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Laborer vs. Carpenter: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

Laborers and carpenters are both construction workers who build and repair structures. Though they share some similarities, there are several key differences between these two job titles. In this article, we discuss the differences between laborers and carpenters, and we provide additional construction-related professions you may be interested in pursuing.

What is a Laborer?

Laborers typically do manual labor tasks on construction sites, in factories, warehouses and other physical work environments. They may operate machinery, clean work areas, load and unload materials and perform other tasks as needed. Laborers typically work long hours, including early mornings, late nights and weekends. Some Laborers may work outdoors in all weather conditions. Laborers typically do not need formal education or training beyond on-the-job instruction to perform their duties.

What is a Carpenter?

Carpenters construct, install and repair the wooden structures and fixtures found in homes, businesses and other buildings. They use a variety of hand and power tools to cut, shape and assemble wood products. Carpenters generally specialize in one of three areas: rough carpentry, which involves framing and other structural work; finish carpentry, which includes installing molding, cabinets and other interior details; or shipbuilding and boatbuilding. Carpenters must be able to read and follow blueprints or instructions from their supervisor. They also must be able to perform mathematical calculations to determine the size and amount of materials needed for a project.

Laborer vs. Carpenter

Here are the main differences between a Laborer and a carpenter.

Job Duties

Laborers perform a variety of tasks that require heavy physical exertion. They often carry, lift and stow materials to transport them to the right locations for construction projects. These professionals also operate machinery like bulldozers and forklifts.

In contrast, carpenters typically use power tools like saws and nail guns to construct wooden structures. They follow blueprints to build everything from furniture to houses and ships. Carpenters may help laborers with tasks like setting up scaffolding or ladders before they begin building structures.

Job Requirements

Most carpenters learn their trade through an apprenticeship, which can take up to four years to complete. During their apprenticeship, they receive on-the-job training as well as classroom instruction in topics like blueprint reading, first aid, and OSHA safety standards. After completing their apprenticeship, carpenters can choose to pursue voluntary certification through the National Institute of Carpentry or a similar organization.

Laborers typically do not need any formal education or training to enter the field. However, some employers may prefer candidates who have completed a vocational program or have some experience working in construction. Many laborers learn their trade through on-the-job training. Some organizations also offer apprenticeship programs for aspiring laborers. These programs usually last one to two years and provide participants with both on-the-job training and classroom instruction.

Work Environment

Laborers and carpenters work in different environments. Laborers often work outdoors, where they may be exposed to the elements like rain or extreme heat. They also work on construction sites that can be dirty and noisy. Carpenters typically work indoors, either in a workshop or office space. They may spend long hours sitting at a desk or standing while working with wood.

Carpenters may have more opportunities for advancement than laborers because of their experience with carpentry tools and knowledge of building codes. However, laborers may have more opportunities for overtime pay due to the nature of their jobs.


Both carpenters and laborers use physical strength to perform their jobs. Carpenters often need to lift heavy pieces of wood and equipment, while laborers may need to move heavy objects around a worksite. Both professions also require manual dexterity to complete tasks like measuring, cutting and shaping materials.

Carpenters tend to use more specialized skills than laborers. For example, they use mathematical skills to calculate measurements, read blueprints and estimate the amount of material needed for a project. They also use carpentry skills, such as sawing, sanding and nailing, to create or repair structures made of wood.

Laborers typically do not need as many specialized skills as carpenters. However, they may benefit from having some basic construction knowledge, such as an understanding of how to operate power tools and machinery. They also may need to have customer service skills when working on residential projects.


Laborers can earn an average salary of $39,587 per year, while carpenters can earn an average salary of $52,807 per year. The average salary for both positions may vary depending on the size of the company at which you work, location of your job and the level of experience you have prior to pursuing either position.


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