Occupation Profile for Construction Carpenters

Construct, erect, install, and repair structures and fixtures of wood, plywood, and wallboard, using carpenter's hand tools and power tools.

 
 

Significant Points

  • About 32 percent of all carpenters—the largest construction trade—were self-employed.
  • Job opportunities should be best for those with the most training and skills.
  • Between 3 and 4 years of both on-the-job training and classroom instruction usually is needed to become a skilled carpenter.

 

 
 
Sample Job Titles
Aluminum Siding Applicator
Aluminum Siding Installer
Apprentice, Floor Coverer
Assembler
Assembler, Subassembly
Boat Carpenter
Boat Finisher
Boat Joiner
Boat Repairer
Boatbuilder Apprentice, Wood
Boatbuilder, Wood
Boatwright
Brick Siding Applicator
Builder, Beam
Building Carpenter
Cabinet Installer
Cabinetmaker
Canoe Builder
Car Framer
Carpenter
Carpenter Apprentice
Carpenter, Interior Systems
Carpenter, Maintenance
Carpenter, Mold
Carpenter, Prototype
Carpenter, Railcar
Casket Assembler
Ceiler
Composition Siding Worker
Composition Weatherboard Applier
Construction Framer
Construction Worker
Cooper
Counter Installer
Crater
Custom Stair Builder
Door Hanger
Door Installer
Doormaker
Finish Carpenter
Flume Worker
Framer
Framing Carpenter
Garage Door Hanger
Garage Door Installer
Hardwood Floor Installer
Hardwood Floor Layer
Hogshead Cooper
House Repairer
Inside Finisher
Installer
Installer, Bowling Alley Floors
Installer, Molding and Trim
Installer, Windows and Doors
Interior Paneler
Joiner Apprentice
Jointer
Laboratory Equipment Installer
Lather
Lather Apprentice
Lay-Out Worker
Lead Carpenter
Maintenance Carpenter
Mast Maker
Mechanic, Aluminum Siding
Mechanic, Asbestos Siding
Mechanic, Boat Carpenter
Mechanic, Sider
Mechanic, Siding
Mechanic, Weather Strip
Metal Tile Lather
Metal Weather Stripper
Miniature Set Builder
Model Set Artist
Mold Carpenter
Mold Maker
Molder
Motion Picture Scene Builder
Overhead Garage Door Hanger
Panel Installer
Prop Maker
Refinisher
Repairer, Assembled Wood Products
Repairer, House Carpenter
Residential Builder
Residential Carpenter
Roof Assembler
Sash Installer
Sheather
Shingler
Ship Ceiler
Ship Fitter
Shipwright Apprentice
Sider
Siding Applicator
Sign Carpenter
Sparmaker
Stage Rigger
Stair Builder
Storm Window Installer
Stull Installer
Tank Builder and Erector
Tank Carpenter
Tank Erector
Tank Erector, Wood
Trim Carpenter
Trimmer
Trimmer, Prefabricated Houses
Weather Strip Installer
Weather Stripper
Window Assembler
Window Installer
Window Repairer
Window Sash Installer
Wood Car Builder
Wood Floor Layer
Wood Tank Builder
Wood Tank Erector
Wooden Tank Erector
Woodworker

Training
  • These occupations usually involve using communication and organizational skills to coordinate, supervise, manage, or train others to accomplish goals. Examples include funeral directors, electricians, forest and conservation technicians, legal secretaries, interviewers, and insurance sales agents.
  • Most occupations in this zone require training in vocational schools, related on-the-job experience, or an associate's degree. Some may require a bachelor's degree.
  • Previous work-related skill, knowledge, or experience is required for these occupations. For example, an electrician must have completed three or four years of apprenticeship or several years of vocational training, and often must have passed a licensing exam, in order to perform the job.
  • Employees in these occupations usually need one or two years of training involving both on-the-job experience and informal training with experienced workers.

Carpenters learn their trade through formal and informal training programs. Between 3 and 4 years of both on-the-job training and classroom instruction usually is needed to become a skilled carpenter. There are a number of ways to train, but a more formal training program often improves job opportunities.

Education and training. Learning to be a carpenter can start in high school. Classes in English, algebra, geometry, physics, mechanical drawing, blueprint reading, and general shop will prepare students for the further training they will need.

After high school, there are a number of different ways to obtain the necessary training. Some people get a job as a carpenter’s helper, assisting more experienced workers. At the same time, the helper might attend a trade or vocational school, or community college to receive further trade-related training and eventually become a carpenter.

Some employers offer employees formal apprenticeships. These programs combine on-the-job training with related classroom instruction. Apprentices usually must be at least 18 years old and meet local requirements. Apprenticeship programs usually last 3 to 4 years, but length varies with the apprentice’s skill.

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. In the classroom, apprentices learn 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.

The number of apprenticeship programs is limited, however, so only a small proportion of carpenters learn their trade through these programs. Most apprenticeships are offered by commercial and industrial building contractors with union membership.

Some people who are interested in carpentry careers choose to get their classroom training before seeking a job. There are a number of public and private vocational-technical schools and training academies affiliated with 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 the training.

Other qualifications. Carpenters need 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, military service or a good work history is viewed favorably by employers.

Certification and advancement. Carpenters who complete formal apprenticeship programs receive certification as journeypersons. Some carpenters earn other certifications in scaffold building, high torque bolting, or pump work. These certifications prove that carpenters are able to perform these tasks, which can lead to additional responsibilities.

Carpenters usually have more 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; 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. They 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 what it will cost.

Nature of Work

Carpenters are involved in many different kinds of construction, 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.

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 last step, carpenters do a final check of the accuracy of their work with levels, rules, plumb bobs, framing squares, and surveying equipment, 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.

Some carpenters do many different carpentry tasks, while others specialize in one or two. Carpenters who remodel homes and other structures, for example, need a broad range of carpentry skills. As part of a single job, for example, they might frame walls and partitions, put in doors and windows, build stairs, install cabinets and molding, and complete many other tasks. Because these carpenters are so well-trained, they often can switch from residential building to commercial construction or remodeling work, depending on which offers the best work opportunities.

Carpenters who work for large construction contractors or specialty contractors may perform only a few regular tasks, such as constructing wooden forms for pouring concrete, or erecting scaffolding. Some carpenters build tunnel bracing, or brattices, in underground passageways and mines to control the circulation of air through the passageways and to worksites. Others build concrete forms for tunnel, bridge, or sewer construction projects.

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. (For more information on workers who install machinery, see the discussion of millwrights as well as industrial machinery mechanics and maintenance workers elsewhere in the Handbook.)

Work environment. 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.

Most carpenters work a standard 40 hour week. Hours may be longer during busy periods.

Related Occupations

Sources: Career Guide to Industries (CGI), Occupational Information Network (O*Net), Occupation Outlook Handbook (OOH)
Earnings

In May 2006, median hourly earnings of wage and salary carpenters were $17.57. The middle 50 percent earned between $13.55 and $23.85. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $10.87, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $30.45. Median hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of carpenters were as follows:

Residential building construction $17.39
Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors 17.03
Nonresidential building construction 15.12
Building finishing contractors 13.76
Employment services 10.88

Earnings can be reduced on occasion, because carpenters lose work time in bad weather and during recessions when jobs are unavailable. Earnings may be increased by overtime during busy periods.

Some carpenters are members of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.

For the latest wage information:

The above wage data are from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey program, unless otherwise noted. For the latest National, State, and local earnings data, visit the following pages:

  • Carpenters
  • Job Outlook

    Average job growth, coupled with replacement needs, create a large number of openings each year. Job opportunities should be best for those with the most training and skills.

    Employment change. Employment of carpenters is expected to increase by 10 percent during the 2006-16 decade, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The need for carpenters should grow as construction activity increases in response to demand for new housing and office and retail space, and for modernizing and expanding schools and industrial plants. A strong home remodeling market also will create demand for carpenters. Moreover, construction of roads and bridges as well as restaurants, hotels, and other businesses will increase the demand for carpenters in the coming decade.

    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, as well as 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 productive. New and improved tools, equipment, techniques, and materials also have made carpenters more versatile, allowing them to perform more carpentry tasks.

    Job prospects. Job opportunities should be best for those with the most training and skills. Job growth and replacement needs for those who leave the occupation create a large number of openings each year. Many people with limited skills take jobs as carpenters but eventually leave the occupation because they dislike the work or cannot find steady employment.

    Carpenters with all-around 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.

    Employment of carpenters, like that of many other construction workers, is sensitive to the fluctuations of the economy. Workers in these trades may experience periods of unemployment when the overall level of construction falls. On the other hand, shortages of these workers may occur in some areas during peak periods of building activity.

    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 opportunities for jobs as carpenters and for apprenticeships for people seeking to become carpenters.

    Employment

    Carpenters are employed throughout the country in almost every community and make up the largest building trades occupation. They held about 1.5 million jobs in 2006.

    About 32 percent worked in construction of buildings and about 23 percent worked for specialty 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 32 percent of all carpenters were self-employed. 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.

    Knowledge
    • Mathematics — Knowledge of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, statistics, and their applications.
    • Engineering and Technology — Knowledge of the practical application of engineering science and technology. This includes applying principles, techniques, procedures, and equipment to the design and production of various goods and services.
    • Sales and Marketing — Knowledge of principles and methods for showing, promoting, and selling products or services. This includes marketing strategy and tactics, product demonstration, sales techniques, and sales control systems.
    • Medicine and Dentistry — Knowledge of the information and techniques needed to diagnose and treat human injuries, diseases, and deformities. This includes symptoms, treatment alternatives, drug properties and interactions, and preventive health-care measures.
    • Physics — Knowledge and prediction of physical principles, laws, their interrelationships, and applications to understanding fluid, material, and atmospheric dynamics, and mechanical, electrical, atomic and sub- atomic structures and processes.
    Skills
    • Equipment Maintenance — Performing routine maintenance on equipment and determining when and what kind of maintenance is needed.
    • Coordination — Adjusting actions in relation to others' actions.
    • Active Learning — Understanding the implications of new information for both current and future problem-solving and decision-making.
    • Writing — Communicating effectively in writing as appropriate for the needs of the audience.
    • Troubleshooting — Determining causes of operating errors and deciding what to do about it.
    Abilities
    • Near Vision — The ability to see details at close range (within a few feet of the observer).
    • Stamina — The ability to exert yourself physically over long periods of time without getting winded or out of breath.
    • Explosive Strength — The ability to use short bursts of muscle force to propel oneself (as in jumping or sprinting), or to throw an object.
    • Oral Comprehension — The ability to listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences.
    • Hearing Sensitivity — The ability to detect or tell the differences between sounds that vary in pitch and loudness.
    Tasks
    • Supplemental — Cover subfloors with building paper to keep out moisture and lay hardwood, parquet, and wood-strip-block floors by nailing floors to subfloor or cementing them to mastic or asphalt base.
    • Core — Erect scaffolding and ladders for assembling structures above ground level.
    • Supplemental — Fill cracks and other defects in plaster or plasterboard and sand patch, using patching plaster, trowel, and sanding tool.
    • Core — Remove damaged or defective parts or sections of structures and repair or replace, using hand tools.
    • Supplemental — Perform minor plumbing, welding or concrete mixing work.
    Activities
    • Monitoring and Controlling Resources — Monitoring and controlling resources and overseeing the spending of money.
    • Guiding, Directing, and Motivating Subordinates — Providing guidance and direction to subordinates, including setting performance standards and monitoring performance.
    • Assisting and Caring for Others — Providing personal assistance, medical attention, emotional support, or other personal care to others such as coworkers, customers, or patients.
    • Repairing and Maintaining Electronic Equipment — Servicing, repairing, calibrating, regulating, fine-tuning, or testing machines, devices, and equipment that operate primarily on the basis of electrical or electronic (not mechanical) principles.
    • Getting Information — Observing, receiving, and otherwise obtaining information from all relevant sources.
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