search tool to find the best trade school for you.