As skilled craftspersons, carpenters work independently, in factories, with unions, and for general contractors. They plan, construct, erect, install, and repair various buildings and structures.
Carpenters use wood, plastic, fiberglass, drywall, and other materials to build or repair structures and fixtures. Those working for large contracting companies build wooden forms for poured concrete for tunnels, bridges, sewers, and other public projects. Additionally, carpenters install framing for structures, erect scaffolds, build braces in underground passageways and mines, and construct brattices.
Let’s take a closer look at how to become a carpenter.
Job Options for Carpenters
For many, training to become a carpenter may begin as early as high school. Students can prepare by completing courses in carpentry, shop, drawing, math, English, algebra, geometry, physics, mechanical drawing, and physical education.
Additionally, working with a contractor or construction company allows students to gain hands-on experience that's virtually imperative for future employment. High school graduates may advance to apprenticeship, vocational, or technical programs. Generally, training to become a skilled carpenter requires 3-4 years of on-the-job instruction and formal education (either in person or through online carpenter school).
Trade or Vocational Schools
Many trade or vocational schools and community colleges offer two-year programs that prepare individuals for careers in carpentry. Aspiring carpenters should also consider online trade schools that offer such programs.
Most programs include a combination of classroom instruction and hands-on learning experiences, exploring a range of construction methods, safety practices, and design elements.
Typically, a carpentry training program will cover the following subjects: algebra; geometry; physics; hand tool selection, care, and use; architectural drawing; blueprint reading; machine woodworking; identification and measurement of materials; project management and estimating; principles and procedures in residential construction; building code requirements; framing and finishing; building technology; roofing systems; interior and exterior finishing; door and window layout and construction; and mechanical systems.
Graduates of these programs boast a high degree of employability, as employers generally favor candidates who have a solid educational background in addition to their work experience.
Online Trade Schools
You may be surprised to discover the abundance of online carpentry courses. Available to anyone, from high school graduates to those who have worked in the field for years, online carpentry classes offer foundational instruction and practical exercises that teach you not only how to become a carpenter, but also how to succeed in the trade.
If you’re interested in a career as a carpenter, but don't want to make a full commitment to carpentry school online or in person, you can try a few online carpentry courses to help decide if it's the right path for you.
Some of the most popular online trade schools offering programs in carpentry include:
However, if you are earning a diploma or certificate through one of these trade schools online, consider supplementing your online carpentry classes with a hands-on apprenticeship.
High school graduates can typically find entry-level jobs assisting experienced carpenters. Alternatively, they can enroll in apprenticeship programs at large construction companies.
Available through commercial and industrial building contractors and construction unions, apprenticeship programs usually require at least a three-year time investment under the supervision of experienced workers.
Carpentry apprentices begin their programs by learning about safety, first aid, blueprint reading, freehand sketching, basic mathematics, and a variety of carpentry techniques within a classroom setting. Apprentices then gain familiarity with layout, form-building, rough framing, and interior and exterior finishing through onsite experience.
Upon completing a formal carpentry apprenticeship, trainees receive certification as a journeyperson. They may then advance to other certification programs, enroll in degree programs offered by trade schools and community colleges, or procure employment.
According to the May 2016 report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual wage for a carpenter sits at $48,340; ALLP’s 2017 Salary Guide reports the number as $44,330.
Currently, nearly 700,000 carpenters work in the United States. The BLS projects that the industry will see 6% growth between 2014 and 2024.
As is typical of most occupations, carpenters' salaries vary by years of experience and by geographic location. For example, San Francisco boasts a high annual pay rate for carpenters at more $71,000 (that's 32% above the national average.)
As reported by the BLS, nonresidential building contractors enjoy the highest salary of all the subsets in carpentry, averaging more than $52,000 per year. Meanwhile, the natural gas industry prevails as the highest-paying business for carpenters, providing an average annual wage of more than $85,000.
Average Annual Salary by Industry Sector
- Residential Building Construction: $45,420
- Nonresidential Building Construction: $52,670
- Building Finish Contractors: $50,370
- Foundation, Structure, and Building Exterior Contractors: $45,090
- Other Specialty Trade Contractors: $51,070
The top-paying industries include:
- Natural Gas Distribution: $85,290
- Lessors of Real Estate: $73,730
- Electric Power Generation, Transmission and Distribution: $70,060
- Electronics and Appliance Stores: $66,110
- Specialty (except Psychiatric and Substance Abuse) Hospitals: $66,070
Concentration and Careers
Carpenters may work within residential or commercial building construction, or as industrial carpenters performing a variety of tasks.
Here is a quick overview of each industry segment:
- Residential Carpenters
Residential carpenters specialize in building and remodeling family homes, townhomes, and condominiums. As part of a single job, they might create and set forms for footings, walls, and slabs, and frame and finish exterior walls, roofs, and decks. Additionally, residential carpenters frame interior walls, build stairs, and install drywall, crown molding, doors, and cabinets. They may also tile floors and lay wood floors and carpet.
Average Annual Salaries
- Stonemason: $41,910
- Tile and Marble Setter: $53,880
- Construction Worker: $42,470
- Commercial Carpenters
Commercial carpenters build and remodel commercial office buildings, hospitals, hotels, schools, and shopping malls. Some specialize in light-gauge and load-bearing steel framing for interior partitions, exterior framing, and curtain wall construction. Others specialize in concrete forming systems and finishing interior and exterior walls, partitions, and ceilings.
Average Annual Salaries
- Carpet Installer: $56,210
- Construction Equipment Operator: $54,960
- Insulation Worker: $45,950
- Industrial Carpenters
Industrial carpenters work on civil engineering projects and in industrial settings, where they build scaffolding and create and set forms for pouring concrete. Some industrial carpenters build tunnel bracing or partitions in underground passageways and mines to control the circulation of air to worksites. Others build concrete forms for tunnels, bridges, dams, power plants, and sewers.
Average Annual Salaries
- Cement Mason/Concrete Finisher: $42,820
- Paving, Surfacing, and Tamping Equipment Operator: $49,740
- Structural Iron and Steel Worker: $57,470
What It’s Like to Work in Carpentry
Now that you know how to become a carpenter, you might wonder what the job's like on a day-to-day basis. Because carpentry work demands vigorous exertion, carpenters must be physically fit, strong, and have a good sense of balance. Carpenters must able to work long hours standing, climbing, bending, and kneeling. Additionally, carpenters must be detail-oriented, with good hand-eye coordination and strong problem-solving skills. As carpentry work can be stressful, they must also be able to manage tension and handle workplace pressures. Carpentry work often involves physical risks, like falling and slipping injuries or bruises and cuts from working with sharp tools and rough, heavy materials. Weather conditions and exposure can also pose dangers for carpenters working outdoors.
Skills recommended for a job in carpentry
Those that are interested in a career in carpentry should have many of the following attributes:
- Math skills
- Mechanical skills
- Critical thinking abilities
- Interpersonal communication skills
- Business skills
- Physical strength & stamina
- Manual dexterity
- Troubleshooting abilities
- Drawing skills
Advancement & Growth
The field of carpentry offers many opportunities for employment and advancement for workers with solid educational backgrounds and training. As work and educational experiences enhance your skill sets, you may earn the chance to advance to more responsibility and a higher salary. For example, you could be promoted to a general construction supervisor position within a larger construction company.
Many carpenters also become independent contractors after acquiring adequate funds, skills, and tools. Additionally, carpenters with specialized or versatile skills often enjoy expansive job opportunities.
Types of Carpentry Specialties
From restoration carpentry to framing, each concentration involves a different focus in the field. Here are some of the most specialized segments of carpentry:
- Finish Carpentry
- Specialize in cabinetry, furniture-making, fine woodworking, model-building, instrument-making, parquetry, joinery, or other carpentry where exact joints and minimal margins of error are important.
- Build the skeletal structure or wooden framework of buildings, most often using the platform framing method.
- Scenic Carpentry
- Build and dismantle temporary scenery and sets in filmmaking, television, and theater.
- Restoration Carpentry
- Work in historic building restoration, restoring structures to their former state.
- Conservation/Preservation Carpentry
- Work in architectural conservation and historic preservation to keep structures from changing.
- Green Carpentry
- Specialize in the use of environmentally friendly, energy-efficient, and sustainable sources of building materials in construction projects; practice building methods that require less material while retaining structural soundness.
Carpenter Certifications and Licensing
One of the most popular and relevant certifications for carpenters is the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.
LEED Certification trains and certifies students in the area of green building and sustainability technology. To earn this certification, students must sit for the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Green Associate Exam. Many online trade schools offer LEED courses to prepare you for this exam.