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