Learning To Be A Carpenter

“Hi Lloyd,
First of all thanks for all the inspiration! Your books have opened up an entire culture that I did not know existed. Seeing the way that you and the folks in your books are living lives simply and honestly has given me a whole new perspective on the world.

   I also really appreciate how it’s not an idealistic way of going about it either. It’s about making choices of what is beneficial in modern times and what you can really do without.
I was wondering what advice you would have for someone that wants to get into carpentry that has no professorial experience.

   I’m 22 years old and I live in Vancouver. I’ve been applying for jobs in that field because it’s a REAL skill that I’m extremely interested in learning. It’s just disheartening because first of all most jobs require experience and second of all its a fast paced industry that is more about money than quality and craftsmanship (I know that’s pretty obvious.
What would your advice be on what route I should take to gain those skills? Do you have any recommendations on natural building internships in the Pacific Northwest?
Thanks again for being an outlet of inspiration!

There are building schools here and there, such as Yestermorow in Vermont, but I don’t really know much about them in general. Years ago my friend Paul Wingate wanted to learn carpentry, so he went around to building sites and asked if he could help, free of charge. He would sweep up, do tasks asked of him, and watch what was going on. Pretty soon he was cutting studs or beams and handing them to the carpenters. Paul would watch what was needed and lend a hand, often unasked. He made himself useful and he started learning the craft. He became an accomplished carpenter.
That’s what I’d suggest. Go around to building sites. Offer to help. Tell them you want to learn. Dig foundation trenches, pull nails, clean the work site every night. Make yourself useful and hopefully the journeymen will start treating you as an apprentice.

PS: I asked Brennan if it was OK to post his letter because it’s not an uncommon question for us, and I thought this might be helpful to young people seeking to learn the art and craft of carpentry.

About Lloyd Kahn

Lloyd Kahn started building his own home in the early '60s and went on to publish books showing homeowners how they could build their own homes with their own hands. He got his start in publishing by working as the shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog with Stewart Brand in the late '60s. He has since authored six highly-graphic books on homemade building, all of which are interrelated. The books, "The Shelter Library Of Building Books," include Shelter, Shelter II (1978), Home Work (2004), Builders of the Pacific Coast (2008), Tiny Homes (2012), and Tiny Homes on the Move (2014). Lloyd operates from Northern California studio built of recycled lumber, set in the midst of a vegetable garden, and hooked into the world via five Mac computers. You can check out videos (one with over 450,000 views) on Lloyd by doing a search on YouTube:

7 Responses to Learning To Be A Carpenter

  1. Lloyd's advice ~might~ work, but these days, what with OSHA, contractor licensing, bonding and insurance, and the general litigious attitude of society in general, hanging around a job site is more likely to get you run off by the General Contractor, who will see you as a risk, not an asset.

    Perhaps better, find a local handyman or remodelling contractor who can use occasional day labor. They will be in a more relaxed position to allow someone to contribute and learn without feeling that they will be opening themselves up to a lawsuit or fines levied by the municipality. Most contractors, particularly those who work for themselves, will frequently need help on a job. It might be only helping unload a truck stacked with materials or hauling bags of plaster up three flights of stairs at first, but if you prove yourself helpful and reliable, it could easily lead to a paid status. Small contractors also are known for recommending laborers to one another, so word-of-mouth could make you in demand.

    Also, do not overlook the opportunities that your local community college offers. Many of my construction skills, including cabinet making and welding were learned by taking adult education classes in evenings and over weekends. Coming to a job site with some learned skills will better your chances of convincing someone to let you pick up tools and start building.

  2. Check out the Timber Framers Guild @ tfguild.org. There may be a project in your area in the near future. They also have an accredited apprenticeship program through individual shops.

  3. I have attended carpentry classes at community college locally, they are quite good and usually have contacts with local building community and employers.

    Also look into local builders association groups, here in Shasta County CA they offer a 2 week 'construction boot camp' program to prepare and hire workers to enter the industry.

  4. Carpentry is one of the only jobs you can just walk right up and ask for on the site. No BS resume + application. That's why the trade is chock full of hot-heads. I should know because I am one. Good luck young man.

  5. What about volunteering for building a habitat for humanity home? There are experienced people who will teach the less experienced.

  6. I want to build my own house and have no experience so I volunteered with Habitat for Humanity. I was amazed at how much I learned in five days and I really enjoyed it. I've been considering taking some classes at Yestermorrow (Vermont) or Heartwood School (Massachusetts) too.

    Lloyd, if you know any builder-types willing to travel to mentor someone through a small house build, put the word out that there's a burgeoning market of novices who need someone with experience to guide them through it.

    Thanks a bunch!

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