Carpenters construct, repair, and install building frameworks and structures made from wood and other materials.

Duties

Carpenters typically do the following:

  • Follow blueprints and building plans to meet the needs of clients
  • Install structures and fixtures, such as windows and molding
  • Measure, cut, and shape wood, plastic, and other materials
  • Construct building frameworks, including walls, floors, and doorframes
  • Erect, level, and install building framework with the aid of rigging hardware and cranes
  • Inspect and replace damaged framework or other structures and fixtures
  • Instruct and direct laborers and other construction helpers

Carpenters are a versatile occupation in the construction industry, with workers usually doing many different tasks. For example, some carpenters insulate office buildings and others install drywall or kitchen cabinets in homes. Those who help construct tall buildings or bridges often install wooden concrete forms for cement footings or pillars and are commonly referred to as rough carpenters. Rough carpenters also erect shoring and scaffolding for buildings.

Carpenters use many different tools to cut and shape wood, plastic, fiberglass, or drywall. They commonly use hand tools, including squares, levels, and chisels, as well as many power tools, such as sanders, circular saws, nail guns, and welding machines.

Carpenters fasten materials together with nails, screws, staples, and adhesives, and check their work to ensure that it is precisely completed. They use tape measures on nearly every project to quickly measure distances. Many employers require applicants to supply their own tools.

The following are examples of types of carpenters:

Construction carpenters construct, install, and repair structures and fixtures of wood, plywood, and wallboard, using carpenter’s hand tools and power tools.

Rough carpenters build rough wooden structures, such as concrete forms; scaffolds; tunnel, bridge, or sewer supports; and temporary frame shelters, according to sketches, blueprints, or oral instructions.

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Work Environment

Carpenters held about 1.0 million jobs in 2018. The largest employers of carpenters were as follows:

Self-employed workers 27%
Residential building construction 22
Nonresidential building construction 13
Building finishing contractors 12
Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors                10

Carpenters work indoors and outdoors on many types of construction projects, from building highways and bridges to installing kitchen cabinets. Carpenters may work in cramped spaces. They frequently shift between lifting, standing, and kneeling, the result of which can be tiring. Those who work outdoors are subject to variable weather conditions, which may limit a carpenter’s ability to work.

Injuries and Illnesses

Carpenters sometimes get injured on the job. The most common injuries include strains from lifting heavy materials, falls from ladders, and cuts from sharp objects and tools. Workers often wear safety equipment such as boots, hardhats, protective eyewear, and reflective vests to protect themselves from injuries.

Work Schedules

Most carpenters work full time, which may include working evenings and weekends. Extreme temperatures or inclement weather can adversely impact building construction timelines, in which case carpenters’ work hours may be affected.

Education and Training

Carpenters typically learn on the job and through apprenticeships.

Education

A high school diploma or equivalent is typically required. High school courses in mathematics, mechanical drawing, and general vocational technical training are considered useful. Some technical schools offer associate’s degrees in carpentry. The programs vary in length and teach basics and specialties in carpentry.

Training

Carpenters typically learn on the job and through apprenticeships and learn the proper use of hand and power tools on the job. They often begin doing simpler tasks under the guidance of experienced carpenters. For example, they start with measuring and cutting wood, and learn to do more complex tasks, such as reading blueprints and building wooden structures.

Several groups, such as unions and contractor associations, sponsor apprenticeship programs. For each year of a typical program, apprentices must complete 144 hours of technical training and 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training. Apprentices learn carpentry basics, blueprint reading, mathematics, building code requirements, and safety and first aid practices. They also may receive specialized training in creating and setting concrete forms, rigging, welding, scaffold building, and working within confined workspaces. All carpenters must pass the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 10- and 30-hour safety courses.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Some carpenters work as construction laborers or helpers before becoming carpenters. They learn to become carpenters while working under the guidance of an experienced carpenter. Laborers and helpers learn tasks that are similar to those performed by carpenters.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Many carpenters need a driver’s license or reliable transportation, since their work is done on jobsites.

Carpenters do not need certification for the job. However, there are certificate programs that teach basics for carpenters interested in completing an apprenticeship, such as the Pre-Apprenticeship Certificate Training (PACT) offered by the Home Builders Institute. Other programs offer certifications by specialty. For example, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry offers various levels of certificates for remodeling.

Advancement

Carpenters are involved in many phases of construction and may have opportunities to become first-line supervisors, independent contractors, or general construction supervisors.

Personality and Interests

Carpenters typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking, and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building, Thinking, or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a carpenter, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Carpenters should also possess the following specific qualities:

Business skills. Self-employed carpenters must be able to bid new jobs, track inventory, and plan work assignments. 

Detail oriented. Carpenters perform many tasks that are important in the overall building process. Making precise measurements, for example, may reduce gaps between windows and frames, limiting any leaks around the window.

Manual dexterity. Carpenters use many tools and need hand-eye coordination to avoid injury. Striking the head of a nail, for example, is crucial to not damaging wood.

Math skills. Because carpenters use basic math skills every day, they need to be able to calculate volume and measure materials to be cut.

Physical stamina. Carpenters need physical endurance. They often lift heavy tools and materials while standing, climbing, or bending for long periods.

Physical strength. Many of the tools and materials that carpenters use are heavy. For example, plywood sheets can weigh 50 to 100 pounds.

Problem-solving skills. Because all construction jobs vary, carpenters must adjust project plans accordingly. For example, they may have to use wedges to level cabinets in homes that have settled and are sloping slightly.

Pay

The median annual wage for carpenters was $48,330 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $30,170, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $84,690.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for carpenters in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Nonresidential building construction $53,040
Building finishing contractors 49,440
Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors                   46,850
Residential building construction 46,290

The starting pay for apprentices is less than what fully trained carpenters make. As apprentices gain experience, they receive more pay.

Most carpenters work full time, which may include working evenings and weekends. Extreme temperatures or inclement weather can adversely impact building construction timelines, in which case carpenters’ hours may be affected.

Job Outlook

Employment of carpenters is projected to grow 8 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average for all occupations. Population growth should result in more new-home construction—one of the largest segment employing carpenters—which will require many new workers. The construction of factories and power plants is also expected to result in some new job opportunities in the next ten years.

The increasing popularity of modular and prefabricated components and homes, however, may limit the demand for more carpenters. Roof assemblies, bathrooms, windows, and even entirely prefabricated buildings can be manufactured in a separate facility and then assembled onsite. Installing prefabricated components reduces a labor-intensive and time-consuming aspect of a carpenter’s job.

Job Prospects

Overall job prospects for carpenters should be good over the coming decade as construction activity continues to grow. Prospective carpenters with a basic set of carpentry tools will have better prospects.

Carpenters and other occupations in the construction industry are subject to periods of unemployment as building construction slows during cold months. Additionally, the number of job openings is expected to vary regionally, because different areas of the country are experiencing more development than others.

For More Information

For details about apprenticeships or other work opportunities in this trade, contact the offices of the state employment service, the state apprenticeship agency, local contractors or firms that employ carpenters, or local union–management carpenter apprenticeship committees. Apprenticeship information is available from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Apprenticeship program online or by phone at 877-872-5627.

For more information about carpenters, including training opportunities, visit

Associated Builders and Contractors

Associated General Contractors of America

Home Builders Institute

National Association of the Remodeling Industry

NCCER

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, Carpenters Training Fund

 

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The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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