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Carpenter vs. Electrician: How to Choose the Right Career Path

Carpenter vs Electrician

Trade skills are a great way to start a career at a young age. Trade skills offer the opportunity to start making a living wage right away and offer a long-term stable career. Two of the most common trade skills include carpenters and electricians. But which career choice is better? Both of these career paths are similar in terms of pay, starting point, and long-term prospects, but one could be better for you.

Here is everything you need to know about carpentry and electrical work to help you make a decision about a potential career choice.

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At A Glance


  • Work with wood
  • Construct structural portions of a building
  • Have potential for expressive, creative freedom
  • Can work primarily inside or outside
  • Proficiency in math is beneficial
  • Work under general contracting license
  • Work with wires, breakers, and circuits
  • Ensure buildings are properly wired for electricity
  • Little potential for expressive, creative freedom
  • Primarily work inside but can also work outside
  • Proficiency in math such as algebra required
  • Work under electrician license

divider 4 Overview of Carpenters:

Carpenters work with wood and metal in a variety of forms. There are two main branches of carpentry that offer different forms of work. Rough carpentry works on the bones of a building. They are responsible for building walls, roofs, footers, trusses, and installing joists and supports. Finish carpenters do more polished work. They build things that are used to polish a building and add character. Finish carpenters build things like trim, cabinets, window frames, railings, corbels, and pergolas. Carpenters are involved in nearly every construction project in the United States. Carpenters are required for residential buildings and commercial buildings. They can be working in the workshop all day using various tools, or they can be on job sites.

Carpenters have a stable long term career projection. Carpenters typically work long hours, and the labor can be physically intensive.

professional carpenter installing a door jamb
Image Credit: Stokkete, Shutterstock

Typical Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, carpenters make an average of $26.50 per hour. Their annual salary is $55,000. There are an estimated 668,060 carpenters employed in the United States. The bottom 10% make just $15 per hour. The top 10% make $39 per hour.  Salaries might vary depending on your geographic location and whether you decide to or are able to join a union.

Educational Requirements

Carpenters simply require a high school diploma or equivalent educational degree. Carpenters can get started as soon as they graduate from high school and are often able to learn on the job. Apprenticeships are available for carpentry but are not always necessary.


  • Long term stability
  • Good wages
  • A degree of creative freedom available
  • Can start right out of high school
  • Labor can be physically demanding
  • Days can be long
  • Environment rarely changes

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Overview of Electricians:

Electricians work with various tools and materials in pursuit of wiring places for electricity. Electricians can do new construction or repair work. Electricians make sure that electrical wiring is functional and that everything meets building code. They can also be responsible for fixing areas without power or repairing bad outlets and fixtures. Electricians work primarily indoors, but they work in a variety of different buildings and environments. Electricians can work on fixing an outdoor floodlight one day and be working on rewiring a classroom the next day. Most electricians are low voltage electricians working on wiring found in typical buildings. There are also high voltage electricians that work on overhead powerlines and in powerplants and other infrastructure. High voltage electricians have a higher risk of injury or death than low voltage electricians.

Image Credit: 777546, Pixabay

Typical Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, electricians make an average of $30 per hour. Their annual salary is $63,000. There are an estimated 650,580 electricians employed in the United States. The bottom 10% make $17 per hour, while the top 10% make $48 per hour. Salaries might vary depending on your geographic location and whether you decide to or are able to join a union.

Educational Requirements

Electricians only require a high school diploma or equivalent educational degree. However, proficiency in math and additional training is suggested for early success. Most electricians go to a trade school for a year to get certified before starting work. You can also find apprenticeships for electricians more frequently than for carpenters. Apprenticeships and trade schools often offer an opportunity to get licensed at the end of the program. You can also study for a state license and get licensed on your own before starting work.


  • Good wages
  • Stable long-term outlook
  • Varied environments
  • Various different types of work
  • Requires a license or additional training to get started
  • Risk of electrocution

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Carpenter vs. Electrician FAQ’s

Is Carpentry or Electrical Work More Varied?

The day-to-day work for electricians is often more varied than carpenters. Electricians can work on anything from yachts to schools to residential homes. They could be wiring lights one week, replacing electrical panels the next, or chasing down a short. Electricians work in a variety of diverse environments and can work on a large number of different products. However, electricians do not have any room for creative freedom. Plans have to be followed and electrical work has to be done to code.

Carpenters often work in the same environment every day. You are either working in a workshop, or you are on a job site working on framing or structural joists. However, carpenters have more opportunities to be creative. Finish carpenters can make cabinets, trim, corbels, furniture, and more. These outlets allow you to create what you want.

The better choice will come down to whether you want different environments or day-to-day work or more expressive freedom in your work.

Carpenter cutting wood with circular power saw in building construction site interior
Image Credit: Juice Flair, Shutterstock

Is Carpentry or Electrical Work More Dangerous?

Both carpentry and electrical work can involve some dangers. Carpenters often work with power tools which cause thousands of injuries every year. Carpenters have to be aware of their surroundings and know how to use tools like drills, saws, and nailers. Electricians have the risk of being electrocuted and accidentally causing fires. Most electricians are low voltage electricians, which have a lower risk of serious injury from shock, but the danger is still there. Both fields are considered relatively safe as long as you are able and willing to follow precise instructions and learn how to use specialized tools in the proper manner.

Which Trade Has a Better Union?

Both carpenters and electricians have large and powerful unions that help support people in these fields. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) is the ninth largest union in the United States while the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America is the thirteenth largest union in the United States. Some states are better than others for union work, but if you are interested in joining a union, both of these career paths have excellent options. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers is one of the largest and most respected unions in American history. Both unions offer plenty of protections and wage guarantees and help workers find jobs and gigs.

Which Job Is Harder on The Body?

Most experts and experienced tradesmen agree that carpentry is harder on the body in the long run than electrical work. Carpentry requires a lot of lifting, movement, and exertion. A single piece of lumber or hardwood is often much heavier than an entire roll of wires. There are some branches of carpentry, especially finished carpentry, that are easier on the body than others. However, overall, electricians have an easier time on their bodies than carpenters. If you are worried about repeated use injuries or potential bodily pain in the future, you might want to consider electrical work over carpentry work.

Roofer, carpenter working on roof structure on construction site
Image Credit: sculpies, Shutterstock

Salary Breakdown

Carpenter Electrician
Median Hourly Wage $26.53 $30.44
Median Annual Salary $55,190 $63,310
Top 10% Wage $38.92 $47.98
Bottom 10% Wage $15.33 $17.80

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Both carpenters and electricians have good job prospects. They make good wages and work in vital jobs that keep the American economy going. Electricians make more money on average, but carpenters have more freedom to be creative. Electricians work primarily inside, and carpenters have the ability to work primarily outside. The choice between these two viable trade professions will be entirely up to you based on your values, prospects, location, and individual interests, but both are great potential career choices.

Featured Image Credit: Dzharafov Eduard, Shutterstock | (R) Emmanuel Ikwuegbu, Pexels


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