The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a carpenter as “a person whose job is to make or fix wooden objects or wooden parts of buildings.” But in reality, that only describes a portion of what a carpenter does (and it expands far beyond wood). Carpenters are the masterminds behind pretty much any building, from residential houses to the skyscrapers you see peppering skylines. They ensure walls stand straight, floors are level, and everything is installed properly and up-to-code.
Carpenters mainly construct and repair building frameworks and structures, such as stairways, doorways, partitions, rafters, etc. Common tasks for carpenters include following blueprints set forth by clients; measuring, cutting and shaping materials to fit; installing fixtures like windows and molding; erecting and leveling framework using cranes, rigs and other equipment; mounting cabinets, drywall and siding; and instructing other construction workers.
According to the Department of Labor, employment of carpenters is expected to rise 6 percent in the years leading up to 2024, which is on pace for occupational averages across all industries. This surge will stem from population increases that will cause higher need for new-housing construction (the largest employment sector for carpenters), as well as increasing demand for home and building repair/improvements as the economy continues to recover.
What Does It Take To Become A Carpenter?
Most carpenters complete a 3- to 4-year apprenticeship program to learn the basic skills necessary to become a carpenter, like blueprint-reading, mathematics, building code requirements and safety practices. Unions, contractor associations and even individual contractors may offer their own carpentry apprentice programs, which usually require 144 hours of technical training and 2,200 hours of on-the-job training. Before beginning to work on their own, all carpenters must also pass 10- and 30-hour safety courses administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Basic qualifications to begin a carpenter apprenticeship are as follows:
- At least 18 years of age.
- High school degree or equivalent.
- Physical ability to do the work.
- Pass a substance-abuse screening.
Other important qualities for carpenters to possess include:
- Business basics: Self-employed carpenters, especially contractors, are required to not only provide carpentry labor, but must also run their business and manage finances. As such, a foundational understanding of business is imperative.
- Dexterity: Carpentry involves a lot of handiwork and hand-eye coordination in order to complete tasks safely.
- Management skills: For carpenters who employ a team of other workers, good leadership and delegation traits are a must.
- Problem-solving: Projects and blueprints may change at any time, so carpenters need to be able to adapt and solve complicated issues as they arise without getting flustered.
While most carpenters choose to enter apprenticeships directly, some start out as assistants to certified carpenters. In addition, carpentry certificates that offer training before an apprenticeship are also available that cover information in eight different carpentry facets, including painting. An example of one such training program is Pre-Apprenticeship Certificate Training, offered by the Home Builders Institute.
What Do Carpenters Do? (Specific Types of Carpenters)
Just like with any other occupation, carpenters may specialize in certain areas of construction. Below are a few of the different types of construction carpenters:
- Trim carpenters specialize in molding and trim, including doors and windows, mantels, baseboards and other ornamental work.
- Finish carpenters focus on finishing-touch carpentry, such as cabinetry, furniture-making and woodworking where minimal margins of error are needed.
- Cabinetmakers, as the name implies, also perform fine and detailed work in the form of making cabinets, wardrobes, dressers, etc.
- Framers are responsible for the skeletal framework and underlying structure of
For general contractors, a background in carpentry is a lucrative step toward a solid future as a general contractor or remodeling business owner. Carpenters possess the basic (and sometimes advanced) skills contractors need to get their start in the home improvement business. And because carpenters are involved in all phases of construction, they usually have more opportunities for advancement than other workers. If you dream of being your own boss, becoming a carpenter is certainly a good first step toward that goal.