Sam Reid
February 11, 2020

Carpentry Guide: The Basics to Becoming a Carpenter

Carpentry is a profession that dates back thousands of years and has many different specialties including framing, finish carpentry and trim carpentry. The largest of all building trades, there are over 1 million carpenters currently working in the US. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that the carpentry profession will grow by 8% over the next 10 years. Most people have a general understanding of what carpenters do, but let’s get into some specifics. A carpenter works with wood and other materials to construct, install, and maintain buildings and other objects like cabinets or furniture. They can work on residential (homes, apartments, etc.), commercial (hotels, offices, etc.), and industrial (bridges, power plants, etc.) projects.

Here are some core carpentry skills

  • Read blueprints as well as taking direction from verbal and written descriptions
  • General framing - Construct the wooden structure for a building (walls, floors, and doorframes)
  • Build staircases
  • Concrete formwork - Molds for pouring concrete
  • Install windows, doors and siding
  • Install interior finish and trim
  • Install cabinets and countertops
  • Build cabinets and other custom woodwork (millworking)
  • Remodeling/repairs - Inspect and replace damaged framework or other structures and fixtures
  • Instruct and direct laborers/other construction helpers

Carpenters commonly use tape measures and hand tools, including squares, levels, hammers, and chisels, as well as many power tools, such as sanders, circular saws, nail guns, and welding machines.

Basic Levels of Carpentery

  • Carpenter's Helper
  • Apprentice
  • Journeyperson
  • Master
  • Subcontractor (licensed to perform work independently)
  • General Contractor (licensed to manage full construction projects)

Becoming a carpenter

It is recommended that those aiming to become a carpenter earn their high school diploma. While in high school, it’s a good idea for aspiring carpenters to take courses in mathematics, mechanical drawing, and shop or woodworking.While in high school or right after graduation, you might consider working as a carpenter’s helper to gain valuable on-the-job experience. As a carpenter’s helper, you will be introduced to the tools used by carpenters as well as the steps/processes they use to complete their work.After graduating high school, you’ll want to enroll in an official apprenticeship program so that you can become a journeyman carpenter which will earn you better pay and give you more job opportunities.


During each year of your apprenticeship, you can expect to complete about 144 hours of technical training and 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training. Programs typically last for four years.You will learn carpentry basics, blueprint reading, mathematics, building code requirements, metal stud framing and safety and first aid practices. Depending on where you do your apprenticeship program, you may also receive specialized training in creating and setting concrete forms, rigging, welding, scaffold building, and working within confined workspaces. All carpenters must pass the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 10- and 30-hour safety courses.

Landing your first job

According to Home Builders Institute (HBI), land developers, general contractors and remodelers are examples of businesses that might hire an entry-level carpenter. If you do an apprenticeship, your trade school likely has relationships with local construction businesses that hire carpenters.

Improving your skills

An experienced carpenter answered the question of “How do I become a better carpenter” on Quora. Some things he recommends:

  • Watch YouTube videos
  • Know how to use a nail gun
  • Learn load tables
  • When on the job site, thinking about trades that will follow your work
  • Know your limitations and consult other experts when necessary
  • Read Fine Homebuilding

Here's an example of an instructional carpentry video on YouTube:

Pay for Carpenters

According to the BLS, the median annual wage for carpenters was $45,170 in May 2017.

"Carpenters in the top 10 percent of pay earned more than $80,350."

The starting salary for apprentices is typically between 30 and 50 percent of the wage that experienced carpenters make. As apprentices gain experience, they gradually receive more pay.According to US News & World Report, Honolulu is the best paying US city for carpenters (average salary of $71,460) and the best paying state is Alaska (average salary of $69,970)

Career paths for Carpenters

Many Carpenters progress in their careers to ultimately start their own businesses and become a General Contractor. There are other pathways available but becoming a General Contractor is the most common.

Why? Carpenters are the trade that is often on the work site from start to finish and understand the nuts and bolts of the whole building process. As a Carpenter you'll often be working alongside and co-ordinating with other specialist subcontractors on the work site throughout the whole project. Over time a Carpenter develops a deep understanding how all of the specialist trades are organized and come together to deliver a building.

Not everyone that becomes a Carpenter has the skills or drive to become a GC, the following key skills and resources are typically needed:

  1. Capital to start your business
  2. You'll need to obtain a license to operate as a GC
  3. Client management and customer service skills
  4. Business management skills
  5. Leadership skills to motivate people that work for you
  6. A network of subcontractors you have built relationships with and can depend on
  7. A network of suppliers

How is technology impacting the carpentry trade?

Carpenters and other trades are increasingly being asked to use technology by their employers to work smarter. For example, many employers are now using construction time tracking software to not only to track employee hours so that their payroll is accurate but also to help them understand how many hours are being spent on specific parts of a project so they improve their future bids and profitability. Your employer may expect you to use an app every day to:

  1. Clock in and out every day with a gps time clock app and ensure locating tracking is enabled so they can accurately attribute your time.
  2. Record how many hours you are spending on specific projects. This help them with job costing so they can understand whether they are tracking to budget.
  3. Follow an electronic job schedule outlining where you need to be and when you need to be there
  4. Complete checklists
  5. Share photos and notes back to the office about job progress

Workyard is an example of a leading construction workforce management software provider used by thousands contractors and their crews.


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