Carpenters primarily work with wood, but sometimes work with other construction products as well. They build the frames for homes, office buildings, bridges or factories. Carpenters build cabinets, lay wood flooring, repair structural damage and assemble scaffolding. With the skills of a trained carpenter many career possibilities will be open to you.
About one-third of carpenters in the US are self-employed. Others work in residential and non-residential construction, on detailed finishing work and ensuring the stability of structures. Businesses and builders keep carpenters on staff for repairs, new construction projects and restoration work.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for carpenters is expected to remain steady. Some of this outlook depends on the demand for new housing since carpenters often work on building framing, roofs, windows, doors and trims. Highly skilled carpenters in niche areas usually find it easy to maintain a steady flow of work. Developing skills and a reputation as the best in hardwood flooring, cabinetry, furniture repair or decorative mantlepieces are unique and often overlooked skills that homeowners need but may have trouble finding.
The average annual salary for carpenters is $50,000. This changes depending on the type of carpentry and the years of experience. Master carpenters (with seven or more years of experience) can expect to make much more than average.
Before beginning a program to be trained in carpentry, you must earn a high school diploma or equivalent. Due to the technical nature of the work, carpenters will benefit from classes in physics, algebra, geometry, drawing, PE and English.
Starting your education at a trade or technical school may help you more easily find an apprenticeship position. Your classroom learning can count as hours toward your training and may give you an advantage when applying for an apprenticeship since you will already know and understand the basic concepts of carpentry work. This dedication and knowledge will make you more appealing to master carpenters.
Local colleges, trade schools, community college and technical school will likely offer courses in carpentry that you can access at a low cost. Look for a program that is accredited and taught by master carpenters.
There are also a number of online programs for carpenters. You will learn the basics of tool use, building codes, blueprint reading and more to prepare you for a career as a carpenter. Again, be sure the program is accredited and recognize by national organizations as adequate training in carpentry.
An apprenticeship program for carpenters usually lasts four to five years. Programs and requirements differ by state, but general apprenticeships include about 8,000 hours of on-the-job training and 500 hours or more of classroom work. Some states require specific classes (for example, California is very specific about the skills that must be taught and the exams passed), so apprenticeships can vary by location.
If you know a local carpenter, you can ask if he or she would be willing to take on an apprentice. Local community colleges or trade schools may also have a list of professionals that are open to training new carpenters. Some national organizations also offer gateways to apprenticeship:
- United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiner of America- UBC local offices are familiar with the expert carpenters in the area. The UBC also offers a huge range of training and certificate programs to advance your skills. Find the training center nearest you to apply for apprenticeship and take the required classes to be fully qualified to work as a carpenter.
- Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA)- They offer registered apprenticeship programs through their 70 training centers in the US and Canada.
- Carpenters Training Institute- Their four year apprenticeship programs allow you to specialize in general carpentry, millwork, floor covering or cabinet making. After your apprenticeship, the Institute offers a variety of continuing education programs to advance your skills.
Licensing and Certification
There is not a standard certification for becoming a a carpenter. Each state has different requirements for being licensed as a journeyman carpenter. Some states have no requirements at all while in others you will need to take and pass a general contractor’s exam. You can find your state’s requirements here as well as links to the state organization you will need to register with to perform carpentry work.
Regardless of the certifications you need, you will be required to carry adequate insurance in every state.
Most carpenters choose one area to focus their study on and become experts in this area. Carpenters can work on large projects like skyscrapers and bridges or small projects like mantlepieces and chairs. These different activities take different sets of skills. Consider where you would like to work and what kind of carpentry interests you before starting your learning or apprenticeship. Choose a mentor that has expertise in the area you want to work in for your best chances of succeeding as a journeyman. Some specializations you can choose are:
- Residential construction- These carpenters help to build homes. They build footings and walls. They construct decks, roofs and stairs. They may also build and install moldings, cabinets and door and window frames.
- Commercial carpenters- These carpenters work on the walls and ceilings in businesses, hospitals, schools and other commercial buildings.
- Industrial carpenters- These carpenters work as members of teams building bridges, dams, tunnels, power plants and other civil engineering projects.
- Finish carpentry- This requires a steady hand and exact measurements. These carpenters make cabinetry, furniture and detailed designs.
- Restoration-Work with historically significant structures to restore them to their original state.
- Framing- While this is invisible in the finished building, framing is essential. It’s the bones of the building, giving it structure and stability.
- Hardwood floor installers-These pros understand the different woods that can be used for flooring and how to install and maintain them.
- Joister- They build and repair floor joists for structural integrity.
- Trim carpentry- These carpenters focus on the interior trim and moldings around doors, windows and mantles
- Cabinet carpentry- These pros build and install cabinets in kitchens, bathrooms, storage rooms and laundry rooms. Because they will already have the attention to detail needed, they may also construct furniture.
While your skills can be transferred from one specialty to another, you may want to take some classes in a specific area if you want to add it to your portfolio of services. The more time you take honing your skills and satisfying customers, the more jobs you will land. The positive feedback from taking the time to be appropriately certified and trained in each area will command a higher price for your services and more positive reviews of your work.
Additional certifications that signify advanced knowledge in the area of carpentry you may want to consider include:
- LEED Green Associate- You understand green building principles and implement them into your daily work.
- Certified Lead Carpenter- Offer through the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), the CLC program will prepare you to take charge of every aspect of a construction project.
- UBC- The union offers a wide variety of programs through the Carpenters International Training Fund. Choose from dozens of areas of specialization for advanced training. You can be certified in working with specific brands, roof framing, lathing, door hardware and much more.
- National Center for Construction Education and Research- From their website, you can find training centers certified to teach basic carpentry classes, framing and finishing, cabinet making and advanced carpentry skills.
- OSHA Safety- There is a ten-hour and a 30-hour class available. They cover safety for all kinds of workspaces including those carpenters often work in. This can include confined spaces, scaffolding, rigging and concrete.
Carpentry is a growing field that requires in-depth knowledge of materials and methods. Years of training under a master carpenter will prepare you to work in the field and find a niche that fills a need for your community. Consider what kind of carpenter you want to be and look for someone in that specific field to take you on as an apprentice. There is a large range of career options for you to choose from.
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