There are about roughly 324,000 woodworkers in the United States, 12% of whom are self-employed. Job growth indicators suggest that over the next decade, the industry will grow by 6%, which is slightly slower than the overall average of all jobs. There are some very good woodworking distance learning programs on the market.
On the job training is common among woodworkers. Because this is work requires careful craftsmanship and artistic decisions, it can take a number of years to reach the point of being recognized as a master woodworker. Woodworkers with considerable skill and experience and who are competent with the use of computerized numerical control (CNC) machines will not have problem finding employment. It is important to note, however, that this industry is more sensitive than many others to economic fluctuations
The American lifestyle is abundant with goods composed of manmade materials, but wood products have a beauty, strength, and continuing value that plastics and other composite products lack. Wood products can be machine produced, such as cabinetry and flooring, or hand crafted with tools created just for woodworkers. Woodworkers design, create, and evaluate products made of oak, birch, hickory, cherry, teak, and other types of wood. Woodworkers must receive a high level of technical training and be able to operate and repair complex machinery. While CNC machines have automated most of the steps involved in producing wood products, woodworkers must know how to write the programs and load and monitor the machines.
Woodwork artists who create uniquely handcrafted pieces may not use automated machinery, but most employ power tools and an assembly line approach for all but the finest handcrafted goods.
Woodworkers are employed in a wide range of activities. Some are responsible for setting up and operating lathes, drill presses, routers, sanders, planers, nailing machines, and other woodworking tools. Parts that have been cut and compared to specifications are joined, glued, or fastened into a finished unit. The final steps are sanding, staining or painting, and sealing. In some shops, specialized workers handle these particular jobs. In others, one individual is trained in all aspects of woodworking.
Cabinetmakers might create a prototype that is manufactured en masse or design cabinetry for a unique space that must be custom built. Architectural woodworkers focus on uniquely creating decorative accents or furniture designed to enhance a particular architectural space, such as a built-in high-end reception desk for a corporation’s headquarters. Model makers build building samples to scale for the construction industry.
Because there are so many types of woodworkers, working conditions are various. Those who work in mills or manufacturing plants must have the strength to lift and carry heavy materials, stand for long periods of time, and deal with noise and dusty or dirty air. Ear protectors, safety glasses and ventilators add a degree of safety. Power tools and machinery must always be handled with safety regulations in mind to minimize risk. Sawing machine operators, in particular, demonstrate a significantly higher rate of injury and illness than the national average.
Among their duties, woodworkers prepare equipment, confirm measurements, cut, and shape wood pieces to specifications. While on the job training is very common, successful woodworkers must be skilled with computers, software, and especially CNC machinery.
Most employers prefer job applicants with, at the very least, a high school diploma. Postsecondary classes in mathematics and computer applications will enhance the applicant’s chances. Some vocational schools, technical colleges, and universities offer courses in furniture making, wood-related technology, production management, design, and engineering. Individuals who hope to advance to supervisory, engineering, and managerial positions are well-advised to equip themselves with certification and an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. However, even the most highly trained job applicant should expect on the job training as well, when experienced woodworkers will familiarize them with the equipment and the approaches the company prefers.
Woodworkers with mechanical aptitude, manual dexterity, a conscientious attention to detail, computer skills, and the ability to mentally visualize and rotate three dimensional shapes will be sought by employers. Those who demonstrate exceptional skill, independence, and the ability to communicate clearly and get along with others will likely advance to a supervisor, team leader, CNC operator, designer, or inspector position. Ongoing, voluntary education is a plus.
The median hourly pay for cabinetmakers and bench carpenters is roughly $14.50, with those at the high end earning around $23 per hour. Sawing machine setters, operators, and tenders receive a median hourly wage of about $13, while those at the high end earn closer to $20 per hour. Woodworking machine setters, operators, and tenders have a median hourly salary of just over $12 per hour. Furniture finishers earn a median hourly rate of about $13. All other woodworkers’ median hourly pay is around $12 per hour.