What is a Carpenter?

Do you like building or creating things with wood? Do you have an eye for detail, and like to be precise in what you're doing? A career as a carpenter could be right for you!

Carpenters are skilled craftsmen who work in the construction and cabinet making industry. They fabricate all sorts of wood constructions; from entire frameworks of buildings, to custom kitchens or ornate details on wood trim.

What does a Carpenter do?

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.

A carpenter working inside a woodworking shop.

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, a carpenter will 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.

Finish Carpenters - are primarily involved in making cabinetry, furniture, models, and instruments. They also create ornate, detailed, and fine wood products for a variety of uses. They must be detail-oriented and work on a small scale efficiently. Their work is often performed in a shop, though some finish carpenters 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.
  • The repair of stringed instruments is done by luthiers.
  • Environmentally friendly and energy-efficient designs are performed by 'green' carpenters. These carpenters strive to use sustainable and recycled materials in their projects.

Are you suited to be a carpenter?

Carpenters have distinct personalities. They tend to be realistic individuals, which means they’re independent, stable, persistent, genuine, practical, and thrifty. They like tasks that are tactile, physical, athletic, or mechanical. Some of them are also conventional, meaning they’re conscientious and conservative.

Does this sound like you? Take our free career test to find out if carpenter is one of your top career matches.

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What is the workplace of a Carpenter like?

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.

Some carpenters pre-fabricate cabinets and other structures in shops or factories while others work on construction sites, cutting, joining, and installing structural elements.

Their jobs are physically intensive, requiring many hours of standing while cutting, joining, and working wood materials. Since carpenters use sharp and heavy equipment, they should be safety-conscious and follow company or workplace safety standards at all times.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to become a Carpenter?

The length of time required to become a carpenter depends on the chosen learning track.

An apprenticeship is the most common path and takes between three and four years to complete. Diploma and certificate programs in carpentry offered by technical and vocational schools generally last one or two years.

What are Carpenters like?

Based on our pool of users, carpenters tend to be predominately investigative people. Carpenters have to interpret blueprints and drawings to determine dimensions and materials required and installation processes to be followed. This detailed and precise work most definitely calls for inquisitive, analytical, inspecting, and investigative minds.

Should I become a Carpenter?

The skill set that carpenters must possess is a blended one of both science and art.

Physical Strength and Stamina
Carpentry is physical work that calls for physical strength.

Eye for Detail
Precision cannot be compromised in carpentry. Installing items properly requires attention to specifications and precise measurements.

Critical Thinking and Troubleshooting Abilities
Carpenters depend on suppliers of wood and other materials, co-workers, and client specifications. They will inevitably encounter delays, crew issues, and unexpected changes made by the client. In these situations carpenters must be able to think quickly, clearly, and critically to come up with workable solutions.

Math Skills
Carpenters use math skills to accurately calculate sizes, distances, and quantities of material, as well as project timelines and costs; to interpret design blueprints; and to complete other project-planning tasks. The field involves a continuous interplay of algebra, geometry, statistics, and calculus.

Mechanical Skills / Hand-Eye Coordination / Manual Dexterity
Carpenters need to be comfortable operating the wide variety of mechanical tools and machines that are used in the trade to shape and cut materials to specific dimensions. These include extension ladders, electronic and laser levels, power sanders, power saws, and framing squares.

Computer Skills
In addition to hand and power tools, carpenters often use computers. Familiarity with word-processing software allows them to effectively communicate with clients and managers about the scope, design, and status of projects. They may use project planning and management software to keep track of project tasks. Those who work for themselves have to be familiar with accounting and job-estimating programs.

Creativity
While it is important to pay attention to the client’s wishes and ideas, it is equally important to be able to present alternative creative and innovative ideas.

Communication Skills
A coherent channel of communication between carpenter and client and carpenter and colleagues is essential to the smooth operation of a project.

Before deciding to pursue carpentry, consider an experienced carpenter’s response to the question:
What is the biggest misconception people have about your job?

I’m not sure what the biggest misconception is. I know I have looked at it from the outside-in myself. I’ve been in the company of other carpenters and seen the work of other people and have held differing opinions. I think many DIY-minded folk underestimate the skill and capability we good carpenters have developed over decades of repetition and practice. I think there is a sentiment that because HGTV shows a handsome young wannabe-actor swing a sledge-hammer in minute seven, then shows a beautiful (as far as the camera sees) finished project at minute twenty-nine as the credits roll, that any semi-handy fella or lady can do the things that we pros have made a career of.

I often feel that our financial value – our wages or percentage of project costs – is set lower because the threshold to entry into the carpentry trade is fairly low. Almost everyone had a grandpa or an uncle who knew some carpentry, right? How hard can it be? ‘Why should we pay you that rate when there are so many other raggedly-dressed, semi-alcoholic, somewhat-boorish guys parked all over the lot at the local Home Depot on any given Saturday morning?’

Long ago I worked with a guy who was a bit more experienced than I was and we were discussing our pay and our hourly rate. He told me, ‘Look, I don’t get paid for what I do in an hour. I get paid what I get paid for what I CAN do in an hour – any hour, anywhere, on any job.’ This has always sat inside my mind and I’ve tried to express this in my sales meetings and materials as well. I am a professional carpenter and my capabilities come at a certain cost. So, while you may feel you are paying more for my tradework than you may have to pay someone else, the added cost buys you a conscientious, articulate, sane, sober, and trustworthy professional within your home and at your beck-and-call throughout our contract.

To sum up, and to clarify my own thoughts on the question, I guess the biggest misconception I’ve seen about carpentry is that it is viewed by too many people to be a low-skilled, low-caliber trade not worthy of as much regard as mechanical trades or other skilled trades. The reality is that there are many of us who are consummate professionals…in dusty jeans and sweatshirts.

Carpenters are also known as:
Rough Carpenter Finish Carpenter Trim Carpenter Apprentice Carpenter Journeyman Carpenter Construction Carpenter