Carpenters are a vital part of modern life, although most people never see them in action. Carpenters plan and construct the wooden frames that keep houses and other low-rise buildings standing tall, as well as finishing many of the interior touches that we expect from a modern house.
Here's a short list of responsibilities common across a wide percentage of carpentry jobs:
- Reading blueprints and constructing wooden frames for houses and other structures
- Measuring and cutting wall studs, support beams, door frames and more
- Installing windows, molding, sub-flooring and certain interior and exterior fixtures
- Inspecting, repairing or replacing damaged beams and other framework elements
How to Become a Carpenter
As well as steady hands and technical know-how, carpenters need basic applied math skills and strong knowledge of work safety guidelines. Here's a short list of steps that you can take on your path to a carpentry career:
- Finish high school or earn an equivalency degree. Most employers require candidates for carpentry jobs to have a high school education. Taking courses in math, mechanical drawing and general vocational skills during your high school work can prepare you to excel in professional training programs.
- Enroll in a carpentry training program at the college level. Some employers will hire entry-level workers without any carpentry training, but a degree or certificate in carpentry can boost your chances of employment.
- Find an apprenticeship, internship or other on-the-job training. Some carpentry training programs include a pathway to learning from experienced carpenters on real job sites, and some employers offer hands-on training to new employees.
Individual carpentry schools set their own coursework requirements for students, but there is a list of subjects that many carpentry programs have in common:
- Math for Carpenters
- Principles of House Construction
- Wall, Window & Roof Framing
- Building Codes
- Hand Tools and Power Tools
- Interior and Exterior Finishing
- Mechanical Drafting
Carpentry Degree and Certificate Programs
When seeking training in carpentry, trade school and community college programs are likely to differ from those offered at four-year universities. Here's a list of the most common types of carpentry programs commonly available in four semesters or less:
- Undergraduate Certificate: Certificate programs are typically the fastest route to carpentry training. Some certificates may require six months or less of college work, while others take around one year to complete.
- Technical Diploma: Carpentry diploma programs usually last for anywhere from one to two years of full-time study and feature a comprehensive list of skills courses. Programs with longer times to graduation tend to provide more thorough training.
- Associate Degree: Carpentry programs at the associate level aim to provide the same in-depth training as diploma plans and include an array of general education courses to round out your education. Associate degree programs may also include training in construction management.
Four-year bachelor's degrees are also available for aspiring carpenters, but workforce-bound students may want to consider one of the shorter plans. Bachelor's degrees tend to focus on the management side of the profession and are rarely required to get a job in carpentry or construction.
Hands-On Training for Carpenters
All reputable programs for carpenters provide some form of hands-on training, whether it's during class time at a trade school or, for online students, through an affiliated local facility. Employers may also offer hands-on learning for new hires, especially if their work makes use of carpentry specializations not commonly taught in general carpentry training programs.
Apprenticeships are another form of hands-on training that may be available in your area. Several community and technical colleges around the country offer apprenticeship programs alongside their more traditional study plans, and some states work directly with employers to fund apprenticeships for high-demand careers.
Online Carpentry Programs
Carpentry is a hands-on profession, naturally, but some carpentry schools aim to make it easier for busy students to get trained by offering online carpentry programs. Education in subjects like applied math and mechanical drafting translates fairly well to the virtual classroom environment, while practical lessons can be completed at approved local facilities or job sites.
It's important to note that online carpentry programs are not the "easy A" alternative to traditional training at a brick-and-mortar carpentry school. Without regular meetings to provide a deadline structure, online students need to be extra motivated to ensure that they're keeping up with coursework.
Entry-level carpenters typically don't need any type of certification to be hired on, but certain credentials can help demonstrate your skills and commitment to potential employers. Certification training may be available through your college or trade school, and industry groups like the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) offer independent certification training for working professionals.
Groups focusing on sustainability in construction fields may also offer their own certifications in certain areas of the country. Check with your local green building council or other sustainability organization to see if there are any options near you.
Career Advancement for Carpenters
Many carpenters advance in their careers by gaining years of experience in their profession and taking on additional responsibilities as they become experts. Continued education can help with career advancement, as well -- an associate or bachelor's degree in construction management can help you train to supervise teams of carpenters or administrate the financial aspects of a project.
Program Costs and Financial Aid
Skills and Qualities for Carpenters
Surveys done by the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) show that a majority of professional carpenters tend to have a certain set of skills and abilities in common. Here's a short list of the qualities you can cultivate to improve your chances of success on the job market:
- Coordination. The ability to adjust your actions in relation to the actions of others can help you be a valuable member of any work crew.
- Active listening. Being able to quickly understand the instructions of the site manager can make your job easier.
- Manual dexterity. Quick and steady hands are necessary when working with a wide variety of tools and measuring and cutting with precision.
- Trunk strength. Lifting and carrying moderate loads is often a part of the job, so a strong back and abdominal core can be a big help.
Career Outlook and Salary for Carpenters
Knowing how much carpenters usually make can give some important context to your job search. Check out the figures below for the national average carpenter salary and a breakdown of job growth numbers as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
Projected Job Growth
Professional Resources for Carpenters
Membership in a professional association can help you connect with other workers and contractors in your field, as well as providing a range of other professional benefits. Here are a few organizations you can check out:
- The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (UBC) is one of the largest trade unions in the U.S. and has worked to represent the interests of carpenters for more than 135 years.
- Indiana Kentucky Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters (IKORCC) offers apprenticeship opportunities and pathways to a variety of trade careers for carpenters in its region.
- The Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters (SWRCC) advocates for the interests of carpenters in six western states and provides state-of-the-art training to members.