Carpenters - What They Do

Carpenters construct, erect, install, maintain and repair structures and components of structures made of wood, wood substitutes, lightweight steel and other materials. They are employed by construction companies, carpentry contractors, and maintenance departments of factories, plants and other establishments, or they may be self-employed.

Job duties

This group performs some or all of the following duties:

  • Read and interpret blueprints, drawings and sketches to determine specifications and calculate requirements
  • Prepare layouts in conformance to building codes, using measuring tools
  • Measure, cut, shape, assemble and join materials made of wood, wood substitutes, lightweight steel and other materials
  • Build foundations, install floor beams, lay subflooring and erect walls and roof systems
  • Fit and install trim items, such as doors, stairs, moulding and hardware
  • Maintain, repair and renovate residences and wooden structures in mills, mines, hospitals, industrial plants and other establishments
  • Supervise apprentices and other construction workers
  • May prepare cost estimates for clients.

Job titles

  • carpenter-joiner
  • stair builder-carpenter
  • apprentice carpenter
  • carpenter
  • maintenance carpenter
  • renovation carpenter
  • rough carpenter
  • finish carpenter
  • journeyman/woman carpenter
  • metal framer - carpentry
Employment Requirements

This is what you typically need for the job:

  • Completion of secondary school is usually required.
  • Completion of a three- to four-year apprenticeship program or A combination of over four years of work experience in the trade and some high school, college or industry courses in carpentry is usually required to be eligible for trade certification.
  • Trade certification for carpenters is compulsory in Quebec and available, but voluntary, in all other provinces and the territories.
  • Trade certification for framers is available, but voluntary, in Saskatchewan.
  • Red Seal endorsement is also available to qualified carpenters upon successful completion of the interprovincial Red Seal examination.

Essential Skills


  • Read short text entries on technical drawings and on forms, such as work orders and invoices, e.g. read comments on invoices to learn about payment options. (1)
  • Read brief notes from co-workers, e.g. read notes from co-workers to learn about equipment faults and worksite hazards. (1)
  • Read workplace safety materials, e.g. read Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to understand the chemical composition and hazards of products, such as adhesives. (2)
  • Read notices, bulletins and newsletters, e.g. read notices from workers' compensation boards to learn about workplace hazards and newsletters to stay up-to-date on union activities. (2)
  • Read product use instructions, e.g. read instructions for the use of scissor lifts, gas-powered fastening tools and total station layout instruments. (3)
  • Read instructions and procedures contained in manuals, e.g. read construction manuals to learn how to build structures, such as domed roofs and circular stairwells. (3)
  • Read trade journals and website articles to keep current on industry trends and broaden their knowledge of building techniques and materials, e.g. read website articles to learn about "green building" certification systems. (3)
  • May read reports, e.g. read engineering reports to learn about geologic conditions at construction sites. (4)
  • Read and interpret building codes, regulations, bylaws and standards, e.g. read building codes to determine the minimum height of railings and banisters. (4)

Document use

  • Observe symbols, icons and signs, e.g. scan signs at new job sites to identify workplace hazards and safety equipment, such as fire extinguishers. (1)
  • Locate and enter data on labels, e.g. locate mixing ratios and drying times on the labels of products, such as sealers. (1)
  • Complete a variety of checklists and forms, e.g. complete hazard assessment forms by checking boxes and entering data, such as dates, times and quantities. (2)
  • Locate data in a variety of tables, e.g. locate data, such as dimensions, tolerances, coefficients, identification numbers and quantities, in complex specification tables. (3)
  • Complete complex entry forms, e.g. complete forms, such as building permits, by entering data, such as dates, times, durations, quantities and specifications. (3)
  • Study assembly drawings, e.g. scan assembly drawings to learn how to assemble demountable wall systems. (3)
  • Study a variety of plan, elevation, detail, elevation and section drawings, e.g. study complex detail drawings to determine construction techniques, specifications and the location of components, such as fasteners. (4)


  • Write reminders and short notes to customers and co-workers, e.g. write short notes to inform customers of progress made. (1)
  • Write short comments in field books, e.g. write comments in field books to record descriptions of surveyors' notes. (1)
  • May describe project details on estimate sheets, change orders and work orders, e.g. explain the procedures for construction projects on job estimates. (2)
  • Write comments in forms and schedules, e.g. write comments in job hazard assessment forms to notify co-workers about obstacles, such as overhead power lines. (2)
  • May write reports to describe events leading up to workplace accidents, e.g. write about injuries and events when completing reports for workers' compensation boards. (2)


  • May receive cash, debit and credit card payments and make change. (1)
  • Take a variety of measurements using basic tools, e.g. measure the dimensions of window openings using tape measures. (1)
  • Compare measurements to specifications, e.g. compare window and door sizes to project specifications. (1)
  • May schedule the completion of construction by considering deadlines, project tasks, lead times and the availability of labour and parts. (2)
  • Calculate material requirements, e.g. calculate the number of joists needed to complete a construction project. (2)
  • Calculate summary measures, e.g. calculate the average amount of time needed to complete elements of standard construction projects. (2)
  • May estimate the material requirements for projects, e.g. estimate the amount of nails required for a project, in kilograms. They consider project scope and the materials needed for similar jobs in the past. (2)
  • Estimate the length of time that it will take to complete projects. They consider project requirements and the availability of materials and labour. (2)
  • Calculate amounts for estimates and invoices. They multiply hours worked by labour rates and add amounts for materials, supplies and applicable taxes. (3)
  • Take precise measurements, e.g. determine alignments, elevations and grades using surveying equipment. (3)
  • Calculate runs, rises and offsets, e.g. calculate the required lengths of stringers, stairway rises and runs and the offsets needed to construct around obstacles. (4)

Oral communication

  • Speak with suppliers to learn about products, prices and delivery schedules. (1)
  • Discuss timelines, procedures, expectations and other work-related matters with co-workers and other tradespeople, e.g. speak with general contractors about job assignments and with other tradespeople to co-ordinate activities and schedules. (2)
  • Talk to safety and building inspectors about regulations and items that may not be in compliance with code. (2)
  • Participate in meetings, e.g. discuss safety hazards and work practices at safety meetings. (2)
  • Speak with manufacturer representatives, e.g. talk to manufacturers to discuss faults with equipment, such as compressors. (2)
  • Speak with customers to learn about projects, explain procedures, answer questions and address complaints. (3)
  • May provide detailed instructions to co-workers, e.g. provide detailed instructions to apprentices about the safe use of powder actuated tools. (3)


  • Encounter delays due to equipment faults. They inform customers and co-workers of the faults and troubleshoot. They perform other tasks until the faulty equipment is repaired or replaced. (1)
  • Decide the order of tasks and their priorities, e.g. decide the order in which to construct project elements, such as floors and walls. (1)
  • Encounter technical drawings with missing specifications and errors. They report the missing specifications and errors to customers and supervisors and make suggestions. They complete other tasks until the missing information is acquired and errors are corrected. (2)
  • May be asked to perform unsafe acts. They seek ways to reduce the risks and refuse tasks that cannot be done safely. (2)
  • May find that work areas have restricted access. They consult with co-workers and other tradespeople, exchange ideas and select the best approach. (2)
  • Choose tools, methods and products for construction projects, e.g. consider project specifications, building codes and the availability of time and labour. (2)
  • Evaluate the safety of work sites. They observe electrical, slipping and fall hazards and the location of safety equipment, such as fire extinguishers. They take note of other potential hazards, such as improperly stored tools, broken equipment and confined spaces. (2)
  • May evaluate the performance of apprentices. They consider apprentices' abilities to construct project elements safely and within project specifications. (2)
  • Refer to blueprints and specifications to obtain detailed project information. (2)
  • Read bulletins and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to learn how to safely handle materials and supplies. (2)
  • Read installation manuals and speak with co-workers and manufacturers' representatives to learn how to operate equipment and complete complex installations. (2)
  • May select equipment and suppliers, e.g. decide which brand and type of equipment to use on projects by considering specifications, costs, ease of use and their personal preferences. (3)
  • Evaluate the quality of construction. They take measurements, check alignments and physically test the constructed elements. (3)
  • Determine the task order in accordance with standard trade practices and the progress of work onsite. They order tasks for efficiency and take a leadership role in promoting productivity and reducing waste. The work plan of carpenters is highly integrated with the work of other trades, requiring ongoing integration through effective communication and teamwork. There are recurring irregularities (e.g. equipment breakdowns, poor weather) that require them to adjust their daily schedules. (3)

Digital technology

  • Use calculators and personal digital assistant (PDA) devices to complete numeracy-related tasks, such as calculating material requirements. (1)
  • May use word processing software to prepare job estimates and invoices. (2)
  • May use spreadsheets to tally costs for job estimates and invoices. (2)
  • May use databases to retrieve forms, such as change orders. (2)
  • May use databases to retrieve and print construction drawings. (2)
  • May use billing and accounting software to input and track sales, produce invoices and estimates and print reports, such as income and expense statements. (2)
  • May use communication software to exchange email with customers, suppliers and co-workers. (2)
  • Access online information posted by suppliers, manufacturers, unions and associations to stay current on industry trends and practices. (2)
  • May use the Internet to access training courses and seminars offered by unions, apprenticeship trainers, suppliers, employers and associations. (2)
  • May use computer-controlled layout equipment, such as total stations and smart levels, to measure distances, horizontal angles and vertical angles. (2)
  • May use CD-ROMs and DVDs to access training materials and information, such as technical drawings and project specifications. (2)

Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Carpenters work in pairs most of the time as this promotes efficiency and productivity. They also work with apprentices most of the time to direct and monitor their work. Occasionally, carpenters may work alone when the task may be performed single-handedly. Carpenters are always leaders of the construction team, working together on a daily basis with other trades, forepersons, suppliers, engineers, etc. to complete the job through combined effort and organized co-operation. Teamwork is essential to safety.

Continuous Learning

There is a requirement for ongoing learning to maintain current knowledge of codes, regulations, standards and materials. It is also very important to apply new skills and methods emerging due to technological advancements. Many provinces and territories are active in the renovation and restoration of existing structures. Carpenters require the knowledge and skills to work in this sector of the construction industry.