Summary

Carpenters
Carpenters use a wide variety of hand and power tools.
Quick Facts: Carpenters
2012 Median Pay $39,940 per year
$19.20 per hour
Entry-Level Education High school diploma or equivalent
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Apprenticeship
Number of Jobs, 2012 901,200
Job Outlook, 2012-22 24% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 218,200

What Carpenters Do

Carpenters construct and repair building frameworks and structures—such as stairways, doorframes, partitions, and rafters—made from wood and other materials. They also may install kitchen cabinets, siding, and drywall.

Work Environment

Because carpenters are involved in many types of construction, from building highways and bridges to installing kitchen cabinets, they work both indoors and outdoors. The work is sometimes strenuous, and carpenters have a higher rate of injuries and illnesses than the national average.

How to Become a Carpenter

Although most carpenters learn their trade through an apprenticeship, some learn on the job, starting as a helper.

Pay

The median annual wage for carpenters was $39,940 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of carpenters is projected to grow 24 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. Increased levels of new home building and remodeling activity will require more carpenters.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of carpenters with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about carpenters by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Carpenters Do About this section

Carpenters
Carpenters work with many different types of tools.

Carpenters construct and repair building frameworks and structures—such as stairways, doorframes, partitions, and rafters—made from wood and other materials. They also may install kitchen cabinets, siding, and drywall.

Duties

Carpenters typically do the following:

  • Follow blueprints and building plans to meet the needs of clients
  • Install structures and fixtures, such as windows and molding
  • Measure, cut, or shape wood, plastic, and other materials
  • Construct building frameworks, including walls, floors, and doorframes
  • Help erect, level, and install building framework with the aid of rigging hardware and cranes
  • Inspect and replace damaged framework or other structures and fixtures
  • Instruct and direct laborers and other construction helpers

Carpenters are one of the most versatile construction occupations, with workers usually doing many different tasks. For example, some carpenters insulate office buildings; others install drywall or kitchen cabinets in homes. Those who help construct tall buildings or bridges often install the wooden concrete forms for cement footings or pillars. Some carpenters erect shoring and scaffolding for buildings.

Carpenters use many different hand and power tools to cut and shape wood, plastic, fiberglass, or drywall. They commonly use hand tools, including squares, levels, and chisels, as well as many power tools, such as sanders, circular saws, nail guns, and welding machines. Carpenters fasten materials together with nails, screws, staples, and adhesives, and do a final check of their work to ensure accuracy. They use a tape measure on nearly every project because proper measuring increases productivity, reduces waste, and ensures that the pieces being cut are the proper size.

The following are examples of types of carpenters:

Residential carpenters typically specialize in new-home, townhome, and condominium building and remodeling. As part of a single job, they might build and set forms for footings, walls, and slabs, and frame and finish exterior walls, roofs, and decks. They also frame interior walls, build stairs, and install drywall, crown molding, doors, and cabinets. In addition, residential carpenters may tile floors and lay wood floors and carpet. Fully trained construction carpenters can easily switch from new-home building to remodeling.

Commercial carpenters typically remodel and help build commercial office buildings, hospitals, hotels, schools, and shopping malls. Some specialize in working with light-gauge and load-bearing steel framing for interior partitions, exterior framing, and curtain wall construction. Others specialize in working with concrete forming systems and finishing interior and exterior walls, partitions, and ceilings. Most commercial carpenters perform many of the same tasks as residential carpenters.

Industrial carpenters typically work in civil and industrial settings, where they build scaffolding and create and set forms for pouring concrete. Some industrial carpenters build tunnel bracing or partitions in underground passageways and mines to control the circulation of air to worksites. Others build concrete forms for tunnels, bridges, dams, power plants, or sewer construction projects.

Work Environment About this section

Carpenters
Self-employed carpenters often work in residential construction.

Carpenters held about 901,200 jobs in 2012. About 36 percent of carpenters were self-employed. Most carpenters work in the construction industry, where they account for the largest share of the building trades occupations. The industries that employed the most carpenters in 2012 were as follows:

Residential building construction19%
Nonresidential building construction12
Building finishing contractors10
Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors7

Because carpenters are involved in many types of construction, from building highways and bridges to installing kitchen cabinets, they work both indoors and outdoors.

Carpenters may work in cramped spaces, and frequent lifting, standing, and kneeling can be tiring. Those who work outdoors are subject to variable weather conditions.

Injuries and Illnesses

Carpenters have a higher rate of injuries and illnesses than the national average. The most common injuries include muscle strains from lifting heavy materials, falls from ladders, and cuts from sharp objects and tools.

Work Schedules

Nearly all carpenters work full time, which may include working evenings and weekends. Overtime is common in order to meet deadlines.

About 36 percent of carpenters were self-employed in 2012. Self-employed workers often work in residential construction and may be able to set their own schedule.

How to Become a Carpenter About this section

Carpenters
Apprentice carpenters learn by working with more experienced coworkers.

Although most carpenters learn their trade through an apprenticeship, some learn on the job, starting as a helper.

Education

A high school diploma or equivalent is required. High school courses in English, mathematics, mechanical drawing, and shop are considered useful.

Training

Most carpenters learn their trade through a 3- or 4-year apprenticeship. For each year of the program, apprentices must complete at least 144 hours of technical training and 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training. In the technical training, apprentices learn carpentry basics, blueprint reading, mathematics, building code requirements, and safety and first-aid practices. They also may receive specialized training in concrete, rigging, welding, scaffold building, fall protection, confined workspaces, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 10- and 30-hour safety courses. 

After finishing an apprenticeship, carpenters are considered to be journey workers and may perform tasks on their own.

Several groups, including unions and contractor associations, sponsor apprenticeship programs. The basic qualifications for a person to enter an apprenticeship program are as follows:

  • Minimum age of 18
  • High school education or equivalent
  • Physically able to do the work
  • U.S. citizen or proof of legal residency  
  • Pass substance abuse screening

Some contractors have their own carpenter training program. Although many workers enter apprenticeships directly, some carpenters start out as helpers.

Some apprenticeships offer special programs for veterans.

A number of 2-year technical schools offer carpentry degrees that are affiliated with unions or contractor organizations. Credits earned as part of an apprenticeship program usually count toward an associate’s degree.

Advancement

Because they are exposed to the entire construction process, carpenters usually have more opportunities than other construction workers to become independent contractors or general construction supervisors.

Carpenters seeking advancement often take additional training provided by associations, unions, or employers. Also, it is increasingly important to be able to communicate in both English and Spanish to relay instructions to workers.

Important Qualities

Business skills. Self-employed carpenters must be able to bid new jobs, track inventory, and plan work assignments. 

Detail oriented. Carpenters perform many tasks that are important in the overall building process. Making precise measurements, for example, may reduce gaps between windows and frames, limiting any leaks around the window.

Manual dexterity. Carpenters use many tools and need hand-eye coordination to avoid injury. Striking the head of a nail, for example, is crucial to not damaging wood.

Math skills. Because carpenters use basic math skills every day, they need to be able to calculate volume and measure materials to be cut.

Physical stamina. Carpenters need physical endurance. They often lift heavy tools and materials while standing, climbing, or bending for long periods.

Physical strength. Many of the tools and materials that carpenters use are heavy. For example, plywood sheets can weigh 50 to 100 pounds.

Problem-solving skills. Because all construction jobs vary, carpenters must adjust project plans accordingly. For example, they may have to use wedges to level cabinets in homes that have settled and are sloping slightly.

Pay About this section

Carpenters

Median annual wages, May 2012

Carpenters

$39,940

Construction trades workers

$38,970

Total, all occupations

$34,750

 

The median annual wage for carpenters was $39,940 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $24,880, and the top 10 percent earned more than $72,580.

The starting pay for apprentices usually is between 30 percent and 50 percent of what fully trained carpenters make. As apprentices learn to do more, they receive pay increases.

Nearly all carpenters work full time, which may include working evenings and weekends. Overtime is common in order to meet deadlines.

About 36 percent of carpenters were self-employed in 2012. Self-employed workers often work in residential construction and may be able to set their own schedule.

Job Outlook About this section

Carpenters

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Carpenters

24%

Construction trades workers

22%

Total, all occupations

11%

 

Employment of carpenters is projected to grow 24 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. Population growth should result in new-home construction—the largest segment employing carpenters—which will stimulate the need for many new workers. Home remodeling needs should also spur demand for carpenters. 

In addition, the need to repair and replace roads and bridges should increase employment of carpenters. Much of this growth, however, depends on spending by federal and state governments as they attempt to upgrade existing infrastructure.  

The construction of factories and power plants also may result in some new jobs.

However, will be the increasing use of modular and prefabricated components. Roof assemblies, walls, stairs, and complete bathrooms are just a few of the prefabricated components that can be manufactured in a separate facility and then assembled onsite by carpenters. Installing prefabricated components replaces the most labor-intensive and time-consuming onsite building activities.

Job Prospects

Overall job prospects for carpenters should improve over the coming decade as construction activity continues to rebound.

The number of job openings is expected to vary by geographic area. Because construction activity parallels the movement of people and businesses, areas of the country with the largest population increases will require the most carpenters.

Employment of carpenters, like that of many other construction workers, is sensitive to fluctuations in the economy. On the one hand, workers in these trades may experience periods of unemployment when the overall level of construction falls. On the other hand, peak periods of building activity may produce shortages of carpenters.

Employment projections data for carpenters, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Carpenters

47-2031 901,200 1,119,400 24 218,200 [XLS]

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of carpenters.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2012 MEDIAN PAY Help
Cement mason and terrazzo workers

Cement Masons and Terrazzo Workers

Cement masons pour, smooth, and finish concrete floors, sidewalks, roads, and curbs. Using a cement mixture, terrazzo workers create durable and decorative surfaces for floors and stairways.

See How to Become One $35,830
Construction laborers and helpers

Construction Laborers and Helpers

Construction laborers and helpers perform many basic tasks that require physical labor on construction sites.

See How to Become One $29,160
Drywall and ceiling tile installers, and tapers

Drywall and Ceiling Tile Installers, and Tapers

Drywall and ceiling tile installers hang wallboards to walls and ceilings and install ceiling tile inside buildings. Tapers prepare the wallboards for painting, using tape and other materials. Many workers do both installing and taping.

Less than high school $37,920
Tile and marble setters

Tile and Marble Setters

Tile and marble setters apply hard tile and marble to walls, floors, and other surfaces.

Less than high school $37,040
Industrial machinery mechanics and maintenance workers

Industrial Machinery Mechanics and Maintenance Workers and Millwrights

Industrial machinery mechanics and maintenance workers maintain and repair factory equipment and other industrial machinery, such as conveying systems, production machinery, and packaging equipment. Millwrights install, dismantle, repair, reassemble, and move machinery in factories, power plants, and construction sites.

High school diploma or equivalent $45,840

Contacts for More Information About this section

For details about apprenticeships or other work opportunities in this trade, contact the offices of the state employment service, the state apprenticeship agency, local contractors or firms that employ carpenters, or local union–management carpenter apprenticeship committees. Apprenticeship information is available from the U.S. Department of Labor's toll-free help line, 1 (877) 872-5627, and Employment and Training Administration.

For more information about carpenters, including training opportunities, visit

Associated Builders and Contractors

Associated General Contractors of America

National Association of Home Builders, Home Builders Institute

NCCER

United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, Carpenters Training Fund

O*NET

Rough Carpenters

Construction Carpenters

Carpenters

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Carpenters,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/carpenters.htm (visited July 26, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014