How To Work as a Carpenter

Long before he gained fame as "Indiana Jones," actor Harrison Ford earned his keep around Hollywood as a carpenter. Carpentry can be a creatively satisfying profession, working as a skilled craftsman in one of two areas: as a structural carpenter involved in home and office building construction, or as a detail carpenter designing and refinishing furniture. In the high-tech push-button world of computers, learning a skill that is hands-on, tactile and creative can lead toward a very lucrative income. If you enjoy manual labor and working outdoors, here's how to get into carpentry.

It is important to have good physical stamina, excellent manual dexterity and a comprehensive understanding of mathematics in order to become a carpenter. Start using woodworking tools in your spare time to see if you enjoy this type of work. In high school, excellent coursework to pursue includes geometry, general shop, mechanical drawing, blueprint design, physics and any type of mathematics course. As a high school graduate, you can apply for a carpentry apprentice in your area, although these openings are few. An apprenticeship program lasts four years and includes both classroom and practical experience.

There are a number of professional associations in this trade that can lead you toward apprenticeship opportunities, including the Associated General Contractors, the Associated Builders&Contractors, and the National Association of Home Builders. It is always a good idea to talk to professionals already in the field who can answer your questions and give you first-hand insight about the pros and cons of becoming a carpenter.

Another entree to the profession is to secure a beginner's position for a local carpentry contractor. The main drawback to this route, however, is that you will only learn one type of carpentry skill versus the multi-skilled education you would receive as an apprentice. But as a carpenter's helper, you will still gain valuable experience toward becoming a professional carpenter. While working as a carpenter's helper, you can simultaneously take carpentry coursework at local vocational schools or community colleges to help round-out your education and experience.

There are a number of ways to specialize in carpentry once you have finished your apprenticeship. These include becoming a scenic carpenter to create sets and scenery for film and television, a cabinetmaker creating detailed fine furniture, a ship's carpenter specializing in shipbuilding and remodeling, a framer who builds the skeleton work for commercial buildings, a trim carpenter handling doors, moldings and windows, and a finish carpenter or joiner who works on cabinetry, furniture making and even crafting musical instruments from wood.

The average annual salary for a carpenter is around $30,000, with beginners earning less than $20,000 and experienced carpenters earning upward of $60,000.  


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