SIC 1751

This category includes special trade contractors primarily engaged in carpentry work. Establishments primarily engaged in building and installing cabinets at the job site are classified in this industry. Establishments primarily engaged in building custom cabinets for individuals in a shop are classified in SIC 5712: Furniture Stores. Carpentry work performed by general contractors engaged in building construction is classified in SIC 1500: General Building Contractors.

NAICS Code(s)

235510 (Carpentry Contractors)

Industry Snapshot

Carpentry is the work of cutting and joining timber to create frames for housing and items such as doors, windows, cabinets, and staircases. Work in this industry includes cabinet work performed at the construction site, carpentry work, folding door installation, framing, garage door installation, ship joinery, store fixture installation, trim and finish, and prefabricated window and door installation. It is a very strenuous occupation due to long periods of standing, climbing, bending, and kneeling.

Carpenters rely heavily on the health of the economy and especially the success of the housing industry, since their work consists mainly of building or renovating residential structures. The housing industry can be positively or negatively affected by factors such as interest rate fluctuations and availability of mortgage funds.

Carpenters make up one of the largest building trade groups in the United States, holding approximately 1.2 million jobs in 2000. Of these, about 25 percent are self-employed, about 33 percent are employed by general building contractors, 20 percent are employed by specialty trade contractors, and 12 percent are employed in heavy construction. The remainder work in the manufacturing, government, retail, and education sectors.

Organization and Structure

Nearly 500,000 carpenters belong to the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, a labor organization located in Washington, D.C., which is actively involved in the construction industry. The union supports building contractors who work with union carpenters. The union also studies health and safety aspects of carpentry work, which has the highest serious injuries rate in the United States. The union has been studying the ergonomics of carpentry in hopes of reducing workplace accidents by developing preventive on-the-job techniques.

The union, in conjunction with contractor trade associations, also provides training and apprenticeship programs, which are greatly needed in this industry. As carpentry work becomes more specialized and involves potentially dangerous materials such as asbestos removal, formal training will become increasingly necessary.

Other groups primarily interested in carpentry are the Associated Builders and Contractors, of Rosslyn, Virginia; the Associated General Contractors of America, Inc., of Washington, D.C.; and the National Association of Home Builders, also located in Washington, D.C.

The construction industry can be divided into three major contract divisions: general building contractors, heavy construction contractors, and special trade contractors (including carpenters). General building contractors build residential, industrial, and commercial buildings, while heavy construction contractors build structures like roads, highways, and bridges.

Special trade contractors usually focus on one trade and work under the direction of general contractors, architects, or property owners. Beyond completing their work to specification, special trade contractors have no responsibility for building the structure in its entirety.

Background and Development

When both commercial and residential buildings were made primarily from timber, the carpenter was the critical element needed for construction. Over time, the scope of the carpenter's work has changed. As the materials for commercial buildings switched to primarily concrete and steel, the demand for carpenters has shifted to the framework for houses and commercial structures, and residential remodeling. A carpenter's work also may extend to interior jobs, requiring some of the skills of a joiner. These skills include making door frames, cabinets, countertops, and assorted molding and trim.

The standard tools used by a carpenter have been hammers, pliers, screwdrivers, awls, planes (handheld blades), crosscut saws, rip saws, dovetail saws, and levels, in addition to an assortment of power tools. Lightweight cordless pneumatic and combustion tools like nailers and drills, and sanders with electric speed controls are being used increasingly more. These help carpenters to be more efficient and work faster; they also reduce fatigue. Carpenters have used wood as a building material for centuries; however, as the world's supply of wood continues to shrink, alternative building materials, such as partial-wood products, have begun to be developed and used in residential construction.

For carpenters who work predominately in residential construction, the state of the housing industry is critical. The recession of the early 1990s hit the housing market particularly hard. With weak employment trends, potential buyers postponed purchasing new homes. The housing market's recovery was stalled by a lingering and severe credit crunch, an unanticipated rise in lumber costs, and low consumer confidence levels. Fueled by lower interest rates, the housing industry began a slow but steady rebound in 1994. Although the pace of economic growth stalled during the first quarter of 1994, a surge in housing sales at the end of 1993 forecasted a strong performance for 1994. In 1993 the construction of 100,000 new single-family homes generated over 200,000 construction jobs and $4.4 billion in wages, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). The NAHB predicted a 4 percent rise in single-family housing starts for 1994.

Carpenters work closely with, and are greatly affected by, the remodeling industry. Once thought to be recession-proof, the residential repair and remodeling (R&R) market declined by 8.7 percent during 1991. Spending for additions and alterations dropped the most, by 17 percent. Despite this fall, the remodeling sector should continue to provide carpenters with steady work. Remodeling totaled approximately $113.5 billion in 1993.

Carpenters who work in the remodeling sector should benefit from two major demographic factors. First, as baby boomers enter their high income-producing years, they will be purchasing new or existing homes. Also, the aging U.S. housing stock will need to be updated or replaced. Out of the 100 million homes in the United States, nearly 60 percent are at least 22 years old.

Impact of the High Cost of Lumber. Despite the increased number of jobs available for carpenters in the mid-1990s, the construction and housing industry continued to be burdened by the high cost of lumber. When logging stopped in the national forests of the Pacific Northwest, a lumber shortage ensued. Home builders and remodelers have been the primary users of lumber, accounting for nearly 65 percent of all framing timber. After hovering at just over $200 per 1,000-board-feet throughout the 1980s, the price of framing lumber rose and dropped sporadically during 1992 and 1993, according to NAHB. The price increase was blamed on the cessation of virtually all logging in the national forests of the Pacific Northwest. Logging was halted by court order, as environmental organizations fought to protect the habitat of the Northern Spotted Owl, a threatened species in Washington, Oregon, and Northern California.

A near-instantaneous shortage of lumber from national forestland, one of three major sources of timber, caused a 74 percent price increase between October 1992 and 1994. This price increase added between $4,000 and $5,000 to the cost of building a typical 2,000-square-foot home, according to NAHB. Although lumber prices fell somewhat from a high of $510 per 1,000-board-feet, the Northern Spotted Owl issue has yet to be resolved.

Impact of Labor Union Activity. In an effort to get contractors to use union workers, labor groups have been subsidizing organized labor by using a tactic called "job targeting." Although some contractors have aggressively opposed job targeting, smaller operators have welcomed the arrangement because it allows them to gain market share by underbidding their nonunion contractor. By late 1992 more than 500 local unions nationwide had begun to implement this practice, according to the Wall Street Journal.

When a construction job comes up for bid, a local union will "target" a contractor and offer to make a payment. This allows the union contractor to come in with a lower bid than a nonunion competitor. Targeting was originally intended to stem the flow of jobs to non-union workers.

Health and Safety Issues. With the highest serious injury rate in the United States, health and safety concerns continue to be a major issue both to carpenters and the contractors who employ them. Because over half of all workers' compensation dollars have been used for the treatment of musculoskeletal injuries, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters launched a pilot program to address the ergonomics of carpentry by exploring how job-related tasks impact the worker and provide preventive training at the apprenticeship level, according to Engineering News Record. An ergonomist and a health and safety team will study carpenters at job sites to better understand the contributing factors to the most prevalent injuries. The team will compare workers' compensation data from state and area health and welfare funds, according to Engineering News Record.

The union also has begun to study carpentry in relation to health implications for its workers. Carpenters have been dying an average of six years younger than other Americans, reported Hazel Bradford in Engineering News Record. Carpenters have a 150 times greater chance of dying from mesothelioma, an asbestos-related disease. Cancer deaths for carpenters have been 50 percent higher than the general population, while deaths from emphysema, bronchitis, and asthma have been three times higher. From its findings, the union hopes to establish medical screenings and early warning programs for its members. The union also plans an educational campaign aimed at reaching both apprentices and journeymen (trained union workers) through educational programs. Special attention will be given to work regarding asbestos, lead, and hazardous wastes.

Current Conditions

In the early 2000s, the carpentry industry was sustained by strong growth in new housing starts, spurred on by extremely low interest rates despite an overall weak economy. The boom in the housing industry pushed new housing starts up in 2003 to an estimated 1.6 million, compared to 1.2 million new starts in 2000. Although new housing construction continued unabated, construction in the commercial and industry sectors fell off dramatically during 2001 and remained stagnant in 2003.

Carpenters with a diversity of skills will fair the best, until the U.S. economy works its way slowly out of the doldrums. New housing starts are expected to slow, as pent up demand has been fulfilled, and interest rates are predicted to take an upward swing again. One area of growth for the carpentry industry is in home improvement and home repair.

More than 50 percent of all U.S. homes are more than 25 years old, and the aging baby boom population is shifting from do-it-yourself to do-it-for-me, providing a growing market for skilled carpenters. According to the National Association of Home Builders, home maintenance and repair expenditures jumped 14 percent from 2001 to 2002.

Industry Leaders

It is difficult to determine exactly how many carpentry contractors exist in the United States because carpentry contractors generally are small establishments, and many self-employed carpenters serve as their own contractors. Plus, the housing industry is highly fragmented, lacking national general contractors or specialty trade contractors. A typical American home builder is a local contractor who constructs fewer than 25 houses each year and works with local subcontractors, labor, and suppliers. The largest companies involved in carpentry, according to Ward's Business Directory of U.S. Private and Public Companies (1999) were BT Mancini Company Inc., Center Brothers Inc., Door Systems Inc., and J Mar and Sons Inc.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2000 1.2 million people were employed in the carpentry industry. Approximately 80 percent of those worked for contractors; they built, remodeled, and repaired buildings and other structures. The others worked for manufacturing firms, government agencies, wholesale and retail establishments, and schools. Over 25 percent were self-employed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, $17.06 per hour was the mean pay for carpenters who were not self-employed in 2001.

Carpenters learn their trade through both on-the-job training and formal education. Most employers recommend an apprenticeship, but the number of available programs, usually administered by local chapters of Associated Builders and Contractors, Associated General Contractors, and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, has been limited.

As skilled workers become scarce, and jobs become more demanding, the need for more training programs will increase. The industry will demand more knowledgeable workers. Computer and math skills in addition to special new skills, such as hazardous waste cleanup, will be in demand.

Some organizations have begun to provide additional training programs, starting in high school and offering apprenticeships upon graduation. Associated Builders and Contractors has begun four-year training courses in five construction specialties. The group works with both employers and high school students in 19 school districts in Texas. The Laborers International Union and Associated General Contractors trained about 33,000 U.S. and Canadian workers in construction skills in 1992. The group also planned to train another 29,000 workers in hazardous waste cleanup.

Research and Technology

With rising timber costs, the construction industry continues to look for alternative building materials to use instead of lumber and plywood in residential construction. Some viable options have been engineered wood products, concrete, structural foam sandwich panels, and laminated fiberboard structural sheathing. Engineered wood products (EWPs) have been on the market for years. These products are a combination of wood fibers with adhesives and have been used to form beams, headers, joints, and other structural framing products. EWPs do not use raw materials from the U.S. timber supply. Instead, these products have been made from smaller trees and inferior species once thought to be unsuitable for building materials.

Laminated fiberboard and foam core structural sandwich panels are two other alternative building products.

Fiberglass sheathing is a lightweight panel made from wood and agricultural by-products. The panel consists of fibrous plies laminated under pressure and covered with aluminum foil or polyethylene. Foam sandwich panels are made of two strong, stiff skins, usually strand board or plywood, and separated by a lightweight, but thick, core of polystyrene. The fiberboard can be used in place of plywood sheathing on exterior walls, and the foam core panels can be used instead of wooden wall and roof systems.

Further Reading

"Carpenters: A Splinter Group." Business Week, 9 April 2001, 8.

"Certification for Remodeling Carpenters." Home Energy, November-December 2001, 46.

Howell, Jeff. "Why You Can't Find a Plumber." New Statesman, 25 November 2002, 26.

"Other Voices: State Should Require Licensing of Carpenters." Crain's Detroit Business, 9 July 2001, 9.

Stanton, Justin. "Carpenters and Joiners Can Aim for New Master Certificate." Contract Journal, 8 May 2003, 3.

"United Brotherhood of Carpenters." Walls & Ceilings, January 2003, 54.

Winston, Sherrie. "Carpenters Fill Out the Lineup in Reunified Building Trades." ENR (Engineering News Record) , 9 December 2002, 11.

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