About one-third of all carpenters—the largest construction
Job opportunities should be excellent for those with the most
training and all-round skills.
To become a skilled carpenter usually takes between 3 and
4 years of both on-the-job training and classroom instruction.
Nature of the Work
Carpenters are involved in many different kinds of construction
activity, from the building of highways and bridges, to the installation
of kitchen cabinets. Carpenters construct, erect, install, and
repair structures and fixtures made from wood and other materials.
Depending on the type of work and the employer, carpenters may
specialize in one or two activities or may be required to know
how to perform many different tasks. Small home builders and remodeling
companies may require carpenters to learn about all aspects of
building a house—framing walls and partitions, putting in doors
and windows, building stairs, installing cabinets and molding,
and many other tasks. Large construction contractors or specialty
contractors, however, may require their carpenters to perform
only a few regular tasks, such as framing walls, constructing
wooden forms for pouring concrete, or erecting scaffolding. Carpenters
also build tunnel bracing, or brattices, in underground passageways
and mines to control the circulation of air through the passageways
and to worksites.
Each carpentry task is somewhat different, but most involve the
same basic steps. Working from blueprints or instructions from
supervisors, carpenters first do the layout—measuring, marking,
and arranging materials—in accordance with local building codes.
They cut and shape wood, plastic, fiberglass, or drywall using
hand and power tools, such as chisels, planes, saws, drills, and
sanders. They then join the materials with nails, screws, staples,
or adhesives. In the final step, carpenters check the accuracy
of their work with levels, rules, plumb bobs, framing squares,
or electronic versions of these tools, and make any necessary
adjustments. When working with prefabricated components, such
as stairs or wall panels, the carpenter’s task is somewhat simpler
because it does not require as much layout work or the cutting
and assembly of as many pieces. Prefabricated components are designed
for easy and fast installation and generally can be installed
in a single operation.
Carpenters who remodel homes and other structures need a broad
range of carpentry skills because they must be able to perform
any of the many different tasks these jobs may require. Since
they are so well-trained, these carpenters often can switch from
residential building to commercial construction or remodeling
work, depending on which offers the best work opportunities.
Carpenters employed outside the construction industry perform
a variety of installation and maintenance work. They may replace
panes of glass, ceiling tiles, and doors, as well as repair desks,
cabinets, and other furniture. Depending on the employer, carpenters
install partitions, doors, and windows; change locks; and repair
broken furniture. In manufacturing firms, carpenters may assist
in moving or installing machinery.
As is true of other building trades, carpentry work is sometimes
strenuous. Prolonged standing, climbing, bending, and kneeling
often are necessary. Carpenters risk injury working with sharp
or rough materials, using sharp tools and power equipment, and
working in situations where they might slip or fall. Although
many carpenters work indoors, those that work outdoors are subject
to variable weather conditions.
Some carpenters change employers each time they finish a construction
job. Others alternate between working for a contractor and working
as contractors themselves on small jobs, depending on where the
work is available.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Carpenters learn their trade through formal and informal training
programs. To become a skilled carpenter usually takes between
3 and 4 years of both classroom and on-the-job training. While
there are a number of different ways to obtain this training,
in general, the more formalized the process, the more skilled
you will become, and the more in demand by employers. For some,
this training can begin in a high school, where classes in English,
algebra, geometry, physics, mechanical drawing, blueprint reading,
and general shop are recommended. After high school, there are
a number of different avenues that one can take to obtain the
necessary training. One of the ways is to obtain a job with a
contractor who will then provide on-the-job training. Entry-level
workers generally start as helpers, assisting more experienced
workers. During this time, the carpenter’s helper may elect to
attend a trade or vocational school, or community college to receive
further trade-related training.
Some employers, particularly large nonresidential construction
contractors with union membership, offer employees formal apprenticeships.
These programs combine on-the-job training with related classroom
instruction. Apprenticeship applicants usually must be at least
18 years old and meet local requirements; some union locals, for
example, test an applicant’s aptitude for carpentry. Apprenticeship
programs are usually 3 to 4 years in length, but vary with the
apprentice’s skill. The number of apprenticeship programs is limited,
however, so only a small proportion of carpenters learn their
trade through these programs, mostly those working for commercial
and industrial building contractors.
On the job, apprentices learn elementary structural design and
become familiar with common carpentry jobs, such as layout, form
building, rough framing, and outside and inside finishing. They
also learn to use the tools, machines, equipment, and materials
of the trade. Apprentices receive classroom instruction in safety,
first aid, blueprint reading, freehand sketching, basic mathematics,
and various carpentry techniques. Both in the classroom and on
the job, they learn the relationship between carpentry and the
other building trades.
Some persons aiming for carpentry careers choose to obtain their
classroom training before seeking a job. There are a number of
public and private vocational-technical schools and training academies
affiliated with the unions and contractors that offer training
to become a carpenter. Employers often look favorably upon these
students and usually start them at a higher level than those without
Some skills needed to become a carpenter include manual dexterity,
eye-hand coordination, physical fitness, and a good sense of balance.
The ability to solve arithmetic problems quickly and accurately
also is required. In addition, a good work history or military
service is viewed favorably by contractors.
Carpenters usually have greater opportunities than most other
construction workers to become general construction supervisors
because carpenters are exposed to the entire construction process.
For those who would like to advance, it is increasingly important
to be able to communicate in both English and Spanish in order
to relay instructions and safety precautions to workers with limited
understanding of English; Spanish-speaking workers make up a large
part of the construction workforce in many areas. Carpenters may
advance to carpentry supervisor or general construction supervisor
positions. Others may become independent contractors. Supervisors
and contractors need good communication skills to deal with clients
and subcontractors, should be able to identify and estimate the
quantity of materials needed to complete a job, and accurately
estimate how long a job will take to complete and at what cost.
Carpenters are employed throughout the country in almost every
community and make up the largest building trades occupation.
They held about 1.3 million jobs in 2004. About one-third worked
in building construction and about one-fifth worked for special
trade contractors. Most of the rest of the wage and salary workers
worked for manufacturing firms, government agencies, retail establishments
and a wide variety of other industries. About one-third of all
carpenters were self-employed.
Job opportunities for carpenters are expected to be excellent
over the 2004-14 period, particularly for those with the most
skills. Employment of carpenters is expected to increase about
as fast as average for all occupations through 2014, and turnover
also creates a large number of openings each year. Contractors
report having trouble finding skilled carpenters to fill many
of their openings, due in part to the fact that many jobseekers
are not inclined to go into construction, preferring work that
is less strenuous with more comfortable working conditions. Also,
many people with limited skills take jobs as carpenters but eventually
leave the occupation because they dislike the work or cannot find
The need for carpenters is expected to grow as construction activity
increases in response to demand for new housing, office and retail
space, and for modernizing and expanding schools and industrial
plants. A strong home remodeling market also will create a large
demand for carpenters.
Some of the demand for carpenters, however, will be offset by
expected productivity gains resulting from the increasing use
of prefabricated components and improved fasteners and tools.
Prefabricated wall panels, roof assemblies and stairs and prehung
doors and windows can be installed very quickly. Instead of having
to be built on the worksite, prefabricated walls, partitions,
and stairs can be lifted into place in one operation; beams—and,
in some cases, entire roof assemblies—are lifted into place using
a crane. As prefabricated components become more standardized,
builders will use them more often. In addition, improved adhesives
are reducing the time needed to join materials, and lightweight,
cordless, and pneumatic tools—such as nailers and drills—will
all continue to make carpenters more efficient. New and improved
tools, equipment, techniques, and materials also have vastly increased
Carpenters with all-round skills will have better opportunities
for steady work than carpenters who can perform only a few relatively
simple, routine tasks. Carpenters can experience periods of unemployment
because of the short-term nature of many construction projects,
winter slowdowns in construction activity in northern areas, and
the cyclical nature of the construction industry. During economic
downturns, the number of job openings for carpenters declines.
Building activity depends on many factors that vary with the state
of the economy—interest rates, availability of mortgage funds,
government spending, and business investment.
Job opportunities for carpenters also vary by geographic area.
Construction activity parallels the movement of people and businesses
and reflects differences in local economic conditions. The areas
with the largest population increases will also provide the best
job opportunities for carpenters and apprenticeship opportunities
for persons seeking to enter carpentry.
In May 2004, median hourly earnings of carpenters were $16.78.
The middle 50 percent earned between $12.91 and $22.62. The lowest
10 percent earned less than $10.36, and the highest 10 percent
earned more than $28.65. Median hourly earnings in the industries
employing the largest numbers of carpenters in May 2004 were as
Nonresidential building construction
Building finishing contractors
Residential building construction
Foundation, structure, and building exterior
Earnings can be reduced on occasion, because carpenters lose
worktime in bad weather and during recessions when jobs are unavailable.
Some carpenters are members of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters
and Joiners of America.
Carpenters are skilled construction workers. Other skilled construction
occupations include brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons;
cement masons, concrete finishers, segmental pavers, and terrazzo
workers; electricians; pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and
steamfitters; and plasterers and stucco masons.
Sources of Additional Information
For information about carpentry apprenticeships or other work
opportunities in this trade, contact local carpentry contractors,
locals of the union mentioned above, local joint union-contractor
apprenticeship committees, or the nearest office of the State
employment service or apprenticeship agency. You can also find
information on the registered apprenticeship system with links
to State apprenticeship programs on the U.S. Department of Labor’s
For information on training opportunities and carpentry in general,
Associated Builders and Contractors, 4250 North Fairfax Dr.,
9th Floor, Arlington, VA 22203. Internet: http://www.trytools.org/
Associated General Contractors of America, Inc., 2300 Wilson
Boulevard, Suite 400, Arlington, VA 22201. Internet: http://www.agc.org/
National Center for Construction Education and Research, P.O.
Box 141104, Gainesville, FL 32614-1104. Internet: http://www.nccer.org/
National Association of Home Builders, Home Builders Institute,
1201 15th St. NW., Washington, DC 20005. Internet: http://www.hbi.org/
United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, Carpenters
Training Fund, 6801 Placid Street Las Vegas, NV 89119. Internet:
of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,
Occupational Outlook Handbook,