Depending on skills and experience, carpenters can be found doing everything from hanging drywall to building power plants to helping civil engineers with bridges and tunnels. Their job titles may vary just as much: framer, foreman, construction superintendent, form carpenter, construction worker, and more.
Perhaps equally surprising is the fact that carpenters can actually make quite a decent living. Carpentry jobs aren’t just summer gigs for high school students. In fact, quite a few pay in the same neighborhood as many degree-requiring jobs (such as surgical technicians, massage therapists, and license practical nurses) and offer better wages than the majority of other no-college-required job in America.
So where do carpenters get paid the most? What kind of education and training do you need? Let’s take a look at these and other questions below.
Where do carpenters get paid the most?
Looking at the US cities that have at least a thousand carpenters, we see a pattern: Carpenters get paid the most in areas where the cost of living is also high. Chicago, Honolulu, Anchorage, and San Francisco are especially known for being far from cheap. This makes sense, given that wages for any occupation are generally greater in costlier cities.
Cities paying the most (based on median wage):
- Chicago: $73K/year
- Honolulu: $72K/year
- Napa, CA: $71K/year
- Anchorage, AK: $64K/year
- San Francisco: $62K/year
- Santa Rosa, CA: $62K/year
How much can you expect to earn in general?
The median salary for carpenters across all US cities is $42K per year. But if you’re just starting out, expect to earn closer to $35K. And for those who stick with the job long term, earnings can be about $48K. Note: These are just national averages; wages are highly dependent on your region.
How many carpenters are in the US?
There are currently over 700,000 carpenters in the US. These jobs have grown a ton over the past five years. After plummeting by 35% (a loss of over 375K jobs) during the recession, carpenter jobs have rebounded, adding over 125K new jobs from 2012 to 2017.
Not surprisingly, carpenters have grown the most in large urban areas:
- NYC: 11K new jobs (26% growth)
- Seattle: 6K new jobs (50% growth)
- LA: 6K new jobs (23% growth)
- Riverside, CA: 5K new jobs (49% growth)
- San Francisco: 4K new jobs (30% growth)
- Miami: 4K new jobs (44% growth)
What education do you need?
Despite the high level of skill required, the actual education requirements for carpenters aren’t that stringent, making carpentry an especially good fit for people interested in entering the workforce quickly. The majority of carpenters (43%) have a high school diploma, while a quarter (25%) have less than that, and another good chunk (20%) dabbled in college without earning a degree. Those who do graduate usually focus on programs like basic carpentry and general construction trades.
One thing to be aware of here: Carpenter jobs are joined at the hip with the ups and downs of the overall economy. When the economy is strong and people are building houses and businesses, there’s plenty of work. But when the economy takes a downturn, jobs can dry up. Something to watch out for!
Who do carpenters work for?
Carpenters are employed by over 87,000 companies across the US—especially in the residential building construction sector. Other top employers include the government and retailers like Home Depot, Lowes, and Michaels. And of course, a good number of carpenters are their own bosses.
What skills do employers look for?
Top technical skills (aka, hard skills):
- Ability to deal with a wide variety of construction materials (plywood, plastic, lasers, etc.)
Top non-technical skills:
- Basic IT/computer skills