Simply being a talented woodworker may not be enough to help you launch and run your own carpentry business. Like many other professions, there are steps you must first follow in order to establish your legitimacy.
And for carpentry that begins with an apprenticeship.
Curious how to become a carpenter? It starts with being an apprentice. Let’s review the steps.
What’s the purpose of a carpenter apprenticeship?
Tradesmen have used apprenticeships for thousands of years to ensure that the skills, work, and craftsmanship of their trade were maintained and passed down from one generation to the next.
Traditionally, a master took an apprentice under their wing and taught them the ins and outs of the business. Over time, as the apprentice gained experience, they could be trusted with more responsibilities and harder tasks, until they eventually proved they were worthy of being called a master.
Today, the system is slightly more structured and formulaic but still follows the same premise—an apprentice is supervised by a licensed master carpenter or contractor. Most apprenticeships typically last between 3-5 years. During that time, carpenters apprentices receive standard instructional (classroom) education and on-the-job training.
For instance, in California, “The minimum term of Apprenticeship requires 48 months, 4800 work hours and completion of 612 hours of related instructional classes taken at a Carpenters Training Center.” 1 But some apprenticeships can have work experience requirements as high as 8,000 hours.
Over the course of your apprenticeship, you will be expected to master the following:
• Reading building plans and blueprints
• Construction safety
• Installation, construction, or repair structures, frameworks, and fixtures
• Building codes and OSHA safety regulations
• Green building
• Hazardous materials
• The qualities and characteristics of wood
• Freehand sketching
• Elementary to advanced carpentry techniques.
Do apprentices get paid?
In case you were wondering, yes: you do get paid during your apprenticeship period. Payment depends on your state, but typically union pay is a set on a progressive percentage of what a journeyman carpenter makes. (A journeyman is defined as someone who has completed your apprenticeship and can work anywhere within their state, autonomously.) According to the American Institute for Innovative Apprenticeships, a carpenter’s assistant will receive the following pay scale on the way to 8,000 hours of work experience:2
• 1,000 hours = 50% of journeyworker’s rate and fringe benefit payments
• 2,000 hours = 55% of journeyworker’s rate and fringe benefit payments
• 3,000 hours = 60% of journeyworker’s rate and fringe benefit payments
• 4,000 hours = 70% of journeyworker’s rate and fringe benefit payments
• 5,000 hours = 75% of journeyworker’s rate and fringe benefit payments
• 6,000 hours = 80% of journeyworker’s rate and fringe benefit payments
• 7,000 hours = 85% of journeyworker’s rate and fringe benefit payments
• 8,000 hours = 90% of journeyworker’s rate and fringe benefit payments
For non-union jobs, you may have a payscale that’s more tied to your acquired skills—the faster you learn and master skills, the higher your pay goes.
What does it take to become a carpenter apprentice?
Carpentry isn’t for everyone. It’s a physically demanding, high pressure, high-risk job that requires you to be a creative problem solver. Although years of prior experience isn’t necessary, it is helpful. Requirements vary on a state-by-state basis, but general provisions to become a carpenter’s apprentice include:
• A highschool diploma or GED equivalent
• Either 6 month full-time work experience in a construction trade or graduation from a pre-apprenticeship program
• Applicant must be 18 years of age or 17 years of age (with parental consent)
• Applicant must be able to read and understand English
• Applicant must finish all application forms
• Applicant must prove legal employable status in the U.S.
How to apply for a carpentry apprenticeship
To apply for an apprenticeship, you need to find a program that’s being offered in your area and a pro who is willing to be your sponsor.
But how do you do that?
There are a few ways to accomplish this:
Through a union online – While there are several region-dependent carpentry apprenticeships you can apply to, most will come through one of two primary unions: United Brotherhood of Carpenters or Laborers’ International Union of North America.
In person – Do some research and find out who your local craftsmen union is. Go in and talk to them about their apprenticeship program. In most cases, they will be able to get you integrated in no time.
Job resource sites – In addition to your primary union pages, you can also find sponsors by searching through resources like On The Job Training.
Through contacts – If you personally know someone who is a carpenter or have family friends, you can reach out and request to become a laborer.
Once you’ve narrowed down your options, you can start applying to the professional carpenters who are looking to take on and sponsor an apprentice.
Note: While you could join a non-union carpenter, we wouldn’t suggest it since pay and protections are subpar compared to union-sponsored apprenticeships.
Completing your carpentry apprenticeship
After you’ve been accepted, all that’s left to do is work (and work hard). Once you’ve finished your 8,000 hours of on the job work and 576 hours of classroom education, the apprenticeship ends.
There aren’t any tests, ceremonies, or fees. Simply apply for your journeyman carpenter card via your local trade union. These cards are called Training Verification cards and are issued by the United Brotherhood of Carpenters.
Once you receive your card, you’re considered a journeyman and will be paid accordingly. The Training Verification card can be shown to future employers as proof of your level of training and experience.
Protect yourself & your growing business
Carpentry is an inherently risky job—there’s dangerous work sites, hazardous materials, power tools, and heavy machinery. Because of this, journeymen need general liability carpenters insurance to help protect their business from liabilities, such as:
• Bodily injury
• Third party property damage
• Legal fees
• Advertising errors
But since carpenters are gig workers, you need a modern type of insurance plan that works when you do and can be bought at the drop of the hat. What you need is Thimble’s on-demand business insurance policies that go by the hour, day, or month.
With Thimble on your side, you don’t need to worry about the fundamental liability tied to carpentry. We build structures to protect you from risk—you build structures we call home.
Craft your path
As long as you are physically fit, of legal age, a hard worker, and willing to take on challenges, you too can become a carpenter’s apprentice. Before you apply, find a licensed professional carpenter whose brain you can pick to see if it’s a good fit. Or maybe that person could even show you the ropes and take you on as an apprentice.
You won’t know unless you look into it.
After you get tied into an apprenticeship program, your future is in your hands. So, work diligently, learn as much as you can during your apprenticeship, and then make sure that you get insurance any time you’re on the job. Follow the steps above and you’ll be a successful master carpenter in no time at all.