How To Become a Carpenter in 4 Steps

Updated March 10, 2023

Carpenters are involved with many aspects of the construction process. They are highly skilled workers who build, install, erect and repair a variety of structures made out of wood and other materials. If you are interested in becoming a carpenter, read on to help you determine if it is the right career path for you. In this article, we discuss what a carpenter does, how to become one, average salary, carpenter schooling and we answer frequently asked questions.

What does a carpenter do?

Carpenters may work from blueprints, or simply their supervisor's instructions, to be in accordance with building codes in the local area. Some of a carpenter's main responsibilities are:

  • Measuring, cutting or shaping wood, drywall, plastic, fiberglass and other materials

  • Checking accuracy using rulers, framing squares, levels and other items

  • Installing fixtures and structures such as doors, cabinets or windows

  • Interpreting and reading blueprints

  • Constructing and repairing structures and frameworks such as floors, doors, walls, furniture, cabinets, shelves, windows, stairways and roofs

  • Determining necessary project materials and estimating the cost of projects

  • Operating a variety of hand tools including power saws, drills and chisels

  • Assisting supervisors with planning, structural design and layout

Related: How To Become a Master Carpenter

How to become a carpenter

There are a few requirements you must meet if you are interested in becoming a carpenter. Here are the most common steps you may take to become a carpenter:

1. Obtain a high school diploma

Entry into an apprenticeship program typically requires some form of basic education. Most prospective carpenters choose to get a high school diploma or a GED. High school students can begin developing skills and tools of the trade by taking classes in carpentry, drafting and mathematics. These high school courses will help prepare students for some of the techniques and terminology used in apprenticeships and more advanced carpenter schooling.

Some apprenticeship programs allow students to start working alongside experienced carpenters before graduation as long as they continue working toward their diploma.

2. Complete an apprenticeship

Apprenticeships are often offered through commercial and industrial employers or construction unions. These programs last about three to four years under the supervision of experienced carpenters and other construction workers.

The beginning of your apprenticeship will give you basic knowledge about topics such as safety, freehand sketching, mathematics, first aid, blueprint reading and a variety of carpentry techniques. Apprentices will then learn hands-on carpentry techniques outside of the classroom setting. They will learn about rough framing, form building, layout and interior and exterior finishing.

After you complete your formal apprenticeship program, you will receive a certification as a journeyman. You may then choose to advance your carpentry skills by obtaining certification, enrolling in trade school or pursuing other vocational or carpenter schooling.

Related: Carpenter vs. Joiner: What's the Difference?

3. Consider additional carpenter schooling

Aspiring carpenters are not required to attend formal carpentry programs offered through colleges or technical schools. However, you may consider attending these programs to enhance your skills and distinguish yourself from other carpentry applicants. Some apprenticeships may even offer course credit that contributes to an associate's degree.

If you choose to enroll in further learning, you will likely learn about carpentry math, roofing, stair construction, building layouts, foundation work, siding and moldings. Obtaining an associate's degree or certificate in carpentry may increase your earning potential because you will likely start at a higher position in the field.

4. Develop marketable skills

You may also choose to specialize in renovation, infrastructure, cabinets or roofs. This will give you a niche that you can use to market yourself effectively in the workplace. The other option you may consider is learning an additional language that is common in your geographical area. This will likely increase your chances of procuring an interview because some employers may prefer carpenters that are bilingual.

Related: How To Develop Your Skill Set To Advance Your Career

Frequently asked questions

You may have some additional questions about the role of a carpenter or how you can become one. Here are answers to several frequently asked questions:

What is the average salary?

Carpenters typically work full time and their average salary will vary based on their level of expertise and geographical location.

Average base salary in the U.S.: $21.23 per hour

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay in 2020 for a carpenter was $49,520. In May 2020, the median annual wages for carpenters in the top industries in which they worked were:

  • Nonresidential building construction: $54,220

  • Building finishing contractors: $50,030

  • Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors: $48,430

  • Residential building construction: $47,710

What skills are required for carpentry?

  • Manual dexterity: A carpenter uses a variety of tools and must use them with precision and accuracy.

  • Mathematical skills: Carpenters use basic math each day to ensure that there are enough building materials and that they are the appropriate size.

  • Physical stamina: Carpenters may be required to work long hours handling heavy tools and building materials.

  • Physical strength: Building materials are often heavy and must be carried or repositioned.

  • Business skills: Many carpenters are self-employed and will need to possess an aptitude for customer service and marketing.

  • Problem-solving skills: Construction and building projects do not always go according to plan. A carpenter must be able to prevent potential problems and fix them as they arise.

What is a carpenter's typical schedule?

Most carpenters work full time, and even accrue overtime, because of strict deadlines they may be required to meet. Carpenter's schedules may also require evenings and weekends and are likely to change depending on the project and scope of work.

What advancement opportunities are open to carpenters?

Carpenters are exposed to most of the construction process, so they may have more advancement opportunities. These advancement opportunities include becoming independent contractors or general construction supervisors. Carpenters who are interested in advancing their careers should seek additional training provided by unions, associations or employers.

Related: Becoming an Independent Contractor: Pros and Cons

What is the work environment like for a carpenter?

Carpenters can work inside or outside, in all weather and temperatures, and they are typically employed in one of these industries:

  • Residential building construction

  • Nonresidential building construction

  • Building finishing contractors

  • Foundation, building and structure exterior contractors

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