Carpenter Career Overview

Carpenters are highly skilled workers crucial to any construction operation. Their primary duties include building, installing, repairing, and erecting any structure and framework with wood as its predominant material.

Carpenters typically learn on the job, but this isn’t to say that there aren’t several vocational schools where anyone looking to learn how to be a carpenter can attend. If you fall into this category, below is an in-depth guide on everything you need to know about being a carpenter, including roles, responsibilities, work environment, and salary.

What Carpenters Do

Carpenters manipulate wood to build structures and frameworks. They can also repair or upgrade existing structures to achieve a new look or suit a different function.

A trained carpenter can follow laid-out blueprints or simply work based on general instructions. Below is a breakdown of some of their most common tasks during a day’s work:

  • Study blueprints to understand the aim of a prospective design.
  • Decide which materials will be necessary to build particular structures and estimate their costs.
  • Measure, cut, and shape wood to fit the blueprint or specified instruction.
  • Carpenters can also work with other materials, such as drywall, plastic, and fiberglass, for wood use.
  • Use rulers, levels, and other appropriate tools to ensure maximum accuracy
  • Install fixtures such as doors, cabinets, and windows.
  • Repair or upgrade existing structures and frameworks.
  • Operate hand tools such as power saws, chisels, and drills.

Carpenter Work Environment

Carpenters are trained to adapt to a variety of work environments. This is because even though they may have a static base of operation, their job often requires moving from one place to another to work on a site.

While some carpenters prefer to work indoors, all can work indoors or outdoors, regardless of weather and temperature.

Examples of indoor carpentry work include installing kitchen cabinets, windows, and doors, while examples of outdoor carpentry include building highways and bridges.

Since they work on deadlines, most carpenters often choose to work full-time, including evenings and weekends, to meet clients’ specified turnaround times.

Average Carpenter Salary

In May 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that the median salary for a carpenter was $48,260. About 50% of carpenters earned more than this figure, while about 50% also earned less.

The bottom 10% earned about $31,880, while the top 10% earned slightly more than $80,940. Like all industries, certain factors determine which particular salary bracket a carpenter will fall into.

Naturally, those who have spent longer in the industry earn more than those just starting.

Additionally, a carpenter’s salary depends on which subcategory they find themselves in. For instance, carpenters who work on nonresidential building constructions earn the most, with an average salary of $59,020. In contrast, those who work as building finishing contractors followed with an average salary of $48,080.

Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors earn a little bit less, with $48,080 in average salary, while residential building contractors make the lowest at $47,820 a year.

Carpenter Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a favorable projection for carpenters in the next decade. They project that the field will grow by 2 percent between 2021 and 2031.

This will see at least 91,200 new carpenters secure employment yearly for the next ten years. Some of these will result from old workers retiring or moving to a different industry, while population growth and the construction of new houses will also be driving factors.

How To Become a Carpenter

To become a carpenter, you must fulfill a few requirements and complete a few steps. Below are some of the most common:

Step 1: High School Diploma

To become a carpenter, you must first possess some primary education. This could be in the form of a high school diploma or a GED. Many apprenticeship programs also encourage students to have prerequisite skills in the trade by developing an affinity for drafting and mathematics.

Step 2: Apprenticeship

Commercial and industrial employers and construction unions are the central bodies offering apprenticeship opportunities. They allow students to study carpentry for about 3 to 4 years. During this time, they will be supervised by one or more experienced carpenters along with other construction workers.

A typical apprenticeship program will give students much-needed knowledge of safety practices, sketching techniques, first aid, blueprint reading, and mathematics.

During the closing stages, students will learn practical, hands-on carpentry techniques outside the classroom.

Graduates of apprenticeship programs will receive a “journeyman” certificate.

Step 3: Carpentry School

While completing an apprenticeship is often enough to obtain certification and start practicing as a carpenter, most people obtain more formal training by attending a carpentry school.

This path is often advisable thanks to its ability to enhance a carpenter’s skills and formal knowledge while helping them distinguish themselves from other carpentry applicants.

It is also possible to obtain course credits through these programs that can contribute to your associate’s degree.

Topics included in a typical carpentry school curriculum are stair construction, foundation work, sliding and moldings, building layouts, and carpentry mathematics.

Step 4: Specialized Expertise

Lastly, a carpenter has to find a way to maximize their marketability. This usually involves finding an area of specialization and fine-tuning their skills to fit this area.

The reasoning behind this strategy is that it is easier to secure employment and earn more once you become the best in a specialized area than if you are only average in many areas.

A carpenter may choose to specialize in fields such as renovation, cabinets, and roof infrastructure.

Furthermore, carpenters can increase their marketability by learning additional languages. Becoming bilingual will help you secure more interviews from employers who prefer those who can speak multiple languages, thanks to its need in specific locations.