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Each day, carpenters throughout the country counter the stereotype that they’re more brawn than brain. From using basic addition and subtraction skills to calculate floor space and wall heights, to applying complex trigonometric formulas to make right angle cuts, carpenters rely on more than muscle and endurance to complete their jobs well; they employ an expansive mathematical skill set. Joe Weisling, a carpenter of 38 years and training director for the Southeast Wisconsin Carpentry Training Center, challenges misconceptions about his profession. "There are those that feel that the construction industry has no future. There are those that believe that you have to have a size 19 neck and a size 4 hat. In other words, you've got to be all brawn and no brain. There are those that seem to think that it's only a man's world," he says. Many carpenters work in the residential and nonresidential building construction industries. Others work for contractors in building finishing or foundation, structure and building exteriors. Unlike cement masons who primarily pour, smooth and finish concrete floors, sidewalks, roads and curbs, carpenters mostly construct and repair building frameworks and structures such as stairways or door frames.
The carpentry profession is projected to grow by about 24 percent from 2012 to 2022, a rate that exceeds the average for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The housing market is also on the road to recovery, and carpenters are needed for the surge in new-home construction projects. In 2013, the Department of Commerce reported 103 million building permit applications, the highest number of applications for housing construction since June 2008.
According to the BLS, carpenters earned a median salary of $39,940 in 2012, or $19.20 per hour. In that same period, the highest-paid carpenters earned about $72,580, while the lowest-paid earned $24,880. The motion picture and video industry pays the highest for carpentry work. Metropolitan areas that pay well include Honolulu, Santa Cruz, Calif., and Santa Rosa, Calif.
After earning a high school diploma or its equivalent, prospective carpenters should complete a three- to four-year carpenter’s training program. Weisling says this is the best way to learn the ropes of the profession. Carpentry apprentices complete at least 144 hours of paid technical training and, depending on the program, at least 2,000 to 8,000 hours of compensated hands-on, on-the-job training in the areas of carpentry basics, blueprint reading, mathematics, building-code requirements, safety and first-aid practices. Prospective carpenters should research union and contractor associations in their cities or towns, as several of them sponsor apprenticeship programs. Other basic qualifications for apprenticeship program admittance include being 18 years of age, physically able to perform assigned tasks, U.S. citizenship or proof of legal residency and successful completion of a drug test.
Because carpenters are constantly called upon to make exact measurements and work with heavy equipment, those interested in entering the profession must comfortably marry attention to detail with manual dexterity and mathematical prowess. Their problem-solving skills must go hand-in-hand with their stamina and physical strength. Weisling adds that carpenters must possess an open mind, as well as a genuine passion for the work. "We encourage individuals to define who they are and understand what a carpenter does and what the duties really are and then become as well-rounded as they can," he says.
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Last updated by Stephanie Steinberg.