Carpentry Careers 101

Carpentry is one of the most common skills taught at a trade school.

Carpentry is a popular job choice because it is always in high demand. New buildings are constantly being constructed, which requires the services of a carpenter. Even carpenters in smaller areas with little construction still have plenty of work making changes and repairs to existing buildings. Carpenters have multiple job responsibilities, some of which change depending on their specialization.

All carpenters must possess a few general skills, though. Carpenters must be able to accurately measure and cut various building materials. They must understand how the framework and all the components of a building function as well. Without this knowledge, carpenters risk damaging an existing structure when they are making a repair.

Another important trait for a carpenter is understanding blueprints. Whether they are working on a new building or making repairs to an existing one, carpenters study blueprints to learn about a building and to decide where to make changes.

Not all carpenters work on large projects like creating new buildings. Some carpenters work on smaller projects, such as creating home furniture. Carpentry provides a great deal of freedom. It is an excellent career choice for workers who enjoy working with their hands or are looking for a job outside of a traditional office setting.

The Benefits of Being a Carpenter

Another one of the reasons so many students attend trade school to become a carpenter is the number of benefits. Working as a carpenter is a practical profession because it teaches you real world skills. Anytime you need to make repairs in your house, you can either do them on your own, or you at least have a better idea of how much it is going to cost to make the desired changes.

Another benefit of being a carpenter is the pay. Even entry level carpenters make good wages. All carpenters begin as an apprentice after graduating from trade school, but apprentices are paid employee wages. Most apprenticeships pay at least $13 an hour, as of writing. In 2015, the average salary for a carpenter was around $42,000 annually. This only accounts for traditional carpenters and does not consider specialized carpenters, who typically make more money depending on their area of expertise.

Once you are done with your apprenticeship, you choose your own career path. Many apprentices go on to work with the company where they trained and earn more benefits and a higher salary once they are a full-fledged carpenter. Others develop new skills and pick a specialization.

How long you remain an apprentice changes depending on your state as well as your general comfort level. It is not uncommon for apprentices to stay in their position even after meeting the necessary hours because they want to learn more before moving into an advanced career.

After working as a carpenter for several years, many carpenters make the decision to open their own business. Compared to other professions, it is easier to work as a self-employed carpenter. Working as a self-employed carpenter does involve additional skills, such as customer service and accounting.

Being self-employed does not mean working alone, and many carpenters end up working with other professionals to help with the business side of the operation. Other carpenters work alone, choosing to focus on smaller projects that do not require a team of workers. These carpenters typically sell furniture, customize wooden instruments or create wooden toys.

Different Career Paths for a Carpenter

During your apprenticeship, it is recommended you train under several different carpenters. If possible, train with carpenters who specialize in different areas as this helps provide you with a better feel for the different types of carpentry jobs available. Some of the specialized carpentry paths to consider include:

  • Residential or farming carpentry. These carpenters primarily build homes, condos and apartment buildings. Residential or farming carpenters work as a team with each member typically focusing on one part of the house, such as framework or roofing.
  • Commercial carpenters do most of the work of residential carpenters, except they work with businesses, schools, hospitals and other commercial buildings. These buildings are typically more complex because of their size and often involve a larger team. Carpenters use more extensive materials for these buildings. Some carpenters specialize in a specific material and not a location, such as building with steel or concrete.
  • Industrial carpenters work on large infrastructure projects. These carpenters often make the most money because of the scope of the project. These projects often take months to complete, sometimes lasting as long as a year. Many infrastructure projects are supplied by the state, such as creating or repairing bridges.
  • Furniture carpenters often work alone on individual projects, although some work in small teams if they are building more complex pieces. Although the projects are smaller, furniture carpenters must know how to operate multiple pieces of machinery to complete their projects. Some carpenters do not create new furniture, but instead focus on restoring damaged furniture.
  • Woodworking machine operators typically do not work with buildings directly, but instead use automated machinery to make the equipment and materials used by other carpenters.

Becoming a Carpenter

No matter what type of carpenter you want to be, you must meet several basic requirements. All carpenters must have a high school diploma or the equivalent certification.

Students who are still in school and plan to become carpenters can focus on woodworking, physics, algebra, geometry and drafting classes to hone their skills before entering a carpentry trade school. Students can work as a carpenter helper. This is essentially an intern position for carpenters, which is typically not paid.

Apprenticeship versus Education

You must become a carpenter apprentice before advancing in your career, though not all carpenters are required to go to a trade skill. If you want to start working right away and are confident in your abilities, skip the classes and enter an apprentice program.

Keep in mind, carpenters want apprentices who already know the basics and want to hone their skills. If you do not have basic carpentry skills, you may be unable to find an apprenticeship.

Advancing as a Carpenter

Once you are done with your apprenticeship, choose a specialization. Depending on your specialization and the state you work in, you may be required to get additional licensing or certification for your chosen career. This comes with additional requirements, like taking classes or passing written and practical exams.