Exploring the Most Common Carpentry Trades

Carpentry represents a diverse range of activities and skills, with many opportunities for those seeking a career in the building trades.

As a building trade, carpentry ranges from broad in scope to extremely specialized. All types of carpentry share a focus on manipulating wood-based materials, or metal materials designed to function as a wood-replacement. But each distinct task requires knowledge of specific properties or techniques that allow wood to perform structural, functional or ornamental roles.

The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners (UBC) names several broad categories of carpentry performed by its members, but tradespeople have the option of becoming much more specialized within those types of carpentry.

Common Types of Carpentry

  • General carpenters, often referred to as rough carpenters or framers — particularly in the residential side of the industry — usually work in two or more carpentry styles. Although their name comes from the structural work that serves as the bones of a house or commercial building, they often install roofs, floors, drywall, cabinets, trim and/or insulation. Where work is plentiful, crews may choose to specialize, performing only the structural work that isn’t seen once the home is finished.
  • Rough carpenters may further specialize as joisters, who lay the structure that supports floors, or roofers, who erect rafters and trusses and lay the roof sheathing. Another common description of roofers focuses only on applying the overlay material that prevents water from penetrating a roof, such as shingles shakes or rolled roofing.
  • Finish carpenters, joiners or trim carpenters prepare and install the ornamental trim, referred to in the trade as millwork. Their niche also includes wainscoting, coffered ceilings, mantles and any other precise carpentry that remains visible in a finished home. Cabinetmaking technically falls under this umbrella, though construction of cabinets and furniture usually takes place at a shop than at the construction site.

The popularity of drywall has taken away from the demand for lathers, who apply the strips of wood, called lath, that support plaster walls. The UBC, however, still recognizes them as a distinct segment of the trade and notes that metal mesh has overtaken wood lath as the most common material for plaster underlayment. Drywall installers and finishers also fall under this classification of carpenter.

  • Floor coverers, also recognized by the UBC, install flooring of many types, from hardwood and reclaimed wood to carpet and vinyl.
  • Formwork carpenters construct the wooden structures used to shape concrete or the falsework that supports a non-wood structure until enough of it is completed to support itself.
  • A timber framer constructs buildings that employ timber-beam frames connected by wooden joints. Timber framers may also construct pole buildings.
  • Shipwrights focus on dry-land construction of boats, while ship’s carpenters serve on ships to build and repair wooden elements comprising the vessel’s structure or finish.

Highly-Specialized Carpentry Tracks

Carpentry specialties can become very narrowly focused, such as preservation carpenters, who work on restoring historic buildings; scenic carpenters, who construct sets for theater and film; log builders; and green carpenters, who focus on sustainable, environmentally friendly, healthy and energy-efficient construction.