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How To Become A Carpenter

Carpenters will usually require a high-school diploma, vocational training, or an apprenticeship to learn the craft. They will also be required to take an OSHA safety course and pass the test.

Carpentry is one of the world’s oldest professions. If you like using your hands and tools to create products made from wood, a career in carpentry might be just for you. 

This article will cover everything you need to know about how to become a carpenter, from job responsibilities to educational requirements.

What Does A Carpenter Do?

Carpenters use wood to build just about anything you can imagine. They may sometimes build with other materials as well, but wood is the primary element used.

Carpentry work might include building smaller items like boxes or home accents. But you may also build larger structures like furniture, or even homes. If building construction sounds interesting, check out our guide on homebuilding as a career path.

woman working as carpenter

Below are some of the more common types of carpentry work:

  • Rough carpentry, encompasses building structural frames upon which all structures stand. Also known as “formwork,” it involves constructing beams, columns, planks, and shutters out of a combination of plywood, steel, plastic, and concrete. Rough carpenters are also proficient at installing and maintaining roofs.
  • Joist work, means everything that has to do with floors or any structural layer that will horizontally span a building’s area. Joisters need to be adept at handling composite materials like metal and timber to create holes, braces, notches, and beams to support the weight of the people who will be dwelling inside a finished structure.
  • Trim carpentry deals with wall ornaments like skirting boards, moldings, mantels, and trims. Trim carpenters are often responsible for the more aesthetic touches when building a home or business.
  • Cabinet carpentry entails the creation of cabinets, wardrobes, dressers, desks, bed frames, benches, and other furniture. Cabinet makers exist so that the inhabitants of a home or an office building will always have an orderly place to eat, sleep, and store away their belongings.
  • Ship carpentry is a part of shipbuilding. Ship carpenters can take on many sub-specializations such as yacht-building, towboat maintenance, and many more.
  • Roof carpentry, is a subtype of rough carpentry with an emphasis on roofs. Roof carpenters construct trusses, beams, and rafters.

Becoming a luthier is an option for carpenters as well. The skills transfer easily, so if you have a passion for music, this can be a great full-time or part-time gig to continue using your carpentry skills.

How To Become A Carpenter

In many small towns across America, carpenters are born into their jobs. Their parents might be working construction and learned the craft by observation.

Some sign up for summer jobs or work part time to learn carpentry skills.

In other areas, carpentry is a commercialized and competitive trade. Not everyone can replace windows on a 90-story condominium or install a roof on a thousand-acre Walmart. As structures become more efficient and complicated, more training is needed to install, maintain, and repair them.

Carpentry Education Requirements

Carpenters should have a high school diploma or GED. No other official education is required, but training in carpentry is recommended with an accredited trade school carpentry program.

There are typically two paths to get into the field:

  • Enroll in a carpentry school or community college. This may take another 1-2 years and a few thousand dollars, but will make you more employable. A trade school can also offer opportunities for apprenticeships and job placement.
  • Carpentry apprenticeship. Some employers will consider on-the-job training, or an apprenticeship, for go-getters with skills. This will require reaching out to employers and submitting applications. An apprenticeship may last 1-4 years and when completed you should have all the skills you need to go out into the workforce. You will also be able to take additional optional programs and obtain various certifications.

Whether you attend school or become an apprentice, the below are some of the things you will learn.

  • Reading blueprints
  • Advanced geometry
  • Algebra
  • Selection and maintenance of carpenter hardware and materials
  • Reading architectural drawings and using drafting software
  • Measuring construction materials
  • Identifying the right and wrong construction materials for a job
  • Estimating project costs and ordering materials
  • Building doors and windows from scratch
  • Woodworking
  • Operating mechanical systems on a construction site

Carpenter Training Costs

Depending on the specialization you choose, the cost of finishing carpentry school can vary from $1,000 to $7,000 if you’re a do-it-yourselfer and choose to take just enough coursework to get the skills and tools you need to get started.

An associate degree from a trade school will take two and a half years to finish and will cost $5,000 to $18,000. In the associate degree program, you’ll learn about project management, supervision, scheduling, and cost estimation.

An apprenticeship won’t cost you anything beyond an application fee if you find a trade group or a union that can take you on. Vocational schools also offer apprenticeship programs. All apprenticeship programs eventually lead to the title of a journeyman, which will free you up to pick the jobs and employers you like.

Apprenticeship programs are like paid internships. However, you still have to pay for your room and board, training materials, tools, and uniforms. These miscellaneous fees can add up to more than $5,000 if you include registration and license fees.

If you choose to pursue Lead Carpenter certification from the National Association of Remodeling Industry (NARI), the initial certification will set you back $400 if you’re a NARI member and $600 if you’re not. 

Your certification will need to be renewed every year at $49 (members) or $98 (non-members). Renewals also require five continued-education credits to show you’re staying current on industry advancements. The cost of acquiring those credits varies on how you acquire them. There are many online options and seminars, most cost between $50-500. 

There is also an online test prep course available. It costs $195 for members and $295 for non-members. The cost to become a NARI member, which comes with a long list of benefits, ranges depending on the chapter nearest to your location. Often the fee for the first year is between $500-600, and it drops slightly after that.

Carpenter Certifications

Carpenters do not require any special licenses to gain employment. They do need to pass a safety course administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Some local or state governments may also require certain types of licenses depending on the scope of the work. These regulations vary widely so make sure you know the legal requirements in your state.

There are many additional certifications you can get if you want to improve your employment opportunities.

For examples, you can obtain certificates like Lead Carpenter certification from the National Association of Remodeling Industry (NARI) to solidify your position in your niche. To earn a Lead Carpenter certificate, you’ll need to put in five years as a remodeler and two as a lead carpenter and pass a 180-question exam.

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Recommended Skills

Being interested in building things is a good start if you want to become a carpenter, but there are many skills and qualities that make the job easier as well.

Manual Dexterity

Carpenters are constantly working with their hands or hand tools, so as you can imagine, good manual dexterity is a must—unless you want to be nursing a lot of smashed fingers.

Mechanically and Technologically Inclined

Speaking of tools, you also need to be able to use basic handle tools, understand blueprints, and understand how things go together. Certain technology, such as computer-aided design (CAD) software, is also common in the industry.

Physical Stamina

Construction, in general, requires a lot of standing, lifting, walking, and holding materials. You need to be in ample physical condition to do all the above. You don’t necessarily need to be a bodybuilder but being capable of repeatedly lifting 50+ pounds is ideal.

Critical Thinking and Math

While many carpenters build things from scratch, that still often requires the ability to adjust plans on the fly and overcome unexpected challenges—even more so if you opt to do repair or restoration projects. Math skills certainly help when making measurements, calculating angles, and creating supply lists or pricing estimates. A focus on geometry and algebra is recommended.

Carpenter Pros & Cons

Carpentry is a very diverse, challenging, and fun profession, but it has its downsides like any career. Before you make the decision to begin your journey to become a carpenter, it’s best to explore the pros and cons.

PROS

  • Engaging and exciting: You’ll have opportunities in many different environment—even Hollywood movie sets
  • Monotony is not an issue: Every day will bring a new challenge
  • Not a desk job: Carpentry jobs can often be outdoors, and there are even travel opportunities 
  • No shortage of jobs: Job opportunities are plentiful—the world will never run out of broken things that need repair
  • Opens other career paths: You can venture into furniture making, solar panel installation, and wind farm construction if you’re tired of basic carpentry
  • It’s fulfilling: Many people find creating and building things fulfilling and enjoy the self-expression it allows
  • Doesn’t require a college degree: While you can get a degree, you don’t necessarily need a college degree to be a carpenter—the educational requirements are relatively easy to meet

CONS

  • High risk: Carpentry involves lots of potentially dangerous tools, chemicals, and conditions
  • Physically demanding: Be prepared to work long hours, even on weekends.
  • Can be seasonal: In some locations, carpentry can be very seasonal.
  • It’s a competitive industry: Also, depending on your location, your local market may have an excess of carpenters already due to the low educational demands
  • Low starting wage: In the early years, many carpenters start off as a laborer and earn much less than their more experienced coutnerparts.

Carpenter Salaries

An experienced carpenter can make a good living wage. Your location, skills, and experience will play a very large part in your earnings.

The average median salary for a carpenter is $48,260.

Many can make much more than this with the highest earners averaging $80,940.

carpenter using a lathe

Carpenter Job Outlook

The career outlook for carpenters is always healthy, and unlike other blue-collar jobs that rise and fall with the economy, carpenters are pretty insulated from downturns and market crashes. 

There is an expected 2% growth through through 2031.

The only challenge that may be on the horizon for carpenters is the rising demand for pre-made components and modular homes, which can put a small dent in their career outlook. 

With the integration of the internet in the lives of millennials and Gen Z-ers, more and more people are also learning DIY home construction and repair. However, at the end of the day, most people will need a professional carpenter if they want a job done right.

Skills learned in the carpentry field lend well to a wide range of other career paths, and since there are no costly degree requirements, making the switch is a bit less painful than with something like dentistry.

Below are a few additional careers that can benefit from your carpentry skills.

  • Brick or block mason
  • Fence installer
  • Plumber or HVAC tech
  • Painter
  • Carpet or flooring installer
  • Welder
  • Logger
  • Construction supply or equipment salesperson
  • Firefighter
  • Architect
  • Insulation tech
  • Construction inspector
  • Heavy equipment operator 
  • Solar or wind power tech