Carpenters work in the construction field building and repairing houses, schools, office buildings, roads and other types of infrastructures. Because there are many types of construction, most carpenters have one or two specialties, although general contractors must be knowledgeable in nearly all aspects of construction.
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Carpenter Job Responsibilities
Not all carpenters are assigned the same tasks. A carpenter’s responsibilites vary depending on the size of the job and the carpenter’s experience level. Carpenters use blueprints or instructions from their foreman to do the layout, which involves measuring and marking lumber and other materials. They cut and shape wood, plastic, drywall or fiberglass using tools such as saws, sanders, drills and chisels. The building is constructed by joining the materials with fasteners such as nails, screws, adhesives or staples. Fasteners are often considered the most important part of construction, since they hold the building together. Carpenters check their work by using levels, rules, framing squares and surveying equipment to make sure the building is level and done accurately.
Many carpenters focus on a particular skill, such as framing, building and installing cabinets, stair building or trim work. However, carpenters who work on remodels or new construction need a wide range of carpentry skills and knowledge. Highly-trained carpenters are able to switch from one type of building to another and work on a variety of jobs.
Although most carpenters work primarily with wood, specialty carpenters may work with other materials. Some carpenters build bridges or other metal structures. Others work with concrete to create tunnels, bridges or residential projects such as streets and driveways.
Carpentry work can often be strenuous, due to having to haul heavy materials and doing repetitive motions such as hammering and cutting wood. The ability to stand for extended periods of time, bend, kneel and climb are necessary. Carpenters work with dangerous equipment, such as power tools. They also stand on ladders and roofs, where they are at risk of falling. Because of this, carpenters face high risk of injury. Weather plays a huge factor in a carpenter’s work environment, since they typically work outdoors and may not be able to work in extreme weather conditions, such as rain, snow or heat.
Carpenter Training and Education Requirements
Carpenter training and education can begin as early as high school. Coursework in algebra, geometry, mechanical drawing, blueprint reading and general shop can prepare students for work as a carpenter. After graduation from high school, there are several options for carpenters to further their education and training. They can learn about the construction industry through on-the-job training as a laborer or assistant. They can also seek higher education at community colleges or vocational schools. Unless a person has already gained a significant amount of experience on the job, many employers prefer to hire those with college education and will often start them out at a higher level and possibly higher pay.
Some building contractors and construction unions offer apprenticeships. An apprenticeship combines on-the-job training with classroom instruction. Apprenticeships may last three or four years. On the job, apprentices learn basic design and gain knowledge about common carpentry jobs, such as layout, rough framing, form building and finishing. They also learn to use the tools, equipment, machines, and materials commonly used in the trade. In a classroom setting, apprentices learn first aid, safety, blueprint reading, math and various carpentry techniques.
Carpenters need to have hands-on skills, good eye-hand coordination and good balance. They must also have physical fitness, good math skills and the ability to learn new tools and processes quickly.
Carpenter Salary and Wages
Earnings can vary, depending on location and type of construction. Most carpenters work by the hour, since jobs are temporary. The average wage is $18.72 per hour, and can range from $14.42 to $25.37. The highest earners make more than $33.34 per hour. Those in non-residential building construction earn the most. Earnings can often be reduced due to inclement weather and recessions.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Job outlook for the construction industry is average. Population growth will increase the need for houses and new and improved highways and roads. Job outlook is the best for those with the most training and skills.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Upon completion of an apprenticeship program, carpenters receive certification as journeypersons. Other certiifcations include scaffold building, building terminology, cabinet making and furniture design. Many of these certifications require classroom instruction; however, with some certiifcations, carpenters can skip the classroom portion and take the test online. Although certifications are typically not required to obtain a job as a carpenter, they are highly valuable to employers and prove that carpenters are able to perform these tasks. A certification can lead to better opportunities and higher pay.
Carpenter Professional Associations
About 19 percent of carpenters are members of a union. Union membership offers carpenters higher wages, health benefits, vacation pay and training and education opportunities. The largest building trades union in the United States is the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America. It focuses on recruiting and training new members who are committed to safety and productivity.