Carpenter to accomplished installer

How do you train a carpenter to become a cabinet and millwork installer? July 9, 2002

How do you teach a carpenter to become a cabinet and millwork installer?

Recently, I agreed to take a break from self-employment and foreman a Union Carpenter crew on a fairly large hospital project. The original duration was 8 weeks. This meant that I became a Union member and realized how little training is done to turn good carpenters into great woodworkers.

That's my problem! Here's my solution. Through the Union Local 635, I am beginning a series of classes in cabinet and millwork installation. I hope to develop simple procedures to accomplish complicated tasks that can be taught to carpenters.

Forum Responses
I have found that my best chance of getting high quality people is to take the green guys that have a desire to learn and have a bit of common sense and teach them. The master carpenters are pretty much set in their ways. I let the more experienced guys do more of the decision making as they get more confident in their abilities. So far, so good, but I am stumbling into the problem that most young people have no desire to learn the trade.

From the original questioner:
What do you feel the abilities of a carpenter making $10.00, $15.00 and $20.00 per hour including health, dental, vision, retirement package should be? What tools do you supply at each level?

In regard to your pay scale question, I think it all depends on the market location and the economy. A strong back that can read a tape and wants to learn is an 8 to 10. He or she has the basic tools. 10 to 15 hour guy - you can explain what needs to be done, he or she has most of the tools to get the job done, with the exception of maybe table saw and the like. 15 and up can run the show in the field, deal with superintendent and has all of his or her own tools. We negotiate for people using their own equipment - they may get a little more than those who do not. We provide all maintenance and expendables for their tools.

One of the tools we use is a flow chart for our tasks. Our flow charts not only list the steps in a task, but the sequence of those steps, the steps that are not sequence-dependant and the tasks that we can use as overflow work. We identify bottlenecks and team assignments during the building of the flow chart. The flow chart allows us to utilize all skill levels of help. The flow charts have proven to be a very powerful learning tool as well as management tool. The key seems to be the leaders.

You should look for each individual's specialty - the thing they do best - and use them for it. I'm non-union and do only private residents, and I have very skilled master carpenters. Their rate of pay ranges from $25 to $45 per hour with benefits.

I am a union carpenter out of local 424 in Massachusetts. I am currently installing r & d labs. I am on the payroll of a union subcontractor who supplies labor only to the manufacturer of the casework. I get my work from the out-of-work list and on my own. I am able to hold my own from foundation to finish. The problem as I see it is as follows.

The union contractor is in business to make money. I have been on jobs where the foreman has run men off the job for not being up to the speed that the company wants. The foreman doesn't give the man a chance, nor does he tell them what the man lacked to keep the job. The BA just sends him back out to work without getting him into a journeyman upgrade class.

As a remodeler/builder of 25+ years, I have worked union/non-union and side jobs all of my life. I have a small shop that makes/reproduces and installs architectural mouldings/residential and commercial cabinets in large or small remodeling projects.

It's hunger to do the type of work that's noticed and admired the most. I started out young and worked hard. I believe the only people you can train are the ones who stand out in the same manner. I don't think anybody should specialize so much at a young age, for fear that they will be limited on certain projects should a unique problem arise, as they often do.

I have struggled to find leaders in the field of installation and know that the hardest thing for me is to find someone who knows how to handle problems with the prints or the shop. Being a good carpenter in today's world requires some book learning as well as the detailed skills.

I regard millwork installation as a specialty and do it as a primary function. We are fast and know what to do from the moment we step foot on the job. The best do it every day. Drywallers don't generally do as well as full time millwork guys. This is the problem we have with union labor. If I call the Hall, I will get a steel stud mechanic with a bucket and level. This is why many contracts require the manufacturer to install.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
Speaking to that fella out of local #424 in Mass... I absolutely agree. I've been a carpenter for 26 years, and I remember when I first joined my local in NYC. No one would show me anything. So, I continued to bounce around from job to job. Apprenticeing was a joke. Finally I had a terrific fella take me under his wing - that and watching is what I did to finally start to learn. That was about 22 years ago. Today I have a shop and mostly concentrate on furniture restoration and reproductions of 18th and 19th century furniture. My card is still sitting on a shelf. The younger people today just seem to not have a real drive, and it's a real shame. It would seem to me that the whole system of apprenticing needs to change or else there will be a true decline in abilities not too far down the road.

Comment from contributor B:
I have been installing cabinets and millwork (residential and commercial) for various supliers and manufacturers for 10 years. Obviously I am self-employed, and in pricing jobs it varies according to the way the producer of the product is familiar with. A flat hourly rate of $25.00, or by piece work, has worked for me, as has a percentage (usually 10%) of the purchase price. Piece work is calculated on an install at anywhere from $20 to $40 per box, and $15 per yard of light valances, crown mouldings, $20 per panel, and about $7 per foot of countertops.