How to Become
Best Education Tracks, Key Skills, and Top Certifications
Carpentry is one of the more enduring trades across industries, with a history that stretches back over a thousand years. With no shortage in construction and renovation projects in the country, it’s no wonder why carpenters remain in high demand. If you want to learn how to become a carpenter, you may already have the tools you need to succeed.
What Is a Carpenter?
Carpenters are workers that cut and install numerous building materials, pre-made structures, fixtures, and more. Experienced carpenters may also be responsible for estimating the material needs of a project, including the quantity and the cost, as well as placing orders for those building materials.
Carpenters work with a variety of materials like wood, drywall, insulation, and plastic. They can choose from many specialties that require different skills including cabinet making, restoration, scenic carpentry for film sets, and more.
What Type of School Should You Attend
to Become a Carpenter?
To become a carpenter, you can get an apprenticeship with just a high school diploma or GED. So if you’re a high school graduate who excelled in your shop classes, you may be able to start working in carpentry without any extra schooling. After finishing your carpentry apprenticeship, you’ll have to apply for a journeyman license to start working on your own.
However, if you want more training before your apprenticeship, there are tons of other paths you can pursue. For instance, trade schools and community colleges can teach you everything you’ll need to further your carpentry skills and knowledge.
Best Carpenter Education Tracks
The carpentry business always needs fresh talent with hands-on experience and on-the-job training. The following education tracks can get you started with the basics for almost every carpentry job.
Trade schools are college alternatives that teach a specific skill. Many of these schools offer certificate programs that teach students the basics of carpentry. This is the fastest route for extra training, but it probably won’t cover anything beyond the foundation you need to start working in construction.
Carpentry courses in trade schools teach students how to read blueprints, make cabinets, and work with the different materials they’ll need with on-the-job training. Students can graduate from these training programs with a certificate within six months to a year of study.
Community college programs can vary in terms of what they offer, but most of them focus more on classroom lectures than practical training. These courses also cover the basics of carpentry like framing, working from blueprints, and power tool safety procedures.
This option tends to be less expensive than a four-year college option. Because it only requires two years of study, you’ll get to enjoy an early start in the job market than if you went for a bachelor’s degree.
That being said, this route usually lasts longer and costs more than going to a trade school. Some community colleges only offer certificate programs while others give students an associate degree upon completion.
A bachelor’s degree is much less common for people who want to start working as carpenters, but it’s a viable path to a career in carpentry nonetheless. These four-year degrees usually focus more on the management side of carpentry instead of the physical demands of the job.
This option is more for people who have worked as carpenters for a few years and therefore want to transition into the management side. If you already hold an associate degree, you’ll probably only need two years of instruction at this level. These degrees are more expensive than the previous two options.
An apprenticeship is required for anyone that wants to work as a professional carpenter. Apprentices work for a few years under an experienced carpenter to get more training in real-life job situations. Apprentices also get paid during their time in the program, so you’ll have some income as you learn on the job.
Many educational options help students find an apprenticeship program. But if you want to find an official apprenticeship, the United States Department of Labor helps job seekers with its dedicated website.
You can start working as an apprentice without any extra training. However, other educational options can also help you decide if you truly want to be a carpenter before you fully commit to the trade.
How to Become a Carpenter: A Step-by-Step Guide
So far, we’ve covered your educational options along with a guide that can help you pick the right path for you. So, where do you go from here? If you’re thinking of becoming a carpenter, here’s the step-by-step guide to make that dream a reality.
Decide on your educational needs
You can start applying for apprenticeships after getting your GED or high school diploma. But if you feel like you may need a bit more instruction, you can enroll in schools for further learning.
Build your skills
Whether you’re going straight into an apprenticeship or learning through another route, you have to boost your skills to a competent level. It’ll take years of work experience before you’re prepared to work on your own.
You’ll need a journeyman certification to start working on your own as a carpenter. The requirements vary depending on your state and trade union, but all of them require a few thousand hours of on-the-job experience. Some states also require a few hundred hours of classroom experience.
As you apprentice, you may find that you prefer one part of the job over others. Plenty of carpenters make a good living sticking with a few specializations on the job site. Some of these specializations include cabinet making, restoration carpentry, and log building.
Add to your skills
Besides your general journeyman card, there are plenty of extra certifications you can add to make you a more attractive candidate for potential recruiters. The popular LEED credentials, for example, show that you’re trained in sustainable construction. Many employers also prize candidates that can speak other languages like Spanish as this can reduce miscommunication on construction sites.
Key Carpenter Skills
Key carpenter skills include hand-eye coordination, attention to detail, and math skills. The point of training is to enhance these qualities before you start working on your own. These are only three of the things you’ll need to do the job well, but they’ll carry you a long way as you start your journey into carpentry.
As a journeyman carpenter, you’ll need to be physically fit as you’ll be carrying heavy loads and exerting yourself throughout an average workday. That said, hand-eye coordination is an equally important physical and mental trait for any good carpenter.
Hand-eye coordination is your ability to mentally coordinate the actions of your hands with what you see. As you’ll be hammering, sawing off, painting, and more in your average workday, you’ll be relying on this skill the most as an entry-level carpenter.
Attention to Detail
It may seem cliche to say attention to detail is important to this job, but it makes a huge difference on all levels of the job. This skill could mean the difference between finishing a job on time and under budget or finishing with cost overruns that could harm your reputation.
This skill will evolve during your journey as a carpenter. As you get started in the field, you’ll be responsible for ensuring your measurements and cuts are precise to simplify construction. As you take on more of a managerial role, you’ll have to account for every single material that you’ll need to finish a job quickly and on time.
You don’t need a doctorate in physics to work as a carpenter. You will, however, need the ability to measure accurately, extrapolate, and budget thoroughly to ensure that everything is progressing smoothly.
You should be able to accomplish all these tasks with a bit of basic algebra and geometry. Community colleges and vocational schools should teach the math skills you need to work in the field. If in-person schooling is not an option, consider taking online college courses to polish your skills as you progress.
Carpenter Salary and Job Outlook
The carpentry field is expected to stay pretty stable over the next 10 years. There’s no change projected in the job market, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is lower than the national growth rate average of four percent in other fields, but it’s not so far behind.
The median salary for the position is around $49,520 per year, the BLS reports. This salary is higher than the national average median salary of $39,810. The extra pay reflects the amount of training that carpenters need before they can enter the field.
Entry-Level Carpentry Job Requirements
The only thing you need to start working as a carpenter is a high school degree and a journeyman card. Depending on your state, you can get an apprenticeship and then go on to get your journeyman card without stepping into a classroom.
What Does a Carpenter Do?
Carpenters are in charge of shaping and installing materials, as well as communicating with parties on and off the job site to complete their projects. These duties require more than just being good with your hands. You’ll need to have skills with communication and basic math to make everything run as intended.
Below is more detail on what carpenters do.
Whether you’re building cabinets or focusing on framing, you’re going to have to learn how to shape materials. Wood, plastic, drywall, and more are going to be part of your routine once you start working on job sites.
You may find yourself working with certain materials more often than others as you specialize. Your skills will continue to progress as you gain more experience, so this is one of many skills that you never truly master.
You’ll have to install materials after shaping them. This is another job role that changes depending on your specialization. Framers may have to build the door frames that hold an antique door from a client’s childhood home. Cabinet makers may have to choose the right hinges for storage space in a restaurant kitchen.
You’ll have to work in your field long enough to discover which methods work best for you.
On all levels as a carpenter, communication is vital to making sure everything works properly. You’ll have to talk to your coworkers about your day-to-day tasks and take direction from your boss.
As you advance, you’ll need to translate the needs of the client into tangible results. This sometimes means using your expertise in the field to turn vague instructions into a clear and actionable plan.
As we’ve mentioned above, there are certain certifications that you can earn to broaden your job prospects as a carpenter. Some of these certifications are required in some states, but others add value to your resume for potential employers.
These popular sustainable construction credentials come in two versions. A LEED Green Associate credential shows that you’ve got a solid understanding of green building principles. A LEED AP credential shows you have advanced knowledge in green building with expertise in a particular LEED rating system.
OSHA10 and/or OSHA30 Construction Safety Training
These certifications from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration are required for any construction worker. The OSHA10 course covers the fundamentals of construction health and safety in a 10-hour format, while the OSHA30 course adds more to that foundation over a 30-hour format.
Certified Lead Carpenter
This certification from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry guarantees that its holder can supervise every aspect of a building project while also working on the site. You need at least five years of experience as a remodeler and two years of experience as a lead carpenter to qualify for this certificate.
How to Prepare for Your Carpenter Job Interview
The best way to prepare for your carpenter job interview is by completing your training. Most of the questions you’ll encounter will test your competency in the field. As an entry-level carpenter, these questions will focus more on your ability to perform the handiwork. If you’re interviewing for more senior roles, the focus will shift to your managerial skills.
Below are some examples of job interview questions that you might encounter during your first few interviews.
Carpenter Job Interview Practice Questions
- How long have you been working as a carpenter?
- Could you tell us about some of the previous work you’ve done?
- What are some of the skills that you’ve already mastered?
- What are some safety precautions that you think are necessary for you to work properly?
- What are your salary expectations?
How Long Does It Take to Become a Carpenter?
You can expect to become a carpenter in about three or four years. The time you take will depend on your education path and how long it takes for you to grasp the fundamental skills. Then, it’s just a matter of completing the requirements for your journeyman card before you can start working professionally.
If you want to earn more as a carpenter or move into managerial roles, then you may want to earn some of the sought-after certificates listed above. You’ll be able to get these certificates over a few months.
Should you Become a Carpenter in 2021?
If you like working with your hands and creating tangible results, then carpentry may be for you. There’s always going to be a need for competent carpenters. If you decide to go the freelance route, your work will fluctuate. On the upside, you will be your boss.
Carpentry is a route to steady and rewarding work in an industry that’s been around for thousands of years.
Do carpenters make good money?
The median salary of a carpenter across the country is around $48,330, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Your salary will vary depending on your state, level of experience, and if you’re working freelance or for a company.
Is carpentry a stable job?
Carpentry has been around for thousands of years. Though you’ll see varying levels of demand in some industries, many other industries have steadier workloads. Because you’ll learn how to handle so many roles on a construction site, you’ll generally be able to find work almost anywhere.
Is carpentry hard on your body?
Like any other job that requires manual labor, you’ll have to do a lot of physical activity that could result in injury. You may also find yourself working in extreme temperatures that will test your body’s resilience. This is one of the reasons why OSHA safety training is a requirement for anyone looking to get into the industry.
How long do you have to go to school to be a carpenter?
Anywhere from a few months to a few years. If you’re trying to enter the industry as quickly as possible, you can head straight into an apprenticeship from high school. That said, a carpentry certificate or associate degree can give you a solid foundation to take better advantage of an apprenticeship.