Everywhere you look, a carpenter has been there working his or her magic. Read on to learn about carpentry and what it takes to become a carpenter.
WHAT CARPENTERS DO
Carpenters create things out of a variety of materials, depending on their area of expertise. They may make beautiful cabinetry or intricate doors. Or, they could construct the entire framework of a building or a bridge. Carpenters are skilled craftsmen and women who work in the construction industry on a variety of levels. A carpenter may install pre-fabricated products, or they could prepare objects from ‘scratch’. Wood isn’t the only material a carpenter works with; they work with steel, fiberglass, plastic, and other building materials.
There are a few different types of carpenters: rough, finish, residential, commercial, and industrial. Each type of carpenter has been formally trained and has the appropriate skill set for the part of the industry they work in.
- Residential Carpenter: When it comes to homes, residential carpenters are the professionals who will install floors, cabinetry, framing, siding, and pretty much everything else that makes a house functional.
- Commercial Carpenter: A commercial carpenter has to take specialized courses because they are working on larger scale buildings than homes, which means the materials they are using may be entirely different. Commercial carpenters work on structures such as schools, houses of worship, bridges,and tunnels.
- Industrial Carpenter: Industrial carpenters work in industrial settings. They will build scaffolding, and they will set the forms for where the concrete will be poured. Industrial carpenters set forms for structures other than buildings, such as tunnels, bridges, sewer construction, and power plants.
- Rough Carpenter: Rough carpenters are skilled in following blueprints or oral instructions to create rough structures such as scaffoldings, supports for tunnels and bridges, temporary frame shelters, and billboard structures.
- Finish Carpenter: Finish carpenters are brought in on the final phase of a variety of projects. The finish carpenter installs the trim work and frames around features such as windows, walls, and staircases. The finish carpenter completes projects that need that last touch to look good and finished.
STEP-BY-STEP CARPENTER CAREER GUIDE
There are a few things that need to be done before you can start a career in carpentry. There are a few necessary personal skills you should have, as well. For example, you should have excellent manual dexterity. In other words, you need to be able to work well with your hands. You should be exceptionally detail-oriented and have impressive problem-solving skills. Things happen, and you need to be able to think quick on your feet to fix them. Your focus and physical strength don’t necessarily need to be your superpowers, but they should be pretty fine-tuned. And, you’ll need to know how to use all those tools that people of the carpentry trade use.
Here is a quick overview of what it takes to become a carpenter:
- Graduate High School or get your GED
- Get some hands-on experience by working under a carpenter
- Start your training through an apprenticeship, a trade school, or a community college
- Complete an apprenticeship
- Become a journeyman carpenter
Becoming a carpenter sounds fast and easy, doesn’t it? Nope, it’s not. It takes the proper training and lots of hands-on practice. We’ll go into more detail about what you need to do to become a carpenter in the following sections.
BECOME A CARPENTER
If you’re still in high school and considering a career in carpentry, enroll in shop class if your school offers it. Also, make sure to take plenty of math classes, including a business math. Drafting and business design are also courses to consider while still in high school.
To start your training as a carpenter, you need to be 18 years old and have a high school diploma or GED. You must have proof of US citizenship, be in good physical condition to be able to do the strenuous type work, and you need to be able to pass a substance abuse screening. Once you have those requirements, there are a couple of different options to look at on your road to becoming a carpenter.
- Apprenticeship Programs: The most typical way carpenters learn the trade is through apprenticeships. Carpenter apprenticeships last 3-4 years and include 144 hours of coursework and 2,000 paid, on-the-job training hours per year. Generally, apprenticeship programs are found through unions and the U.S Department of Labor. Apprenticeships may also be offered through trade schools, as well. And, many carpentry contractors offer apprenticeship positions. Some apprenticeship programs may pay for post-secondary education so that an associate’s or bachelor’s degree can be earned.
- Post-Secondary Education: Choosing to get a diploma or associate’s degree is not required for carpentry careers, but many do decide to take this route. Expect 1-2 years of school before receiving a diploma or certificate. Most will still have to complete an apprenticeship before becoming a journeyman carpenter. Some apprentices decide to head to school for a degree, and in most instances, much of the apprenticeship education is transferable toward that degree or certificate/diploma. Having an associate’s degree is a great option for those who may want to head off to a four-year college because some college credits have already been earned.
CHOOSING A CARPENTRY PROGRAM
You know you want to become a carpenter, but you have no idea which educational path works best for you. There are some questions to think about to help you come to a decision on the best fit for your carpentry school needs. Keep in mind; most post-secondary training will still require you to complete an apprenticeship before you’re eligible to take the exam to become a journeyman carpenter.
- Do I want a degree or certificate?
- Does the school offer job placement?
- Does the school help obtain apprenticeship positions or does the school offer its own apprenticeship program?
- Will I have to provide my own tools and supplies?
- How connected is the school to unions and contractors?
- Do the credit hours go toward the apprenticeship or will it be separate?
- Will you be working on a construction site or have other real-world carpentry opportunities?
- Does the coursework include a variety of training in different areas of carpentry?
- What type of reputation does the school have?
- Is the school accredited?
- What is the student to teacher ratio?
- What is the success rate of past graduates?
- If you’re going straight into an apprenticeship, decide which part of carpentry you want to focus on
COST OF CARPENTRY PROGRAMS
Type of Program
Time to complete
1 year + apprenticeship
2 years + apprenticeship
The education portion is covered by the costs listed. But, as with most programs, expect additional costs when estimating your out-of-pocket school expense for carpentry programs. If you are attending out-of-state carpentry training, then you’ll need to add the cost of room and board to your list. Plus, you will need to purchase the course materials such as books, tools, and uniforms. All these factors can add anywhere between $500-$20,000 to the cost of carpentry training.
- Note that apprenticeships allow you to earn a wage that is between 30%-50% of what experienced carpenters make. The more you learn during your apprenticeship, they more you will earn.
CARPENTRY SCHOOL FINANCIAL AID
Many trade schools offer scholarships to put toward education. There are scholarships out there for specific trades, as well as ones for trade school in general. To even be considered for financial aid, it’s important to take the first step and fill out the FAFSA which is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Once your FAFSA is completed, and the list of schools you’re interested in have been sent your information, they will help you locate money in the form of grants, scholarships, and loans that you can put toward your carpentry training. Most forms of financial aid can only be received if the school is an accredited program. Please read our article on getting financial aid for more information.
Carpentry may be a hands-on type of career, but there is also the business side to it, as well. During carpentry training, the aspiring carpenter will learn the nuts and bolts of carpentry. Included in both the apprenticeship and post-secondary training will be on-the-job training where you’ll be working as a carpenter’s helper. Each school and apprenticeship may offer a variation on the coursework so, depending on where you go for your carpentry training, the basics will vary.
- The formal training segment of carpentry will include courses such as tool usage and best practices, cabinet-making, installation of drywall, remodeling, roofing, reading blueprints, and residential planning. You will learn building codes, basic math, and safety requirements, as well. Classes will introduce carpentry for residential and industrial buildings in courses such as framing for residential structures and finishing for residential structures, where both steel and wood framing and finishing is taught. You’ll also learn project management and computer technology.
- The hands-on portion is where you’ll learn how to apply the coursework in a real-life setting. Framing and finishing are large training components that will be worked on. You will use the instruments and tools associated with carpentry, and you’ll learn to work with lumber, drywall, steel, and other construction materials. Some schools will offer onsite hands-on practice where you will actually be part of a building project that the school partnered with.
Apprenticeships not only teach you everything about being a carpenter, but you’ll also learn how carpentry relates to other trades in the construction industry which will create a more well-rounded learning experience.
Certification within an industry proves to potential employers, as well as clients that you have what it takes (and then some) to get the job done. Carpentry certification gives a sort of insurance that your expertise is up to the industry’s standards for licensed professionals. Carpentry does not have industry-specific requirements when it comes to certifications. There are, however, voluntary ones available.
- National Association of the Remodeling Industry: The NARI offers a few different certifications for remodelers. There is the Certified Lead Carpenter credential for carpenters who want to head up a project. This requires five years of experience in remodeling, with two of those years being a lead carpenter to be eligible.
- With many industries heading toward green and sustainable living practices, a good certification to sit for would be the U.S Green Building Council’s LEED Green Associate Exam. The exam fee is $200 and will test you on the current green building practices.
Other certifications to consider are CPR and Automated External Defibrillator certifications, training courses to become certified in mold, lead, and other such hazards. Also, a fire and site protection and inspection certification is a good one to have. These additional certifications just add a level of authority to your resume and can give you a leg up on competition.
CARPENTER JOB MARKET
Average job growth for all careers is between five percent to seven percent. Carpentry is going to see a eight percent job growth between now and 2026, which is right in the center of average. Some of the key reasons that are keeping carpentry moving at an average rate are population growth driving the construction of new homes, and home remodeling. Both of which make up the residential building construction where the heaviest job growth in the industry is. Also, as our nation’s buildings, bridges, and other structures age, the need for repair is constant and leads to employment opportunities for skilled carpenters. Another component is the increase in modular, prefabricated, manufactured homes. These structures, while every piece is created in a manufacturing facility, has to be put together on its delivery site, piece by piece, by a carpenter.
Job growth for carpenters will look different in every industry and state; same goes with the salary. If you’re in a situation where moving states isn’t a big deal, then finding the best job with the best pay could be a bit easier if you’re a qualified carpenter. Have tools, will travel!
Greatest Job Growth For Carpenters
# of Jobs
Average Annual Salary
Residential Building Construction
Nonresidential Building Construction
Building Finishing Contractors
Foundation, Structure, and Building Exterior Contractors
Other Specialty Trade Contractors
States With Most Career Opportunities for Carpenters
# of Jobs
Most carpenters work full time, which may include evenings and weekends, depending on the project. Carpenters are no stranger to overtime, either. 1 in 3 were self-employed, allowing more freedom in their work schedule. The average annual salary for carpenters in the United States is $45K. The highest 10 percent, those who have been in the industry for a fair amount of time, earned more than $80K. Entry level carpenters made over $27K. These are only averages so depending on where you live, what type of industry you work in, and your level of experience will be more of a determining factor when it comes to your personal salary.
Highest Paying States for Carpenters
Highest Paying Industries for Carpenters
Natural Gas Distribution
Lessors of Real Estate
Electric Power Generation, Transmission, and Distrib.
Electronics and Appliance Stores
Specialty (except psychiatric and sub abuse)hospitals
Many contractors, including carpenters, choose to join their local related unions. There are quite a few checks in the ‘pros’ column when it comes to joining a union. For example, union workers can only be terminated for a ‘just cause’. This means that there needs to be a REALLY outstanding reason for being fired. Union dues can vary, but the cost of joining a union is offset by the job protection and other positive factors it brings.
Union workers earn better wages, have access to better benefits, and better job security. Not to mention, joining a union gives you strength in numbers, and being a union member comes complete with a large number of ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ who have your back. The average salary for a union carpenter is over $70,000 which is much higher than the national average.
The are a couple of negatives that come with union membership. Say, for instance, you don’t agree with all the rules. You still have to abide by them because you’re sort of bound to the ideals and ideas that come with the union. The union fees, which can range from $200 to a few hundred may offset the higher salary that unionized workers earn. And, in a poll that was taken around 2010, many union workers felt that they weren’t treated as fairly by their employer as a non-unionized worker, nor were they as trusted. So, joining a union definitely has trade-offs, and you need to decide what is important to you. The biggest carpentry union is the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America:
- United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America: United Brotherhood of Carpenters is the largest union for those in carpentry, with more than a half million members. They have their own state-of-the-art training facility for members where they not only educate new carpenters, but they have conferences and leadership programs, as well. They have contacts and unions in almost every region. Find yours here.
In every region, there are different unions to look into.
- The Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters is part of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters.
- The Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters is for carpenters in southern California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado and is ‘home’ to over 44,000 carpenters.
- Here is a resource to find a union near you: Union Facts for Carpenters.
Remember, joining a union is entirely voluntary. You are not required to be a union member to work as a carpenter
CARPENTER LICENSE AND CERTIFICATION
Contractor’s License Reference site lists each state and their licensing requirements. If a carpenter is found to be working without a license, they can be penalized with a fine.
Typically, the steps to take to becoming a licensed carpenter are relatively simple:
- Complete your schooling and apprenticeship
- Go through the proper training period
- Get a contractor license bond (not required by all states and those that do may have different bond amount requirements)
- Get insurance (either liability or industrial)
- Submit a license application along with the fee
Some states only have one license for carpenters, while others may have a few that are separated into the type of carpentry instead of the career as a whole.
REQUIRED STATE LICENSING
Commercial general contractors License
- $300 to file an application
- $96 business and law exam
- $150 subcontractor application
Residential General Contractors License
- $98 exam fee
- $205 license
Nonresidential General Contractor’s License
- Proof of liability insurance
- Proof of worker’s compensation insurance
- Surety bond
- $50 to apply
- $200 license
Residential General Contractors License
- $50 to apply
- $200 license
- $75 exam
Commercial and Residential Exam
- $63 exam fee
- $120 business law and trade exam
- $890 for each commercial construction general or engineering classification
- $645 for each commercial specialty construction trade
- $445 for each residential construction general or engineering classification
- $320 for most residential specialty construction trades
- $1105 for each dual general classification
- $815 for each specialty duel classification
- $450 recovery fund
- $200,000 consumer bond
- $100 nonrefundable to file an application
- $75 business and law computerized testing
- $100 residential application and license fee
- $150 license fee
- $12,500 contractor's bond or cash deposit
- $250 non-refundable apply for license
- $50 for each trade applied for
- General construction contractors in Colorado are not licensed by the state
Home Improvement Contractors Certificate
- $500 registration
- $160 certificate
- $100 every year to the Home Improvement Guaranty Fund
- Credit references
- Evidence of insurance
- Certificate of good standing in the state
- Three references
- Statement of statutes and regulations of the division
- Trade name certificate where your business is
- Current projects and ones completed in the last five years
New Home Construction Contractors Certificate
- $120 registration
- $480 guaranty fund
Contractors bidding on jobs over $50,000 must apply for a license
- $75 per year license cost
Certified Contractors License
- $135 exam fee
- $409 between June 4th of an even year and August 31st of an odd year fee
- $309 between September 1st of an odd year and June 3rd of an even year fee
- Must include credit report
Apply through Board for details: http://sos.ga.gov/index.php/licensing
- Proof of worker's compensation insurance
- Bodily injury liability - $100,000 each person, $300,000 each occurrence
- Property damage liability - $50,000 each occurrence
- Place of business in Hawaii - post office box not accepted
- Pass an exam on business, law, and trade
- $50 to file an application
- $65 for each exam
- $45 Hawaii Contractors Reference Manual
- $25 Hawaii Contractors Part 1 Business and Law Practice Exam
- $50 Hawaii Contractors Study Guide
- $100 Hawaii Contractors Study Program - includes references,practice and study guide
The state of Idaho doesn't license general contractors working on private sector residential or commercial projects
Most construction contractors don't need to be licensed in Illinois.
Only plumbing contractors need to be licensed in Indiana
- $50 registration fee
Most construction contractors don’t need to be licensed in Kansas
Most construction contractors don’t need to be licensed in Kentucky
Contractors License and Exam
- Pass exam
- $100 exam cost
- $95 additional classification
- $40 study material for the business and law exam
- $400 surcharge to cover costs of investigation
Most construction contractors don’t need to be licensed in Maine
Most construction contractors don’t need to be licensed in Maryland
- $100 exam fee
- $150 license cost
Home Improvement Contractors License
- $100 registration
- $100 0-3 employees
- $200 4-10 employees
- $300 1-30 employees
- $500 more than 30
Residential Builder License
- $100 nonrefundable to take both exams
- $70 exams separately
- $60 business and law
If you want to build or remodel residential property in Minnesota and your company's gross receipts are over $15,000 in a calendar year, you must get a license. If you don't expect to gross more than $15,000, you must still file an affidavit with the Department
- $51 business and law exam
- $51 trade exam
- $100 license fee
Contractors Recovery Fund
- $150 fee for less than $1000000 company gross receipts
- $210 fee for over than 1000000 and less than 5000000 company gross receipts
- $260 fee for over 5000000
Commercial Construction Contractors Certificate
- $75 each exam cost
- $200 certificate in one classification
- $50 each for additional classifications
Residential Building License
- $50 application fee
- $75 exam cost
Most construction contractors don’t need to be licensed in Missouri
Most construction contractors don’t need to be licensed in Montana
All contractors doing business in counties with a population of 100,000 or more need a license to do business. Nonresident contractors doing business in Nebraska must register with the Nebraska Secretary of State and the Nebraska Department of Revenue.
- $25 registration fee
- $300 nonrefundable for each license
- $85 for the one portion CMS exam
- $130 two portion exam
- $160 three portion exam
Most construction contractors don’t need to be licensed in New Hampshire
You must register to be in the business of building new homes in New Jersey. You must also warrant each new home you build and provide warranty follow-up services.
Home Repair Contractors License
- $300 registration fee. Good for two years
Home Improvement Contractors License
- $90 to register
Construction Contractors License
- $68.78 trade exam
- $30 nonrefundable
- $150 license
- $300 for licensed trades
- $75 journeyman's exams and licenses. Licenses are good for three years.
- $317.44 Asphalt, bitumen, concrete construction exam
- $423.25 fixed works exam
- $105.81 residential building exam
- $211.63 general building exam
- $211.63 mechanical exam
- $211.63 electrical exam
Most construction contractors don’t need to be licensed in New York
To work as a general contractor on projects costing more than $30,000 in North Carolina, you must get a license from the North Carolina Licensing Board for General Contractors.
General Contractors License
- $50 nonrefundable for each exam
- $100 unlimited license
- $75 application fee for intermediate license
- $50 limited license application fee
You must have a license in North Dakota to work on any job costing $2,000 or more. You don't have to take an exam to get a contractor's license. But you do have to prove you don't owe any taxes and that you have workers' compensation and liability insurance.
Most construction contractors don’t need to be licensed in Ohio.
Most construction contractors don’t need to be licensed in Oklahoma
If you're paid for any construction activity, you need to register with the Oregon Construction Contractors Board
To be licensed by the board
- Complete the prerequisite training and pass CCB’s statewide test
- File your assumed business name at Oregon Corporation Division
- Obtain and submit a CCB surety bond in the required amount
- Obtain and provide proof of general liability insurance in the required amount
- Provide evidence of workers compensation and other applicable employee account numbers
- $325 license fee for two years
Most construction contractors don’t need to be licensed in Pennsylvania
If you build, repair, or remodel one- to four-family dwellings in Rhode Island, you must register with the Contractors' Registration Board.
- No exam registration
- $120 registration fee
- Complete information on the ownership and organization of your company
- Proof of liability insurance for at least $500,000
- Any current or previous registrations you have as a contractor
- Your specialty trades
- Years of experience in construction
- Worker’s compensation insurance account number
- Unemployment insurance account number
- Unemployment insurance account number
- Federal employer identification number
- State withholding tax number
To do residential building over $200 and commercial building over $5,000 in South Carolina you must be licensed.
- $135 application fee
- $100 to take exam
- $110 license fee
Most construction contractors don’t need to be licensed in South Dakota
- One reference letter from a past client
- Current financial statement
- A copy of your charter if you’re a corporation or a certificate of authority
- $250 nonrefundable to file your application. License is good for two years.
- $200 license renewal
- 444 business and law exam
- $44 or $38 trade exam cost
Most construction contractors don’t need to be licensed in Texas.
Construction Contractors License
- $200 nonrefundable to file an application
- $100 classification application fee
- $79 business and law exam
Most construction contractors don’t need to be licensed in Vermont.
- $60 Class A Exam
- $40 class B Exam
- $230 Class A License
- $205 Class B license
- $150 nonrefundable Class C License.
- $113.40 application fee
Most construction contractors don’t need to be licensed in Washington DC
Construction Contractors License
- $100 license. Good for one year
- $42.40 contractor exam fee
- $25 for speciality exams
- $50 for specialty licenses
- All licenses expire on June 30
Most construction contractors don’t need to be licensed in Wisconsin
Most construction contractors don’t need to be licensed in Wyoming