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.

How much does this job pay? 

In 2006, the middle half of all carpenters earned between $13.55 and $23.85 an hour. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $10.87 an hour. The highest-paid 10 percent earned over $30.45 an hour.

Sometimes carpenters may lose work time in bad weather and when the economy is not doing well. When this happens, their pay drops.
How many jobs are there? 

Carpenters held about 1.5 million jobs in 2006. Most of them worked for contractors who build or repair buildings. Most others worked for manufacturing firms, government agencies, retail stores, and schools. About one-third of all carpenters were self-employed.

Carpenters get jobs in most parts of the country, but there are more jobs in big cities where many things are always being built.

What about the future?

Finding a job as a carpenter should be easy. From 2006 to 2016, thousands of jobs will become available each year because the occupation is so large, meaning that many people are always entering and leaving the occupation. However, there is still the chance of losing a job. This happens because many construction jobs do not last a long time and bad weather may halt other jobs. The availability of carpenter jobs also depends on the part of the country where a person lives. Construction jobs go where people and businesses move and where the local business is good. Therefore, the number of jobs in any year will be different from area to area.

Employment of carpenters is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2016. Construction jobs will increase as people want new houses and firms want to make old buildings new again. However, carpenters are using more materials that allow them to work faster. This reduces the number of carpenters that need to be hired.

Building things depends on the economy. When the economy is not doing well, there are a smaller number of jobs for carpenters.

New and improved tools make the job of a carpenter more flexible. Therefore, carpenters with the latest equipment and all-around skills tend to work on the better projects.

Are there other jobs like this?   

  • Brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons
  • Cement masons, concrete finishers, segmental pavers, and terrazzo workers
  • Pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters
  • Plasterers and stucco masons

Where can you find more information?  

More BLS information about carpenters can be found in the Occupational Outlook Handbook. The Handbook also shows where to find out even more about this job.