Carpenters construct and repair building frameworks and structures—such as stairways, doorframes, partitions, and rafters—made from wood and other materials. They also may install kitchen cabinets, siding, and drywall.
Carpenters typically do the following:
- Follow blueprints and building plans to meet the needs of clients
- Install structures and fixtures, such as windows and molding
- Measure, cut, or shape wood, plastic, fiberglass, drywall, and other materials
- Construct building frameworks, including wall studs, floor joists, and doorframes
- Help put up, level, and install building framework with the aid of large pulleys and cranes
- Inspect and replace damaged framework or other structures and fixtures
- Instruct and direct laborers and other construction trade helpers
Carpenters are one of the most versatile construction occupations, with workers usually doing a variety of tasks. For example, some carpenters insulate office buildings; others install drywall or kitchen cabinets in homes. Those who help construct large buildings or bridges often make the wooden concrete forms for cement footings or pillars. Some carpenters build braces and scaffolding for buildings.
Carpenters use many different hand and power tools to cut and shape wood, plastic, fiberglass, or drywall. They commonly use handtools, including squares, levels, and chisels, as well as many power tools, such as sanders, circular saws, and nail guns. Carpenters put materials together with nails, screws, staples, and adhesives, and do a final check of their work to ensure accuracy. They use a tape measure on every project because proper measuring increases productivity, reduces waste, and ensures that the pieces being cut are the proper size.
The following are types of carpenters:
Residential carpenters typically specialize in new-home, townhome, and condominium building and remodeling. As part of a single job, they might build and set forms for footings, walls and slabs, and frame and finish exterior walls, roofs, and decks. They frame interior walls, build stairs, and install drywall, crown molding, doors, and kitchen cabinets. Highly-skilled carpenters may also tile floors and lay wood floors and carpet. Fully-trained construction carpenters are easily able to switch from new-home building to remodeling.
Commercial carpenters typically remodel and help build commercial office buildings, hospitals, hotels, schools, and shopping malls. Some specialize in working with light gauge and load-bearing steel framing for interior partitions, exterior framing, and curtain wall construction. Others specialize in working with concrete forming systems and finishing interior and exterior walls, partitions, and ceilings. Highly skilled carpenters can usually do many of the same tasks as residential carpenters.
Industrial carpenters typically work in civil and industrial settings where they put up scaffolding and build and set forms for pouring concrete. Some industrial carpenters build tunnel bracing or partitions in underground passageways and mines to control the circulation of air to worksites. Others build concrete forms for tunnels, bridges, dams, power plants, or sewer construction projects.
Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters
Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters install and repair pipes that carry water, steam, air, or other liquids or gases to and in businesses, homes, and factories.
Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters typically do the following:
- Install pipes and fixtures
- Study blueprints and follow state and local building codes
- Determine the amount of material and type of equipment needed
- Inspect and test installed pipe systems and pipelines
- Troubleshoot and repair systems that are not working
- Replace worn parts
Although plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters are three distinct specialties, their duties are often similar. For example, they all install pipes and fittings that carry water, steam, air, or other liquids or gases. They connect pipes, determine the necessary materials for a job, and perform pressure tests to ensure a pipe system is airtight and watertight.
Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters install, maintain, and repair many different types of pipe systems. Some of these systems carry water, dispose of waste, supply gas to ovens, or heat and cool buildings. Other systems, such as those in power plants, carry the steam that powers huge turbines. Pipes also are used in manufacturing plants to move acids, gases, and waste byproducts through the production process.
Master plumbers on construction jobs may be involved with developing blueprints that show where all the pipes and fixtures will go. Their input helps ensure that a structure’s plumbing meets building codes, stays within budget, and works well with the location of other features, such as electric wires.
Plumbers and fitters may use many different materials and construction techniques, depending on the type of project. Residential water systems, for example, use copper, steel, and plastic pipe that one or two plumbers can install. Power-plant water systems, by contrast, are made of large steel pipes that usually take a crew of pipefitters to install. Some workers install stainless steel pipes on dairy farms and in factories, mainly to prevent contamination.
Plumbers and fitters sometimes cut holes in walls, ceilings, and floors. With some pipe systems, workers may hang steel supports from ceiling joists to hold the pipe in place. Because pipes are seldom manufactured to the exact size or length, plumbers and fitters measure and then cut and bend lengths of pipe as needed. Their tools include saws, pipe cutters, and pipe-bending machines.
They then connect the pipes, using methods that vary by type of pipe. For example, copper pipe is joined with solder, but steel pipe is often screwed together.
In addition to installation and repair work, journey- and master-level plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters often direct apprentices and helpers.
Following are examples of occupational specialties:
Plumbers install and repair water, drainage, and gas pipes in homes, businesses, and factories. They install and repair large water lines, such as those that supply water to buildings, and smaller ones, including ones that supply water to refrigerators. Plumbers also install plumbing fixtures—bathtubs, showers, sinks, and toilets—and appliances such as dishwashers, garbage disposals, and water heaters. They also fix plumbing problems. For example, when a pipe is clogged or leaking, plumbers remove the clog or replace the pipe. Some plumbers maintain septic systems, the large, underground holding tanks that collect waste from houses not connected to a city or county's sewer system.
Pipefitters install and maintain pipes that carry chemicals, acids, and gases. These pipes are mostly in manufacturing, commercial, and industrial settings. They often install and repair pipe systems in power plants, as well as heating and cooling systems in large office buildings. Some pipefitters specialize:
- Gasfitters install pipes that provide clean oxygen to patients in hospitals.
- Sprinklerfitters install and repair fire sprinkler systems in businesses, factories, and residential buildings.
- Steamfitters installpipe systems that move steam under high pressure. Most steamfitters work at campus and natural gas power plants where heat and electricity is generated, but others work in factories that use high-temperature steam pipes.
Tile and Marble Setters
Tile and marble setters apply hard tile, marble, and wood tiles to walls, floors, and other surfaces.
Tile and marble setters typically do the following:
- Clean and level the surface to be tiled
- Measure and cut tile and marble
- Arrange tiles according to the design plans
- Prepare and apply mortar or other adhesives
- Install tile and marble in the planned area
- Apply grout with a rubber trowel
- Wipe off excess grout and apply necessary finishes, such as sealants
Tile installers, tilesetters, and marble setters install materials on a variety of surfaces, such as floors, walls, ceilings, countertops, patios, and roof decks. Because tile and marble must be set on smooth, even surfaces, installers often must level the surface to be tiled with a layer of mortar or plywood. If the area to be tiled is unstable, workers must nail a support of metal mesh or tile backer board to create a stable surface.
To cut tiles, workers use power wet saws, tile scribes, or hand-held tile cutters to create even edges. They use trowels of different sizes to spread mortar or a sticky paste, called mastic, evenly on the surface to be tiled. To minimize imperfections and keep rows straight and even, they put spacers between tiles. The spacers keep tiles the same distance from each other until the mortar is dry. After the mortar dries and the tiles are set, they apply grout between tiles using a rubber trowel (called a float).
Marble setters may cut marble to a specified size with a power wet saw. After putting the marble in place, marble setters polish the marble to a high luster, using power or hand sanders.