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Career Information: Carpenters

— U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Updated on Mar 13, 2010

What is this job like?     

Carpenters build many things from wood and other materials, like buildings and boats. They construct, erect, install, and repair structures and other fixtures. To do this, they cut, fit, and join the various materials together. Carpenters who work for a special trade contractor do only one or two things, like forming molds for concrete or building a frame. A carpenter may also work for a general building contractor. This carpenter performs many tasks, including putting in doors and windows, hanging kitchen cabinets, and installing tile ceilings.

Sometimes carpenters have to follow local government rules that tell them where they can use certain materials. Most carpenters follow the same basic steps when getting ready for a job. They must lay out or design the project. Design includes measuring, marking, and arranging materials. The carpenter then cuts and shapes the material. Carpenters use different hand and power tools, such as chisels, saws, and drills. Finally, the carpenter joins the items together with nails, staples, or glue. They use rulers or framing squares to increase the accuracy of their work.

When working with ready-made parts, such as stairs or parts of walls, the carpenter's job is easier. A carpenter may install these parts all at one time. Carpenters may also replace glass, ceiling tiles, and doors. Some carpenters repair desks and cabinets, put in doors and windows, change locks, and repair broken furniture. In a factory, carpenters may help move or install machinery.

Carpentry work is sometimes stressful. It often involves standing for a long time, climbing, bending, and kneeling. Carpenters risk getting hurt from slipping or falling, or from working with sharp or rough tools.

Some carpenters change employers each time they finish a project. Others switch back and forth between working for someone else and being self-employed on small jobs.

How do you get ready?    

Carpenters can learn their work by training on the job, but most carpenters learn their skills in school or through formal training programs. High school courses in carpentry, shop, drawing, and math will help on the job. To become a skilled carpenter usually takes 3-4 years of both classroom and on-the-job training. There are many special schools that have programs and offer courses that teach you how to be a carpenter. Some carpenters working for big companies may join a program called an apprenticeship. This program combines on-the-job training and classroom work. Applicants for this program usually must be at least 18 years old and pass an exam to see if they have the skills to become a carpenter. The length of the program is also usually 3 to 4 years, but varies with the apprentice's skill.

Carpenters need to be good with their hands and have good eye-hand coordination. They should also be strong, physically fit, and have a good sense of balance.

New carpenters learn many things. These include basic design, common job skills, use of tools and machines, safety, and first aid. They practice drawing and apply math too. Carpenters need to be able to solve basic math problems quickly.

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