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What Does a Carpenter Do?

Carpenters work on construction teams.
Some carpenters specialize in making furniture.
Some carpenters specialize in smaller scale woodworking like building furniture or wooden sculptures.
Carpenters must know how to safely operate machinery and power tools, including miter saws.
Some carpenters focus on designing pieces of wood furniture.
A jointer, which is used in carpentry.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2014
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A carpenter is an important part of any construction team. He or she has the skills and knowledge to cut, fasten, carve, and design objects made of wood or other materials. These individuals are gifted in measuring precisely, sometimes called carpentry math, and know how to use different construction tools like saws, drills, small hand tools, and a variety of mechanized tools. The job has several levels in most of the US.

Most people who begin in carpentry may take some basic training at local trade schools or community colleges, or they may simply be skilled at building with varied materials. Many begin as apprentice carpenters, and in many places, apprentices must have a certain amount of on the job experience prior to moving up to the next level of employment, journeyman. At the top echelon, a person can become a master carpenter when he or she has significant experience and training in the field and has amassed many hours of work as apprentices and journeymen. This expert may oversee large jobs, participate in training apprentices and journeymen, and work directly with others in the construction field like architects, electricians, metal workers, and a variety of others to see a job through to its complete finish.

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The apprentice carpenter tends to do work that requires the least training. They may cut and carry wood or other materials, do preliminary work in the building of a structure, and, as they grow more experienced, more actively participate in the finer aspects of building something. Journeymen do some of the more finely and precisely constructed work, and many run their own companies, working directly with other builders and designers.

Though carpentry is often associated with the building of large structures like homes, freeways, and skyscrapers, there is another subset of this field. Some individuals specialize in making smaller objects, like furniture, carved wood pieces, or sculptures. There are master or journeymen carpenters who are particularly gifted in designing small aspects of a home, like staircases or cabinets.

Working in this job, especially at the upper levels, implies not only the ability to work very hard, to be accurate at work, and to commit to long hours, but also artistic sensibility. Even if a person doesn’t specifically design a home — though some do actively participate in helping to design — he or she does need artistic precision in bringing the home or other structure to completion. It’s a field that draws numerous highly skilled workers, and it certainly shouldn’t be considered a profession made up of the uneducated. Carpenters are often highly educated, artistically gifted, and extremely intelligent people; this may play against stereotype of the construction worker who wolf whistles at every passing attractive female. Moreover, though the field was once male dominated, more and more women are entering it, and the working environment is much more equally balanced between genders.

The goal of most carpenters is to advance in knowledge to upper levels of journeyman or master. This is because new ones are often required to do much of the heavier work. Over time, people in the field can suffer injuries, impairing their ability to work heavier jobs. Knowledge of more ergonomically sound methods for lifting and constructing material has helped somewhat in this field, but work injuries remain an issue. Some professionals who’ve worked since their teens burn out by the time they hit their mid 40s, requiring worker’s compensation and career changes. If they’ve advanced to higher levels in their profession, they may be better off, since they may not be required to do some of the heavier work that building something takes.

Especially when it comes to the building of structures, the carpenter may have a work schedule that varies. Poor weather can mean having to wait to begin or finish jobs. Work may also be affected by economy, and in the midst of a recession, individuals in this field may have less work because people aren’t building houses or larger structures, since it is not economically sound to do so. On the other hand, these professionals are always needed to repair existing structures, provided the weather cooperates — and even sometimes when it doesn’t, if the need for a repair is vital.

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anon317604
Post 6

@olittlewood: You will get a certificate if you go to college/school to learn the theory side of carpentry/building, three or four years but its just as relevant if you were to work in a workshop or on site. A lot of carpenters these days do not know how to do everything. It depends on who you learn from. The Germans learn it all, and traditionally a carpenter would learn how to build a house from bottom to top, with everything inside.

I got the papers, went traveling around the world, I was never asked for them, if you have your tools and know what your doing then no worries. It's probably the best trade there is and you have to learn how to work around all the other trades, becoming insightful and knowledgeable about building. Workshop based work is amazing, and learning how to make a door or a staircase for example, is really enjoyable. Then fitting it is very satisfying. Good luck.

anon317603
Post 5

@anon40427: I am a carpenter and I would not bring other workers into your home. This is unprofessional and clearly disrespectful. It would tell me that you, as the customer, did not think I Was putting my full attention into your home. It could be argued that if the carpenter was set up in your garage, for example, (and nearly finished in your house) where all the mess stays and had a small job to do for the next house, and that it would be easier to do while set up appropriately for that job then it might be O.K. The bottom line is to communicate with the customer, letting them know your intentions and have a clear understanding. A lot of tradespeople do not have the social skills and manners to even to be aware of their behaviour, this reflects on a good tradesman, but a really good carpenter will shine when you see there work and them smiling while they do it.

anon40427
Post 2

If a carpenter is doing work on your house and brings work from another job to your house to work on, is this ethical. Shouldn't they just be working on your house and not doing work for another home?

olittlewood
Post 1

Do you actually get certified as a master carpenter? and if so, how do you go about getting it? is it just accepted that you've worked so many hours/years in training, or is there an actual test or certification process?

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