Carpenters are skilled craftsmen who work in the construction industry fabricating primarily wood constructions; from the entire framework of a building to ornate woodwork on stairs and trim. Some carpenters pre-fabricate cabinets and other structures in shops or factories while others work on construction sites, cutting, joining, and installing structural elements. Many specialize in one aspect of construction. Carpenters working as independent contractors, however, have the ability to work on a wide range of projects.
A carpenter's unique job duties vary depending on whether they work in rough carpentry or finish carpentry. In addition, there are many areas in which carpenters can specialize in making specific types of wood products or engaging in specialized carpentry processes.
Rough carpenters typically work outdoors on large construction projects. They use blueprints to decide what amount and type of materials are needed for the job. After materials are selected, rough carpenters cut materials according to specifications. They may use hand saws, power saws, or woodworking machines. After cutting the materials to a specified size, carpenters then join or assemble them as elements of a larger structure. Sometimes, in order to move these elements into place, carpenters must build scaffolding or other temporary supports. Carpenters may even build sleds to haul timber through wooded areas and rough terrain where motorized vehicles cannot go.
A finish carpenter is more commonly known as a millwright. They are primarily involved in making cabinetry, furniture, models, and instruments. They also create ornate, detailed, and fine wood products for a variety of uses. Millwrights must be detail-oriented and work on a small scale efficiently. Their work is often performed in a shop, though some millwrights travel to construction sites to fit and install trim, fine cabinets, and other household furnishings.
Finish carpenters may specialize in several areas. Those who concentrate on moulding and trim for doors, window casings, and mantels are known as trim carpenters. Cabinetmakers, as the name implies, primarily create cabinets, but also fabricate and refine wardrobes, storage chests, and dressers. Scenic carpenters work in the film industry, crafting elaborate sets. Even ships require carpenters, often called shipwrights, who make emergency repairs when necessary.
Other areas of specialization include the repair of stringed instruments by luthiers, and the focus on environmentally friendly and energy-efficient designs, performed by "green" carpenters. These carpenters strive to use sustainable and recycled materials in their projects.
No formal training is required to enter the field of carpentry, though a high school diploma or equivalent is preferred in most cases. Aspiring carpenters should take woodworking, mechanical drawing, or drafting courses in high school in order to gain skills that are necessary for the job. These skills also give candidates an edge when trying to gain acceptance into apprenticeship programs.
Unions typically offer apprenticeship training programs for aspiring carpenters. At 17 years of age, students are allowed to apply for these programs. Applicants are chosen based on their performance in both oral and written tests. After acceptance into the apprenticeship, prospective carpenters will spend three to four years in the classroom, learning about carpentry principles. They will also receive hands-on training from experienced carpenters. Classroom instruction consists of structural design, blueprint reading, and framing systems courses. At job sites, apprentices shadow lead carpenters, learning through observation and experience.
Prospective carpenters may also opt to receive direct, on-the-job training from contractors. However, those who do so often take a much longer period of time to achieve the skills needed to progress in the field. Moreover, they will not earn higher union wages or receive many other benefits from being part of a union. Some vocational and technical schools now offer degrees and coursework in carpentry. Candidates for carpentry positions with these credentials often experience more and higher-paying entry-level opportunities, though still lack some of the benefits from completing an apprenticeship through a union.
In addition to education, carpenters must possess skills that will allow them to endure the physical demands of the carpentry profession. Carpenters must possess a high degree of manual dexterity in order to perform complex woodworking procedures. They must be in good physical shape and be able to endure long hours of manual labor. They should also have a strong grasp of arithmetic and be able to effectively organize and make plans for construction.
Depending on their unique job duties, carpenters may work either indoors or outdoors. Rough carpenters work mostly outdoors, while finish carpenters work indoors in shops or factories. Due to frequent material shortages and inclement weather conditions, most carpenters average only 26 hours per week over the course of a year. Their jobs are physically intensive, requiring many hours of standing while cutting, joining, and working wood materials. In some cases, they may have to climb and there is a high risk of falling. Since carpenters use sharp and heavy equipment, the risk of on-the-job injury is high. Carpenters should be safety-conscious and follow company or workplace safety standards at all times.