Almost all construction projects employ carpenters, the largest group of building trade workers. Carpenters perform a variety of jobs. In home building, carpenters build the house framework, frame the roof and interior partitions, and install doors, windows, flooring, cabinets, wood paneling, and molding and trim. Other construction jobs done by carpenters include building forms for placing concrete, erecting, scaffolding, and building bridges, piers, trestles, tunnel supports, temporary shelters, and cofferdams.
The duties of carpenters vary by type of employer. A carpenter employed by a special trade contractor, for example, may specialize in setting forms for concrete construction, while one who is employed by a general building contractor may perform many tasks, such as framing walls and partitions, putting in doors and windows, and installing paneling. Although each carpentry task is somewhat different, most tasks involve the following steps.
Working from blueprints, instructions form supervisors, or both, carpenters first do the layout--measuring, marketing, and arranging materials according to the plan. Local building codes often dictate where certain materials can and cannot be used, and carpenters have to know these requirements. Carpenters cut and shape materials, such as wood, plastic, fiberglass, and drywall with hand and power tools, such as chisels, planes, saws, and drills. Carpenters then joint the materials with nails, screws, or glue. They check the accuracy of their work with levels, rules, plumb bobs, and framing squares. Carpenters may work in teams or be assisted by a helper.
In all assignments, carpenters must work quickly, accurately, and economically. Taking too much time can delay other steps in the project, and careless mistakes waste time and materials.
Some carpenters are employed outside the construction industry in installation and maintenance work. For example, school districts employ carpenters to replace glass, ceiling tiles, and doors, and to repair desks, cabinets, and other furniture. Some work in industries which manufacture products made of wood, such as prefabricated houses, boats, and furniture. Other carpenters may install partitions, doors, and windows; change locks; and assist in moving or installing machinery in factories.
As in other building trades, the work is active and sometimes strenuous. Prolonged standing, climbing, bending, and kneeling often are necessary. Carpenters risk injury from slips or falls, from contact with sharp or rough materials, and from the use of sharp tools and power equipment. Many carpenters work outdoors.
Some carpenters change employers each time they finish a construction job. Others alternate between working for a contractor and working as contractors themselves on small jobs.
Carpenters held about 1,127,000 jobs in 1990. Seven of every ten worked for contractors who build, remodel, or repair buildings and other structures. Most of the remainder worked for manufacturing firms, government agencies, wholesale and retail establishments and schools. About 1 out of 3 is self-employed.
Carpenters are employed throughout the country in almost every community.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Carpenters learn their trade through on-the-job training and through formal training programs. Many pick up skills informally by working under the supervision of experienced workers. Some acquire skills through vocational education. Others participate in employer training programs or apprenticeships.
Most training authorities recommend an apprenticeship as the best way to learn carpentry. Because the number of apprenticeship programs is limited, however, only a small proportion of carpenters learn their trade through these programs.
Apprenticeship programs are administered by local chapters of the Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc., and local chapters of the Associated General Contractors, as well as by local joint union-management committees of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America and the Associated General Contractors or the National Association of Home Builders. The programs consist of on-the-job training and related classroom instruction. Apprenticeship applicants generally must be 17 years old and meet local requirements. For example, some locals test an applicant's aptitude for carpentry. The length of the program, usually about 3 to 4 years, varies with the apprentice's skill.
On the job, apprentices learn elementary structural design and become familiar with common carpentry jobs such as form building, rough framing, and outside and inside finishing. They also learn to use the tools, machines, equipment, and materials of the trade. Apprentices receive classroom instruction in safety, first aid, blueprint reading and freehand sketching, basic mathematics, and different carpentry techniques. Both in the classroom and on the job, they learn the relationship between carpentry and the other building trades.
Informal on-the-job training usually is less thorough than an apprenticeship. The degree of training and supervision often depends on the size of the employing firm. A small contractor who specializes in homebuilding may only provide training in rough framing. In contrast, a large general contractor may provide training in several carpentry skills.
A high school education is desirable, including courses in carpentry, shop, mechanical drawing, and general mathematics. Manual dexterity, eye-hand coordination, good physical condition, and a good sense of balance are important. The ability to solve arithmetic problems quickly and accurately is helpful. Working well with others is an important asset.
Carpenters may advance to carpentry supervisors or general construction supervisors. Carpenters usually have greater opportunities than most other construction workers to become general construction supervisors because they are exposed to the entire construction process. Some carpenters become independent contractors.
Employment of carpenters is expected to increase as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2000. Construction activity should increase in response to demand for new housing and industrial plants and the need to renovate and modernize existing structures.
In addition to the jobs resulting from increased demand for carpenters, many openings will occur as carpenters transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force. The total number of job openings for carpenters each year usually is greater than for other craft occupations because the occupation is large and turnover is high. Since there are no strict training requirements for entry, many people with limited skills take jobs as carpenters but eventually leave the occupation because they find they dislike the work or cannot find steady employment.
Although employment of carpenters is expected to grow over the long run, people entering the occupation should expect to experience periods of unemployment. This results from the short-term nature of many construction projects and the cyclical nature of the construction industry. Building activity depends on many factors--interest rates, availability of mortgage funds, government spending, and career investment--that vary with the state of the economy. During economic downturns, job openings for carpenters are reduced. The introduction of new and improved tools, equipment, techniques, and materials has vastly increased carpenters' versatility. Therefore, carpenters with all-round skills will have better opportunities than those who can only do relatively simple, routine tasks.
Job opportunities for carpenters also vary by geographic area. Construction activity parallels the movement of people and careeres and reflects differences in local economic conditions. Therefore, the number of job opportunities in a given year may fluctuate widely from area to area.
Median weekly earnings of carpenters who were not self-employed were $396 in 1991. The middle 50 percent earned between $293 and $537 per week. Weekly earnings for the top 10 percent of all carpenters were more than $703 the lowest 10 percent earned less than $224.
Earnings may be reduced on occasion because carpenters lose work time in bad weather and when jobs are unavailable. Maintenance carpenters, who generally have more steady employment, averaged $14.56 an hour in 1991, according to a survey of selected metropolitan areas.
A large proportion of carpenters are members of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.
Carpenters are skilled construction workers. Workers in other skilled construction occupations include bricklayers, cement masons, electricians, pipefitters, plasterers, plumbing, stonemasons, and terrazzo workers.
Source of Additional Information
For information about carpentry apprenticeships or other work opportunities in this trade, contact local carpentry contractors, a local of the union mentioned above, a local joint union-contractor apprenticeship committee, or the nearest office of the State employment service or State apprenticeship agency.
For general information about this trade, contact:
Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc., 729 15th St. NW., Washington, D.C. 20005.
Associated General Contractors of America, Inc. 1957 E St. NW., Washington D.C. 20006.
Home Builders Institute, Education Arm of the National Association of Home Builders, 15th and M Sts. NW., Washington, D.C. 20005.
United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, 101 Constitution Ave. NW., Washington, D.C. 20001.