Considering a career in carpentry

Discussion in 'Shop Talk' started by futurefarmer, Aug 1, 2005.

  1. futurefarmer

    futurefarmer New Member

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    Hi Everyone. This is my first posting, but I've been reading this board for weeks and have learned so much. Thanks to everyone!

    I'm 23 years old and have had a couple of jobs. I've been a cook, worked in retail and currently work for a large security company. I've never had a "career" or learned a trade. More than anything in the world I want to live sustainably off of the land on my own small farm/ranch/homestead. This has been my dream since high school, but only recently have I been taking any steps towards it.

    In regards to my future plans, I feel like it would be very valuable to learn a "trade". I've given this much thought and have decided that I would like to pursue carpentry. I've discovered online that it is possible to do an apprenticeship through a carpenter's union and essentially get paid as you learn on the job and in the classroom. This sounds like a good idea to me and I intend to contact the United Brotherhood of Carpenters within the next couple of days to inquire about an apprenticeship.

    My question is this...

    Have any of you carpenters learned in this way (through an apprenticeship)? Are any of you members of a union? What are some of the pros and cons of being in a union? What exactly does a union do? Would I have an obligation to the union after my apprenticehip is over? What can I do to maximize my possibilities of being accepted to an aprenticeship position? Please let me know of anything else that may be helpful to me.

    Sorry for the long post with SO MANY QUESTIONS, and thank you in advance for any help you may be able to give.

    -futurefarmer :D
     
  2. mtman

    mtman Well-Known Member

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    why waite call now
     

  3. Ed K

    Ed K Well-Known Member

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    How much education you can gain from the union kind of depends how seriously the union takes itself in your area and how seriously business take the union. The union I belonged to (Millwrights) had a 4 year training program and there was a lot you could learn from that.

    The pros of a union is that your pay may be higher than non-union and your benifits are likely to be higher (if they even exist in a non union situation) and when you aren't working theoretically the union and the business agent are looking for work for it's members. The cons are that union labor doesn't come cheap so many contractors may try to avoid hiring union labor to get lower prices. Another con is that the business agent may find more work for some of his closest associates than for you. If you keep your nose clean by taking the schooling seriously and attending union meetings where you can get to know the business agent in a positive way things should be fine.

    You wouldn't be under any obligation to the union if you chose to leave. If you are with them you will have to pay monthly dues.

    As far as maximizing your chances of acceptance you might ask any member of your local union for suggestions. The union may have a test for you to take that helps them decide who to accept. As them for information on what the test might be like.

    Good Luck
     
  4. Cosmic

    Cosmic Well-Known Member

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    If you go for a union carpenter the work tends to be big jobs. Commercial buildings, big projects, etc.

    The pay is excellent as are the benefits. Zillions of people want those positions. The work in many cases tends to be "Rough", things like building concrete forms. Most fine work like home building tends to be non-union.

    In some areas drywall is a carpenter type work as well.

    Pay can be big. Like $26+ per hour. In a way they have cut their own throat. Unless it is billion / zillions / government / type project, the market will go with non-union carpenters.

    A newbie is probably going to get all the grunt work. The type work they do is not really highly skilled. More about being able to follow what the foreman wants. It is really doing what is required as per an engineered drawing / project / schedule. Work tends to be very same type piece work, but a lot of it is required.

    Going to depend a lot on what type jobs / projects / work they can bag. Maintenance type work is always going to be mostly non-union or under some other type union.
     
  5. futurefarmer

    futurefarmer New Member

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    Thanks for all your answers. I did take mtman's advice and called them (UBC) this afternoon. The lady there told me that I simply need to come in to their office and register with them. They will then give me a list of contractors that participate in the apprenticeship program and it's up to me to get hired by one of the contractors... :cowboy: I plan on going down there this wednesday.

    Cosmic, when you said "they cut their own throat", did you mean that there's not a lot of union work out there?

    Now if I'm a member of a union, can I still take on non-union work between union jobs? Can belonging to a union prevent me from getting (non-union)work?

    So is it the general consensus that doing a union sponsored apprenticeship is a good way to get into the carpentry business, or could there be better ways?

    I appreciate you guys.

    -futurefarmer
     
  6. Cosmic

    Cosmic Well-Known Member

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    Will depend on your area. In Boston if you were on the "Big Dig" would be on the best gravy train. Most areas it will depend on government type work. Road work, government construction, something to do with a city, etc.

    You must understand your area and what is the "Accepted Practice" Die Hard Union Types will not work outside the Union. Better be sure if you do.

    The situation will be a very local one. Many areas non-union is going for illegal import labor, running as low as $3 - 4 a hour. In the Boston area, the home builders were using illegal Brazilian at ~ $7 - 8 under the table with a dormitory type system where they were paid net and given a living condition in some house. Recruited by skills and experience in the home countries. Many were very skilled, hard working and good. Would work a native worker under the table. Took a lot of chances and showed up the next day, no matter the injuries or illness. Wanted to work 7 days, 20 hours a day.

    Look for them to go after the higher paid union jobs with phony ID's or what ever it takes. Boys really don't take no for an answer. Once they get a foot hold most natives are history.
     
  7. Ed K

    Ed K Well-Known Member

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    In my area the (South Western PA) the union does not encourage taking non union jobs between union jobs but it definitely happens.

    Depending on the quality of the union's education program and if you don't have a friend or family in a carpentry business to show you the ropes I think the union might be a better way to get started.
     
  8. foxtrapper

    foxtrapper Well-Known Member Supporter

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    I'm not a carpenter, but I've a number of friends that are. Most are union carpenters, and work pretty much a 9-5 type of schedule, and we'll all retire when we turn 70 or so.

    One friend is not a union carpenter. He's semi-self taught, fiercely indepentent, a raving workahaulic, and a firm believer in apprenticeship. For 20 years he worked like a madman. He retired at the age of about 35. He left a few years ago for Germany where he was going to study under some master cabinetry men as an apprentice, to learn things he couldn't while he was here. Keep in mind that this is a fella that wasn't content with the chisels he could buy in the US, so he used to make his own on my forge.

    Draw your own conclusion about apprenticeship and the like.
     
  9. futurefarmer

    futurefarmer New Member

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    Well... I went to the union and applied for the apprenticeship. They confirmed that they only do commercial construction (no residential). I really think that residential construction would be what I'm really interested in and would be most beneficial to me in regards to my future homesteading plans. My concern is that if I become a union carpentry apprentice, I might be doing the same task over and over again and not really learning the broad range of skills necessary to build a structure to completion. Any thoughts on this? Would I acquire the skills necessary to build a house or barn by doing commercial construction?

    -futurefarmer
     
  10. kmaproperties

    kmaproperties Well-Known Member

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    I'm a self taught, with help from friends carpenter/home builder in ohio.
    25 years 15 remodeling 10 new construction.
    my opinion on the union job is this: Great pay and bennies, but you will not be happy if your dream is to build residential. the union job is commercial which means you will be a grunt as stated earlier, move this, get this, hold this, mix this, etc. Try to find a local builder that is hiring, a guy that does 3-5 houses a year and he actually swings a hammer. you will learn much more with a guy like that.
     
  11. gardentalk

    gardentalk Well-Known Member

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    I'm not a carpenter, but from what I have seen them do, if you go into commercial construction, you will not acquire the skills you need to build a "home" to completion from scratch. What you will learn mostly are how to work with concrete and steel.
     
  12. mtman

    mtman Well-Known Member

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    im pro union retired steam fitter i worked on a job in NYC for a big boiler co. they liked my work and i held a A. book they kept me on for 15 years never had to go to the hall again till i retired i allways liked working with wood better now i can
     
  13. Cosmic

    Cosmic Well-Known Member

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    Take the union job and make some money. Forget about learning how to do anything on a Union job. On many jobs you will never even cut anything. Work tends to be organized by very small task levels. More specialized tasks in a pecking order of senority. The skill and fun stuff tends to go to the old timers.

    You probably will not also see all the steps to build a complete house by working for most house contractors. Again different crews tend to only do particular tasks. The framing crews don't do the fine interior finish stuff in most hot areas. Drywall is also a separate crew. The money in many cases can be pretty thin with no benefits. Might not even get paid on time. :bash:

    One guy said they can not export those jobs. Wrong, they don't have too. It is not the sucking sound you hear, it is the rumble of illegal import labor racing in to take many of the former non-union jobs in many construction trades. Wages have taken a real hit in most cases.

    In the hotter areas where many houses are being built, the smaller contractors who only built a few houses are just about history. They can't compete due to regulations, engineering, permits and general hassle required. Even somebody building 50 - 60 houses a year is considered a smaller contractor today. World has changed a lot.

    Better choice is to take the Union job if you can get it, make some decent money. Volunteer for some of those Habitat for Humanity type projects and pick the particular type work you want to learn. Once you did a couple houses, the work is pretty much the same. You will see all the stages of building and do it far quicker plus be in a position to get involved exactly with the work you want to do / see being done.

    A lot of house building is not so much about the hands on stuff, tho you do have to have a foggy idea to do it yourself. The planing, permitting, purchasing and finding decent suppliers, help, subs, etc can be the far bigger challenge. DIY, you also need to accumulate a decent set of tools. Get the Union job, make the money, buy good equipment and study up on house building thru the other various avenues.
     
  14. Ed K

    Ed K Well-Known Member

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    Whether union or non union you'll have to do grunt work when you start.

    With the union I was exposed to a lot of people. I worked hard and the only special treatment I asked from my foreman was that he paired me with people who knew what they were doing so I could learn. You don't want to be paired up with a journeyman that is only trusted to push a broom you won't learn anything that way.

    I'd recommend the union job if you can get it. Even if you don't do a lot of residential if they have training it should cover that. As you learn what you like try to find a job that's more geared to your area of interest or maybe the small residential contractor folks are suggesting. You'll be better able to choose him carefully and have something to offer him if you get some training under your belt.

    either way good luck
     
  15. Beeman

    Beeman Well-Known Member

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    First of all a lot depends on where you live. If you want to live out in the country and farm it would mean hours of commuting to work to be a carpenter. Especially a carpenter on large jobs like those a union would be involved in. Usually houses are not built with union labor as others have pointed out. I have a BIL that learned carpentry by building houses with private contractors. He learned well and is a fantastic carpenter. He then got into the union and now forms concrete. Obviously not fine finish carpentry. He also lives in the country so his commute is out of state and gas ain't getting any cheaper. He is now laid off and has been for over 6 mos. The next jobs his company might get are a couple of states away from his home. He is probably not going back and will try self employment.
    If I was wanting to work with wood I would personally want to learn cabinet and furniture work. It is usually done at the shop and doesn't require being out in the cold,heat,rain etc. It also is something that you will be able to continue to do when you get older. I know you're young now but that will change.