Carpenters build, install, and repair structures and fixtures made from wood and other materials. This is a great career for the handy because your work leaves a lasting monument to your craftsmanship.
Sometimes carpenters specialize in one technique, or they might be knowledgeable in many. For example, a carpenter might specialize in cabinetmaking, metalwork, drywall installing, or fence building. The smaller the business, the more a carpenter must know. Employees in large construction companies usually have a specialty.
Most carpenters work from blueprints or instructions from supervisors. They measure and arrange materials in accordance with local building codes. They cut and shape wood, plastic, fiberglass, or drywall using hand tools and power tools. They join the materials with nails, screws, staples, and other adhesives.
Carpentry work is often strenuous. It involves a lot of standing, climbing, bending, and kneeling. The risk of injury exists when one works with sharp or rough materials and uses sharp tools and power equipment. Carpenters also work in areas where slip-and-fall hazards are more common. The numerous home-improvement shows on television will give you an idea of what the work entails. Take some adult education courses at your community college.
Carpenters learn their trade through both formal and informal training programs. It takes about three or four years to become a skilled carpenter by following a regimen of classroom and on-the-job training. Training can begin as early as high school, where, if the curriculum exists, you can study English, algebra, geometry, physics, mechanical drawing, blueprint reading, and general shop. You can continue your training after high school either through additional schooling or by seeking out a mentor. The tradition of mentor and apprentice is an ancient one.
You can find information on registered apprenticeships through links to state apprenticeship programs on the U.S. Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration Web site, online at
You can look for a job with a contractor who will provide onthe- job training. Entry-level workers start as helpers. You may be required to join a union in order to work in the trade. Apprentices must be at least eighteen years old and meet local requirements. Some union locals will make you take an aptitude test. Apprentices learn elementary structural design and become familiar with layout, form building, rough framing, and outside and inside finishing. They learn to use the machines, equipment, and other tools of the trade. They are instructed in safety, first aid, blueprint reading, freehand sketching, basic mathematics, and other carpentry techniques, both in the classroom and on the job.
If you do not seek out or successfully find a mentor right away, there are public and private vocational-technical schools and training academies affiliated with carpentry unions.
The Job Market
Carpenters make up the largest of the building trades occupations. There are about 1.3 million carpenters working in the United States today. Approximately 400,000 of those work in building construction, and 260,000 work for special trade contractors. The rest work in a variety of other industries, including government agencies.
Many carpenters become members of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America. The organization has more than 500,000 members who specialize in fields like carpentry, cabinetmaking, and roofing. To learn more about this union, visit its Web site, online at
Job opportunities are expected to be excellent. The more skills you have and the more skilled you are, the better your chances are to find a decent job in the field. The demand for new government buildings, along with continual maintenance of existing ones, will make for plenty of work. The average hourly rate for carpenters is $16.78. The lowest 10 percent in this field makes about $10.36 an hour, and the highest 10 percent earns about $28.65.