Professionals who are skilled in carpentry are worth their weight in… wood! Without these tradespeople, the houses we live in, the furniture we sit on, and the structures in which we work and play would not exist. Most laypeople think of carpentry as one field, but like medicine, law, education, welding, building, etc., there are various specialties. Let’s look at different types of carpenters so you can zero in on finding the right carpenter to meet your needs.
So you’re thinking about becoming a carpenter? Well, you’ll be entering one of the most versatile and vital professions in the construction industry if you do. Carpenters are skilled craftsmen and women who do a huge range of jobs – constructing and repairing building frameworks, making and installing fixtures like doors, stairs and window frames and cutting and shaping floorboards and roof timbers.
Below we’ll tell you everything you need to know about being a carpenter, including;
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History of carpentry
As timber naturally degrades, there are not very many remaining early examples of carpentry. The oldest archaeological finds are water well casings that were built using split oak timbers that were excavated in Germany and date back to circa 5,000 BC.
Some of the world’s oldest wooden buildings are Chinese temples such as the Nanchan Temple which was built in 782, or the stave churches in Norway, such as the Heddal stave church, which were built during the 12th and 13th centuries.
Carpentry evolved over the centuries in line with the technology and tools that were used in construction. Sawmills were widespread by the 16th century, which established the timber industry. The Industrial Revolution of the 18th century introduced steam engines and cut nails, which freed carpenters from the labour-intensive process of relying on handmade nails.
Carpenters largely focused on framed post-and-beam buildings until the end of the 19th century when other materials such as steel and concrete became increasingly popular. There has been something of a resurgence in timber construction recently, with products such as glulam and laminated veneer lumber (LVL) seeking to exploit the sustainable benefits that timber provides.
What They Do
Carpenters construct, erect, install, and repair structures and fixtures made from wood and other materials. Carpenters are involved in many different kinds of construction, from the building of highways and bridges to the installation of kitchen cabinets.
Each carpentry task is somewhat different, but most involve the same basic steps. Working from blueprints or instructions from supervisors, carpenters first do the layout—measuring, marking, and arranging materials—in accordance with local building codes. They cut and shape wood, plastic, fibreglass, or drywall using hand and power tools, such as chisels, planes, saws, drills, and sanders. They then join the materials with nails, screws, staples, or adhesives. In the last step, carpenters do a final check of the accuracy of their work with levels, rules, plumb bobs, framing squares, and surveying equipment, and make any necessary adjustments. Some materials come prefabricated, allowing for easier and faster installation.
Carpenters may do many different carpentry tasks, or they may specialise in one or two. Carpenters who remodel homes and other structures, for example, need a broad range of carpentry skills. As part of a single job, they might frame walls and partitions, put in doors and windows, build stairs, install cabinets and moulding, and complete many other tasks. Well-trained carpenters are able to switch from residential building to commercial construction or remodelling work, depending on which offers the best work opportunities.
Carpenters who work for large construction contractors or specialty contractors may perform only a few regular tasks, such as constructing wooden forms for pouring concrete or erecting scaffolding. Some carpenters build tunnel bracing, or brattices, in underground passageways and mines to control the circulation of air through the passageways and to worksites. Others build concrete forms for the tunnel, bridge, or sewer construction projects.
Carpenters employed outside the construction industry perform a variety of installation and maintenance work. They may replace panes of glass, ceiling tiles, and doors, as well as repair desks, cabinets, and other furniture. Depending on the employer, carpenters install partitions, doors, and windows; change locks; and repair broken furniture. In manufacturing firms, carpenters may assist in moving or installing the machinery.
Types of carpenter
Carpenters often specialise in one or two areas, allowing them to develop and hone their skills accordingly, in particular, where they tend to work on larger projects. Some of the different types of carpenter include:
- Rough carpenter: Framing, formwork, roofing and other structural work.
- Jointer: Lays floor joists onto which a floor surface is fixed.
- Trim carpenter: Specialises in mouldings and trims, such as mantles, skirting boards), and other ornamental work.
- Cabinet maker: Make cabinets as well as other furniture such as dressers, wardrobes, and so on.
- Ship’s carpenter: Specialise in ship and boat building.
- Framer: Specialise in the framework of buildings.
- Roofer: Specialise in the rafters, beams and trusses of roof construction.
A joiner, or finish carpenter, is typically not considered to be a carpenter (although there are some confusion and overlap between the use of the terms). Joiners generally specialise in lighter and more ornamental work than that done by a carpenter. This includes fine woodworking, fittings, doors and windows, furniture, details, and so on. Joiners typically work in a workshop where the intricate detailing and formation of various joints is made easier by using non-portable machinery. Carpenters, on the other hand, typically work on construction sites.
Role of a carpenter
The tasks that a carpenter may be involved in might include:
- Interpreting drawings to create an item or component.
- Laying out or designing items or components.
- Determining how to perform tasks efficiently.
- Providing advice about different types of timber and their qualities.
- Cutting or shaping timber using hand or power tools.
- Joining or fixing timber using nails, staples, screws or adhesives.
- Checking accuracy using rulers, levels, plumb bobs, framing squares, and so on.
- Installing items.
- Maintenance and repairs.
Some questions that it can be beneficial to ask a carpenter before hiring them to include:
- Do they specialise in a particular kind of carpentry?
- Will any permissions/permits be required?
- Can they work within the wider programme for the project?
- How do they ensure appropriate standards of health and safety?
- How do they ensure appropriate standards of quality?
- What type of timber do they use, and where is it sourced from?
- What sort of storage facilities do they have?
- What steps will they take to ensure deadlines are met?
As is true of other building trades, carpentry work is sometimes strenuous. Prolonged standing, climbing, bending, and kneeling often is necessary. Carpenters risk injury working with sharp or rough materials, using sharp tools and power equipment, and working in situations where they might slip or fall. Consequently, workers in this occupation experienced a very high incidence of nonfatal injuries and illnesses. Additionally, carpenters who work outdoors are subject to variable weather conditions.
Many carpenters work a standard 40 hour week; however, some work more. About 7 per cent worked part-time.
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Education & Training Required
Learning to be a carpenter can start in high school. Classes in English, algebra, geometry, physics, mechanical drawing, blueprint reading, and general shop will prepare students for further training they will need.
After high school, there are a number of different ways to obtain the necessary training. Some people get a job as a carpenter’s helper, assisting more experienced workers. At the same time, the helper might attend a trade or vocational school, or community college to receive further trade-related training and eventually become a carpenter.
Some employers offer employees formal apprenticeships. These programs combine on-the-job training with related classroom instruction. Apprentices usually must be at least 18 years old and meet local requirements. Apprenticeship programs usually last 3 to 4 years, but new rules may allow apprentices to complete programs sooner as competencies are demonstrated.
On the job, apprentices learn elementary structural design and become familiar with common carpentry jobs, such as layout, form building, rough framing, and outside and inside finishing. They also learn to use the tools, machines, equipment, and materials of the trade. In the classroom, apprentices learn safety, first aid, blueprint reading, freehand sketching, basic mathematics, and various carpentry techniques. Both in the classroom and on the job, they learn the relationship between carpentry and the other building trades.
The number of apprenticeship programs is limited; however, so only a small proportion of carpenters learn their trade through these programs. Most apprenticeships are offered by commercial and industrial building contractors, along with construction unions.
Some people who are interested in carpentry careers choose to receive classroom training before seeking a job. There are a number of public and private vocational-technical schools and training academies affiliated with unions and contractors that offer training to become a carpenter. Employers often look favourably upon these students and usually start them at a higher level than those without this training.
When was the last time you built something with your own two hands? All over the world, carpenters earn their paycheck by construct things out of wood. They saw a hammer, sand, shape, fasten, construct, level, and erect things. It’s a cool, active way to make a living.
Wood is one of the basic building blocks of our worlds. Think about all of the things made out of wood – houses, buildings, playgrounds, bookcases, cabinets, doors, barns, mine shafts, ships, storage tanks, sheds, toys, and so much more.
Carpenters Work with Wood and Build All Types of Products
Carpentry is one of the world’s oldest professions. They used wood to fix wagons, carts, and barns. Now their craft focuses on framing houses, constructing theatrical sets, finishing trim and cabinets, building ships, and doing custom woodwork.
Carpenters are the largest group in the busy construction industry – employing more than 1.2 million people in the United States. These professional craftsmen have an active, tough job that requires stamina, manual dexterity, hand-eye coordination, balance, strength, and an eye for accuracy.
Many carpenters work under a general contractor, but about 30% of carpenters are self-employed. A carpenter’s job consists of reviewing blueprints, ordering wood, and constructing projects. The project may start from scratch, be a remodel, or focus on detailed finish work. In order to be successful, carpenters need to be able to follow directions very well and ensure that their work meets local building codes. To make sure their bosses and clients are happy, the final product they create needs to match the blueprints and plans.
Carpenters v joiners: what’s the difference?
Carpenters play a vital role in the construction industry from putting down floorboards to fitting skirting and window frames. They will work on both commercial and domestic projects, and projects can be extremely varied.
For example, they are also involved in fitting out shops, building shop fronts, forming a casing for concrete structures while they set and making shelving for retail outlets.
Carpenters and joiners have pretty similar roles, and there is a lot of crossovers, but typically a joiner will be involved in making the wood pieces or constructions that a carpenter then installs on-site. Joinery also tends to involve cutting and fitting joints of wood without screws, metals or fasteners, i.e. wooden doors.
Both jobs are highly skilled and require a good knowledge of woodwork, power tools, design and construction.
What experience and skills do I need?
You’ll need to put in some study and get carpentry qualifications plus most employers require a bit of on-site job experience.
Becoming an apprentice carpenter is a great way to learn on-the-job, and you’ll be paid at the same time. You could also get work as a labourer or joiner’s apprentice and pick up some experience that way. If you don’t qualify for an apprenticeship you can take a course at a local college to pick up the know-how you need to progress.
Don’t forget to brush up on your literacy and numeracy skills too – you’ll need to be able to read technical drawings, take measurements, calculate quantities and angles, so a good level of maths and English is a must.
What will I do on a day-to-day basis?
You can expect a lot of on-site and outdoor work if you train to become a carpenter, some of it weather dependent. What you do will hinge entirely on the project you’re working on, but it’s likely to be pretty creative – you could be building door frames, installing stairs or measuring skirting boards. Or you could be constructing wooden frames to support permanent structures whilst they are built.
Expect some long hours and irregular days if a project is nearing completion and you won’t stay in one place. You’ll move around on different jobs, meeting lots of different people.
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Once you have experience as a carpenter there are a number of areas you can specialise in:
- Heritage carpentry – in this area you would concentrate on rebuilding, restoring and renovating buildings of historical importance. You might train specifically in traditional techniques.
- Set design – you could find yourself working in the film industry building sets for big-budget Hollywood movies.
- Shopfitting – the scope for fitting out different shops is immense as companies seek to create their own unique spaces and brand. You could work with big high street names or small quirky independents.
- Furniture design – some carpenters concentrate on furniture, making everything from wardrobes and cabinets to dining tables, shelving and chairs. If you are creative, then this side of carpentry could appeal to you.
Carpenters usually specialise in rough or finish work. Rough work is at the beginning of projects and includes things like framing, scaffolding, building concrete forms, or laying plywood. Flooring, drywall, or some finish work eventually covers any rough work. Finish work takes a keen eye for detail and includes doors, windows, moulding, floors, cabinets, counters, shelves, panelling, furniture, exterior siding, toys, picture frames, and any custom woodwork – it includes any work that is seen.
Depending on what type of work they are doing, carpenters may work inside or outside. To complete their jobs, they use all sorts of equipment and tools – some hazardous. Carpenters know how to use tools like hammers, saws, drills, chisels, nails, screws, bolts, glue, safety goggles, sanders, gloves, nail guns, plumb bobs, rulers, chalk boxes, pencils, and levels.
You can’t become a carpenter overnight. Most carpenters start by taking woodworking courses and math classes. Most professional carpenters complete a 3 to 4-year apprenticeship approved by the US Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship Training, Employer and Labor Services that includes 144 hours of classroom instruction per year. This allows them to learn the craft by watching and working hands-on with a seasoned pro.
Carpentry is an excellent way to make a living. It is a wonderful skill to learn for anyone handy with tools. Tune your TV into This Old House or New Yankee Workshop to learn more about this popular craft and career.
Carpentry requires mental and physical work. Think about all the building projects in your town – most of them require a carpenter. There is plenty of work for handy people. If you choose to make carpentry your career, you can plan to earn $16.90 per hour or about $21,000 to $60,000 per year. The average salary is $39,000 per year.
At the end of the day if you like to see what you accomplished and you don’t mind being covered in sawdust or occasionally smacking your finger with a stray hammer strike, then you should consider working as a carpenter.