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How to Become a Carpenter

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


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 paid 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, 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 do 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:

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


Some 2-year technical schools offer carpentry degrees that are affiliated with unions and 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 general construction supervisors or independent contractors. For those who would like to advance, it is increasingly important to be able to communicate in both English and Spanish to relay instructions to workers.

Important Qualities

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

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

Math skills. Carpenters use basic math skills every day. They need to be able to calculate volume and measure materials to be cut.

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 slightly sloping.

Stamina. Carpenters need physical endurance. They often must lift tools and wood while standing, climbing, bending, or kneeling for long periods.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition