Carpenters construct and repair building frameworks and structures—such as stairways, doorframes, partitions, and rafters—made from wood and other materials. They also may install kitchen cabinets, siding, and drywall.


Carpenters typically do the following:

  • Follow blueprints and building plans to meet the needs of clients
  • Install structures and fixtures, such as windows and molding
  • Measure, cut, or shape wood, plastic, and other materials
  • Construct building frameworks, including walls, floors, and doorframes
  • Help erect, level, and install building framework with the aid of rigging hardware and cranes
  • Inspect and replace damaged framework or other structures and fixtures
  • Instruct and direct laborers and other construction helpers

Carpenters are one of the most versatile construction occupations, with workers usually doing many different tasks. For example, some carpenters insulate office buildings; others install drywall or kitchen cabinets in homes. Those who help construct tall buildings or bridges often install the wooden concrete forms for cement footings or pillars. Some carpenters erect shoring and scaffolding for buildings.

Carpenters use many different hand and power tools to cut and shape wood, plastic, fiberglass, or drywall. They commonly use hand tools, including squares, levels, and chisels, as well as many power tools, such as sanders, circular saws, nail guns, and welding machines. Carpenters fasten materials together with nails, screws, staples, and adhesives, and do a final check of their work to ensure accuracy. They use a tape measure on nearly every project because proper measuring increases productivity, reduces waste, and ensures that the pieces being cut are the proper size.

The following are examples of types of carpenters:

Residential carpenters typically specialize in new-home, townhome, and condominium building and remodeling. As part of a single job, they might build and set forms for footings, walls, and slabs, and frame and finish exterior walls, roofs, and decks. They also frame interior walls, build stairs, and install drywall, crown molding, doors, and cabinets. In addition, residential carpenters may tile floors and lay wood floors and carpet. Fully trained construction carpenters can easily switch from new-home building to remodeling.

Commercial carpenters typically remodel and help build commercial office buildings, hospitals, hotels, schools, and shopping malls. Some specialize in working with light-gauge and load-bearing steel framing for interior partitions, exterior framing, and curtain wall construction. Others specialize in working with concrete forming systems and finishing interior and exterior walls, partitions, and ceilings. Most commercial carpenters perform many of the same tasks as residential carpenters.

Industrial carpenters typically work in civil and industrial settings, where they build scaffolding and create and set forms for pouring concrete. Some industrial carpenters build tunnel bracing or partitions in underground passageways and mines to control the circulation of air to worksites. Others build concrete forms for tunnels, bridges, dams, power plants, or sewer construction projects.

Work Environment

Carpenters held about 901,200 jobs in 2012. About 36 percent of carpenters were self-employed. Most carpenters work in the construction industry, where they account for the largest share of the building trades occupations. The industries that employed the most carpenters in 2012 were as follows:

Residential building construction 19%
Nonresidential building construction 12
Building finishing contractors 10
Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors 7

Because carpenters are involved in many types of construction, from building highways and bridges to installing kitchen cabinets, they work both indoors and outdoors.

Carpenters may work in cramped spaces, and frequent lifting, standing, and kneeling can be tiring. Those who work outdoors are subject to variable weather conditions.

Injuries and Illnesses

Carpenters have a higher rate of injuries and illnesses than the national average. The most common injuries include muscle strains from lifting heavy materials, falls from ladders, and cuts from sharp objects and tools.

Work Schedules

Nearly all carpenters work full time, which may include working evenings and weekends. Overtime is common in order to meet deadlines.

About 36 percent of carpenters were self-employed in 2012. Self-employed workers often work in residential construction and may be able to set their own schedule.

Education and Training

Although most carpenters learn their trade through an apprenticeship, some learn on the job, starting as a helper.


A high school diploma or equivalent is required. High school courses in English, mathematics, mechanical drawing, and shop are considered useful.


Most carpenters learn their trade through a 3- or 4-year apprenticeship. For each year of the program, apprentices must complete at least 144 hours of technical training and 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training. In the technical training, apprentices learn carpentry basics, blueprint reading, mathematics, building code requirements, and safety and first-aid practices. They also may receive specialized training in concrete, rigging, welding, scaffold building, fall protection, confined workspaces, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 10- and 30-hour safety courses. 

After finishing an apprenticeship, carpenters are considered to be journey workers and may perform tasks on their own.

Several groups, including unions and contractor associations, sponsor apprenticeship programs. The basic qualifications for a person to enter an apprenticeship program are as follows:

  • Minimum age of 18
  • High school education or equivalent
  • Physically able to do the work
  • U.S. citizen or proof of legal residency  
  • Pass substance abuse screening

Some contractors have their own carpenter training program. Although many workers enter apprenticeships directly, some carpenters start out as helpers.

Some apprenticeships offer special programs for veterans.

A number of 2-year technical schools offer carpentry degrees that are affiliated with unions or contractor organizations. Credits earned as part of an apprenticeship program usually count toward an associate’s degree.


Because they are exposed to the entire construction process, carpenters usually have more opportunities than other construction workers to become independent contractors or general construction supervisors.

Carpenters seeking advancement often take additional training provided by associations, unions, or employers. Also, it is increasingly important to be able to communicate in both English and Spanish to relay instructions to workers.

Important Qualities

Business skills. Self-employed carpenters must be able to bid new jobs, track inventory, and plan work assignments. 

Detail oriented. Carpenters perform many tasks that are important in the overall building process. Making precise measurements, for example, may reduce gaps between windows and frames, limiting any leaks around the window.

Manual dexterity. Carpenters use many tools and need hand-eye coordination to avoid injury. Striking the head of a nail, for example, is crucial to not damaging wood.

Math skills. Because carpenters use basic math skills every day, they need to be able to calculate volume and measure materials to be cut.

Physical stamina. Carpenters need physical endurance. They often lift heavy tools and materials while standing, climbing, or bending for long periods.

Physical strength. Many of the tools and materials that carpenters use are heavy. For example, plywood sheets can weigh 50 to 100 pounds.

Problem-solving skills. Because all construction jobs vary, carpenters must adjust project plans accordingly. For example, they may have to use wedges to level cabinets in homes that have settled and are sloping slightly.


The median annual wage for carpenters was $39,940 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $24,880, and the top 10 percent earned more than $72,580.

The starting pay for apprentices usually is between 30 percent and 50 percent of what fully trained carpenters make. As apprentices learn to do more, they receive pay increases.

Nearly all carpenters work full time, which may include working evenings and weekends. Overtime is common in order to meet deadlines.

About 36 percent of carpenters were self-employed in 2012. Self-employed workers often work in residential construction and may be able to set their own schedule.

Job Outlook

Employment of carpenters is projected to grow 24 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. Population growth should result in new-home construction—the largest segment employing carpenters—which will stimulate the need for many new workers. Home remodeling needs should also spur demand for carpenters. 

In addition, the need to repair and replace roads and bridges should increase employment of carpenters. Much of this growth, however, depends on spending by federal and state governments as they attempt to upgrade existing infrastructure.  

The construction of factories and power plants also may result in some new jobs.

However, will be the increasing use of modular and prefabricated components. Roof assemblies, walls, stairs, and complete bathrooms are just a few of the prefabricated components that can be manufactured in a separate facility and then assembled onsite by carpenters. Installing prefabricated components replaces the most labor-intensive and time-consuming onsite building activities.

Job Prospects

Overall job prospects for carpenters should improve over the coming decade as construction activity continues to rebound.

The number of job openings is expected to vary by geographic area. Because construction activity parallels the movement of people and businesses, areas of the country with the largest population increases will require the most carpenters.

Employment of carpenters, like that of many other construction workers, is sensitive to fluctuations in the economy. On the one hand, workers in these trades may experience periods of unemployment when the overall level of construction falls. On the other hand, peak periods of building activity may produce shortages of carpenters.

For More Information

For details about apprenticeships or other work opportunities in this trade, contact the offices of the state employment service, the state apprenticeship agency, local contractors or firms that employ carpenters, or local union–management carpenter apprenticeship committees. Apprenticeship information is available from the U.S. Department of Labor's toll-free help line, 1 (877) 872-5627, and Employment and Training Administration.

For more information about carpenters, including training opportunities, visit

Associated Builders and Contractors

Associated General Contractors of America

National Association of Home Builders, Home Builders Institute


United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, Carpenters Training Fund