So, you’ve decided sitting behind a desk isn’t exactly your dream job. You like doing something different every day, and you definitely like being active.
For you, the ideal career would give both your brain and your body a workout. Have you thought about learning how to become a carpenter?
Whether it’s crafting custom furniture or framing houses, a good carpenter is always in demand. Experienced carpenters say some of their favorite perks include the variety of carpentry work and the ability to set their own schedules.
If this sounds like you, you could have a successful career ahead as a carpenter. Not sure where to start? Read on for a step-by-step look at how to become a carpenter.
Carpentry is a big industry – and while being a carpenter always involves building something with wood, that “something” could range from custom cabinets to rafters. So before you can learn exactly how to become a carpenter, you’ll need to decide what kind of carpentry you’d like to do.
Some of the most common kinds of carpenters include:
Rough carpenter: A rough carpenter does a range of structural work, including framing and roofing. Generally speaking, the work of a rough carpenter can’t be seen in a finished building –but it’s incredibly important, since it holds everything up!
Joister: A joister creates structures that support the floor or deck of a building.
Framer: As the name suggests, framers specialize in building the framework of homes or commercial spaces.
Roofer: A good specialization if you’re comfortable with heights. Roofers build the rafters, beams, and trusses of new roofs.
Finish carpenter: As with rough carpentry, finish carpentry includes several specializations. Finish carpenters build cabinets, fine furniture, parquetry, and more – all detail-oriented work with virtually no room for mistakes.
Trim carpenter: You guessed it; trim carpenters specialize in trim work, like crown molding, chair rails, fireplace mantles, and other decorative woodwork.
Cabinet maker: Not limited to cabinets, the work of a cabinet maker can include building dressers and other storage furniture.
Ship’s Carpenter: A less common but interesting specialty, working on boats and ships.
There’s no rule that says you have to commit to one area of carpentry for your entire career. However, once you have a lot of experience in a certain specialty – say, as a roofer – it might take time to make the switch to building cabinets.
If you have the chance, see if you can work as a helper on different kinds of carpentry jobs, so you get a taste of everything. As your career as a carpenter grows, you can concentrate on work you truly enjoy.
We’ll talk more about training and apprenticeships in a minute – but keep in mind that any formal apprenticeship program will expect you to have a high school diploma or GED.
No matter what your educational background – GED, high school, or college – be sure to keep your math skills sharp. If you want to be a carpenter, you’ll use math almost every day. Geometry and angles, calculating percentages, and knowing how to find the square footage of an area are all necessary skills for carpenters.
Business or finance classes are also a good idea if you have the opportunity. And of course, taking shop or woodworking classes gives you an instant advantage, since you’ll already be familiar with the most common hand and power tools when you start your apprenticeship.
Which brings us to our next tip…
We know, an apprenticeship program takes some time – but it’s worth it. Carpentry is both an art and a science, a complex set of skills, and to become a carpenter takes dedication to your craft. By joining an apprenticeship program, you’re getting hands-on experience plus a steady paycheck.
In general, your training will cover three areas:
Typical carpentry apprenticeships run four years, and you can often find them through local unions or professional associations, or by searching online. The U.S. Department of Labor website has a ton of information about becoming a carpentry apprentice, including current opportunities all over the country, at Apprenticeship.gov.
At the end of your program, you’ll:
Curious as to why we list business insurance before, you know, actually building your business?
That's because there are a lot of legal requirements around the carpentry industry, especially when it comes to projects that require onsite work (read: working at a customer's home). Most states require carpenters to take out a general liability insurance policy if they're doing any work that could be considered contracting.
And that definition is used pretty loosely - for example, some states consider you a contractor if you're working on a project that's valued at over $1000, meaning both carpenters AND handymen need to get a contractor's license to stay on the right side of the law. If you want more info on requirements around contractor licensing, check out our handy hub on how to get a contractor license in your state.
Let's spend a little more time on why you need business insurance before you start on projects. Carpenters work in a riskier industry than many other trades. For example, if you're working at a customer's home, there's a good chance you could cause accidental property damage, or be accused of it (even if your work didn't cause damage).
Plus, there's the normal risk that comes with providing a service to customers. We live in a litigious society. In fact, it's estimated that 43% of small business owners have been threatened with, or engaged in, lawsuits within a ten-year span.
That means the odds that you could end up getting sued are pretty significant - and that risk is present on Day One of opening your carpentry business.
Don't let a litigious customer stop you from learning how to become a carpenter. The experts at Simply Business can help you decide what coverage is best for your carpentry business. Plus, we make the process fast and easy, so you can stay focused on what you do best: being a great carpenter!
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Speaking of earning money, you might wonder how much a carpenter makes. While a carpenter’s helper or apprentice with minimal experience might top out at around $15 per hour, the average journey-level carpenter averages almost $25 per hour.
Curious how much a top carpenter can make? In several states, top-shelf carpenters earn just under $40 per hour – but remember, that’s the average – which means many of them are earning above that number.
Not a bad way to make a living, right? Being a carpenter is a competitive career, though, so you’ve got to find ways to stand out in your field. The best way to do this is to build a strong professional reputation. Here’s how:
Prove yourself: Develop a hardcore work ethic, and other industry pros will notice. Establish yourself as a dependable person, always on time, easy to talk to, and who can work safely and quickly.
Never stop learning: You know being a carpenter is more than just banging nails. Pay attention to trends in your industry, and stay on top of changing techniques, codes, or regulations. And whenever you have the chance to learn new carpentry skills, take it!
Be part of a community: Stay connected with fellow carpenters and other construction professionals – and network to keep building that community. As your career grows, you might even have the opportunity to mentor new carpenters. Plus, the stronger your network, the better your chances for word-of-mouth business!
Learning to be a carpenter takes time and effort, of course – but just take it step-by-step and you can do it.
Learning how to become a carpenter can take many paths, but ultimately, it results in an economically safe, satisfying, and highly creative career. The steps above can help guide you down that path to becoming a customer, but ultimately, the journey you take will largely depend on the experience you already have under your belt.
Once you start your carpentry business, don't forget to continually market out your services to customers. Start a website, post updates on social media, and show off what you've built - it's a great way to get buzz around your business.
Remember, if you need any additional advice on how to grow your carpentry business, come back to Simply U for regular updates. We're always here with the best advice that small business owners can actually use!
I'm a freelance writer and editor with a passion for entrepreneurship, adventure, and my two rescue dogs. For more than two decades, I've created content for businesses of all sizes, from a small, daily newspaper to a Fortune 100 global giant. I landed my first writing gig at 21, and can't imagine doing anything else.
This content is for general, informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting, or financial advice. Please obtain expert advice from industry specific professionals who may better understand your business’s needs. Read our full disclaimer
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