A Future in Wood: Discovering the Artistic Trade of Carpentry

A Future in Wood: Discovering the Artistic Trade of Carpentry
By: Sunny Moody
    If you had told me ten years ago that my passion would be carpentry. I would have called you crazy. Growing up, I went through the usual spiel of dream-jobs that I just knew I would have eventually: Rock star, astronaut, Batman....But, you quickly realize that some jobs are not always as desirable as you would have hoped, or as stable. 
    If you are looking for a stable job with a fantastic outlook for the future, enjoy working with your hands, and have a creative side, carpentry might be perfect for you, too. 

    I always knew that no matter where I ended up, I would never let myself end up behind a desk. The idea of spedning my days stuck beneath florescent lights, shuffling through mounds of repetitious paperwork to the sounds of some terrible company CD is my definition of torture. After realizing that a sit-down job would not cut it, research into potential fields of interest quickly led me to discovering trades. It did not take long for me to realize that carpentry would be the right one for me. 

    Learning carpentry techniques and putting them into action is very rewarding. In the morning, you have a bunch of beaten up old furniture, by the evening you have turned them into polished pieces of art. At the start of the week, you have a rough plot of land with rocks sticking up from the ground, by the end of the week you are ready to start building a roof on the new house you have errected. You get to see the skills you have learned pay off, and practice problem solving along the way. Every job finished feels like an accomplishment. 

    Many people enter the field of carpentry by becoming involved in construction, and finding an experienced carpenter to apprentice them. While you do not have to go to school to become a carpenter, I believe there are several reasons why you should. You can learn things in a classroom setting with the focus on learning a particular subject better than if you were on a job-site rushing to help finish a job and trying to pick up how it is done along the way. My teacher, Heath McDaniel, keeps us in the classroom normally only one to two days out of the week. The rest is hands-on training. He instructs us more dilligently than a boss at a job-site could, and teaches us as we go along. As a student and not just a hired hand, you will learn more than you could hope to otherwise. 

    Aside from learning more in-depth, going to school looks excellent on a resume. Say you have just graduated and you have two degrees now, one in Basic Carpentry and another in Advanced Carpentry. For the past year, you worked alongside a master carpenter with other students, learning the skills you need to do precise work, and getting experience on job-sites. That would be much more likley to turn the head of a potential employer than "seeking work." Most employers these days in the construction field want their new hires to have prior experience, so going to a carpenter's class that offers hands-on experience is the best choice. 

     A normal week of class can go something like this: Arrive at class at 8 AM Monday morning, spend a couple of hours sipping coffee and taking notes from the day's lesson. One week we may learn about the types of rafters you can construct, how to properly cut angles, or how to repair the interior of an old home. Often, there will be a big project that may take several weeks to finish, and we will spend Monday going over the plans for the project, and practicing certain things in the shop pertinent to the task at hand.

    Tuesday, you arrive at the same time, load up all the tools and supplies that you will need, and travel to the job site. Say the class has been called down to help construct a small house with a back deck. The previous day we would have already gone over the plans, and possibly pre-cut a few things we would need. After the foundation of the house is finished, the next few days would be spent constructing the floors, laying out and constructing the stud-walls, putting on siding, building the roof, and so on. It is amazing just how much can be done in a few days with a dozen hard working students and a teacher. 

    There can be hazardous working conditions in this line of work, so it was no surprise to me that the first couple of weeks of class focused on nothing but safety. Always wear your safety glasses, do not surprise anyone operating a saw, keep your ladder fitted at the correct angle against the building, scrap that frayed wire, etc. All of these rules can save life and limb. A carpenter who is afraid of heights is like a fish who is afraid of water. You will inevitably end up in some dangerous conditions, but do not let that turn you away. Accidents can be avoided when you understand how to keep yourself and your co-workers safe. 
 Blue collar work has been looked down on by many for years now. Why, though? Do not fall for the stereotype. You have to be smart to get into this business. Quick thinking and problem solving skills are pivotal to anyone interested in construction, and especially remodeling. These are the people who build our homes, our stores, our banks, our schools, our work-places. They are more than just construction workers, they are a talented neccesity. 

    Even better, job growth for carpenters is fantastic, and getting better. The avergae growth rate for all occupations currently is 11% on a 2012 to 2022 time line. Currently, carpentry is at a 24% growth rate, with an average wage of $39,940 a year, with potential to earn up to and over $65,000 a year. This is a job that is not going anywhere. 
All in all, to excel at carpentry, you need to be willing to sweat and work hard, to have a good grasp of technique and proper tool use, and practice safety and awareness. This line of work is not for everyone, but if you find yourself interested in the picture I have painted, do not stop with what I have told you here! Do some research. Look up types of construction and find what it is you would want to specialize in. Perhaps by the end of the day you will choose to trade-in the idea of a desk job for the opportunity to be someone who will build the buildings those desks go in.
Sunny Moody is a Carpentry student at Gadsden State Community College where he is working on finishing the Advanced Carpentry and Basic Carpentry Certificates. After his graduation, Sunny plans on finishing his apprenticeship and using his skills to establish a self-sufficient farm in Red Level, Alabama.