How To Become a Carpenter

TBS Staff Writers
Updated September 18, 2023
Learners need a high school diploma or GED certificate to qualify for a carpentry apprenticeship. Many junior and community colleges offer

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How to Become a Carpenter

Carpentry schools prepare learners for various carpentry careers. Many junior and community colleges offer carpentry programs. Graduates can continue building their skills in a carpentry apprenticeship. Successful carpenters need strong analytical and problem-solving skills. They also need interpersonal skills to work with coworkers and customers.

Carpenters get to work with their hands and express creativity on the job. The following article explains how to become a carpenter. Read on to learn about the career’s responsibilities, required education, and salary outlook. Aspiring carpenters can learn more by contacting carpentry schools.

Questions About Becoming a Carpenter

question-mark-circleDo carpenters need a license?

Carpenters need a driver’s license to travel between job sites. Many carpenters earn professional certifications to attract more clients and raise their salary potential.

question-mark-circleWhat kind of jobs do carpenters do?

Carpenters’ responsibilities include creating and fixing wooden structures. When not performing hands-on work, they collaborate with clients and use feedback to plan next steps.

question-mark-circleHow long does it take to train as a carpenter?

A typical carpentry apprenticeship takes four years to complete. Apprentices earn a salary for completing work. Professionals who earn a certificate or degree in carpentry before starting an apprenticeship need approximately 1-2 years to graduate.

question-mark-circleAre carpenters well paid?

Carpenters earn an annual average of $49,620, according to March 2022 Payscale data. This figure exceeds the median annual salary of $41,950 for all occupations.

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What Do Carpenters Do?

Over a quarter of experienced carpenters work for themselves, offering their services to local contractors. Others work for residential or nonresidential building construction companies. Carpentry careers involve manual labor. Carpenters must also communicate with construction professionals in other specialties.

Job sites include indoor and outdoor settings. The job features many physical requirements, such as long periods spent kneeling, lifting, and standing. Working on a job site also requires wearing safety gear, including a hard hat and reflective vest. Specific requirements vary by construction project.

Experienced carpenters can advance their career in many ways. For example, they can become first-line supervisors or lead carpenters. Some professionals use their experience to start a contracting company. Doing so requires insurance and a state-issued business license. Workers who do not own a business can increase their salary potential by specializing in another in-demand construction field.

Career and Salary Outlook for Carpenters

The BLS projects jobs for carpenters to grow 2% from 2020-2030, which is slower than average. As a result, carpenters must find ways to stand out from the competition. Options include professional certifications in different areas. Apprentices should network with potential employers to increase their chances of finding a job.

Carpenters make a median $49,520 annually. Top-paying employers include nonresidential building construction and building finishing contractors. The most experienced carpenters earn more than $87,000 annually. Some inexperienced professionals make approximately $31,000.

Professionals in New York, Illinois, and Hawaii make $67,120-$80,810. Other high-paying states include Alaska and New Jersey. Although these carpenters make much more than the national median salary, they live in states with a higher-than-average cost of living.

See below for some of the top-paying states for carpenters.

Top-Paying States
StateAnnual Mean WageState Labor Resources
Hawaii$80,810Department of Labor and Industrial Relations
Illinois$69,490Illinois Department of Employment Security
New York$67,120New York State Department of Labor
Alaska$66,040Alaska Department Of Labor And Workforce Development
New Jersey$65,500Department of Labor and Workforce Development


How to Get Hired as a Carpenter

Carpenters need a high school or GED diploma. Both carpentry schools and apprenticeship programs use this requirement. A carpentry school helps learners without a background in carpentry learn the basics and build professional relationships with like-minded peers. Students can use their school’s career counselors to explore apprenticeships and make long-term career goals.

Apprentices can succeed by committing to the coursework their apprenticeship requires. On the job and in class, apprentices build their business, math, and reading comprehension skills. Carpenters need all three to interpret blueprints and other materials.

Carpenters need physical strength to work to their employer’s expectations. An apprenticeship helps prospective carpenters develop their strength and prevent workplace injuries. Professionals should also avoid illegal drugs. Construction companies and other employers may require drug testing for all employees. The list of banned substances varies by state and employer.

What Are the Education Requirements for Carpenters?

Workers must meet specific education and training requirements to become a carpenter. Some high school graduates enroll in a trade school before starting an apprenticeship. Others enter an apprenticeship without prior carpentry education. In both cases, apprentices learn from experienced professionals and work on different job sites. This experience lets them pursue one of many career opportunities.

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    High School or GED Diploma

    A high school education shows trade schools and apprenticeship programs that candidates hold the skills required for academic and career success. Those without a diploma should not give up on their carpentry dream. Apprentice programs and trade schools accept applicants who passed the GED. Many community and junior colleges offer free GED-preparation classes.

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    Trade School

    Trade schools may offer carpentry certificates, diplomas, or degrees. Students in an associate program learn the field’s basics while developing leadership skills. Graduates need these skills to work as front office administrators or business owners. Typical classes in a two-year program include basic carpentry theory and advanced carpentry skills.

    Students spend as much time in their school’s carpentry shop as in the classroom. This hands-on training helps them master job safety, scaffolding, and many electrical tools. Full-time learners earning a degree need 1-2 years to graduate. Students in a certificate program can graduate in 12 months.

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    Carpentry Apprenticeship

    Carpentry unions and other organizations sponsor carpentry apprenticeships. Applicants without a trade school education need at least six months of experience in construction or a related profession. Some states allow 17-year-olds to apply if they submit a parent or guardian’s consent. Other requirements include good health and English proficiency.

    A typical apprenticeship program lasts four years. Some apprentices may finish sooner if they work full time. Apprentices earn a salary and medical benefits while working on different job sites. An apprenticeship program also requires coursework in many areas, including rigging, stair building, and introduction to welding and cutting.

How Much Does Carpentry School Cost?

In 2020, associate degree-seekers at public schools paid an average of $3,570 annually. Learners at private schools paid over 400% more. This difference means that students on a budget should explore local public colleges and trade schools. Students can also save money on tuition by enrolling in a certificate or diploma program. These programs cost less because they require fewer credits.

In addition to tuition, learners should budget for textbooks, materials, and school fees. Students should also budget for commuting to campus. Some hybrid programs offer free digital textbooks. Hybrid programs may also exempt learners from specific fees.

Students can make carpentry school more affordable by exploring federal and institutional financial aid programs. The federal government uses FAFSA results to award grants and low-interest loans. Many schools also require the FAFSA for grants. A school’s financial aid department can provide more information.

Certifications and Licensure for Carpenters

Unlike other construction professions, most carpentry careers do not require a state-issued license. However, many employers limit applicants to those with a combination of experience and professional certifications. Carpentry organizations award certifications to workers showing mastery of one or more skills. Typical requirements include passing an exam and paying a fee.

The National Association of the Remodeling Industry offers six certifications, including certified remodeling project manager and certified remodeler. These and other certifications feature different mastery levels. Each certification requires a 200-question multiple-choice exam. Certified carpenters can renew their certification through continuing education classes.

The National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) features many certification pathways, including certified sales advisor, certified craftsman, and certified master craftsman. Each requires online and in-person exams. Benefits for professionals include more job opportunities, access to free technical publications, and business promotion resources. NWFA also sponsors an apprenticeship program for recent trade school graduates.

Resources for Carpenters

Carpenters International Certification Council

CICC aims to improve the carpentry profession by rating certification agencies, improving workplace safety, and ensuring that job sites employ only the most highly trained professionals. The organization features many certifications, such as envelope specialist and master rigger.

Carpenter’s Training Institute

This institute offers recent high school and trade school graduates a four-year apprenticeship program. Apprentices work on many job sites and take classes in wood framing, healthcare construction, and commercial door hardware.

The United Brotherhood of Carpenters

Founded in 1881, the UBC unites hundreds of thousands of professionals nationwide. The organization offers membership to carpenters of all experience levels. Membership benefits vary by regional council and may include a pension program.

National Association of Home Builders

NAHB helps aspiring carpenters launch their career with a job board and a list of accredited carpentry schools. NAHB members receive many benefits, such as professional publications and networking opportunities.

Photo Credit: Yoshiyoshi Hirokawa