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Woodworker Careers, Jobs and Employment Opportunities

Woodworker Career and Job Highlights

  • The majority of woodworkers obtain training through work experience as the routine tasks and skills can be picked up in a few months, though achieving skilled woodworker status takes 2 plus years.
  • The growth rate for woodworking occupations is projected to rise slightly lower than the average through 20012. Growth for those employed as woodworking machine setters, operators, and tenders will be minimal, if any at all.
  • The best opportunities will exist for those workers that understand computerized numerical control machine tool operations.

Woodworker Career Overview and Job Description

Although many new plastics and other materials have been developed, the need for wood products remains strong. Woodworkers help meet this need. Woodworkers are typically employed in industries that make wood, like sawmills and plywood mills; in industries that make wooden furniture, kitchen and bathroom cabinets, musical instruments, and various other fabricated wood products; or in small shops that produce architectural woodwork, furniture, and other specialty goods.

All woodworkers work at the same stage in the process whereby logs are converted into finished goods. Some woodworkers make the structural parts used by buildings, some mill hardwood and softwood lumber, others put together finished wood products. They run the machines that are used to cut, shape, assemble, and finish raw materials used to produce wooden doors, windows, cabinets, trusses, plywood, flooring, paneling, molding, and trims used to create homes. Many woodworkers participate in the creation of other goods used in the homes like beds, sofas, tables, dressers, and chairs. Woodworkers might also help produce sporting goods like baseball hats and boat oars, musical instruments, caskets, tool handles, wood toys etc.

Production woodworkers are responsible for setting up, operating, and tending to woodworking machines like power saws, planers, sanders, lathes, jointers, and routers used for cutting and shaping parts of lumber, plywood, and other wood products. Sawing machine operators and tenders work in sawmills setting up, operating, or tending wood sawing machines use to cut logs into planks, timbers, or boards. In manufacturing facilities where wood products are made, woodworkers must decide the best way to shape and assemble components by studying blueprints, supervisor’s directions, or sketches made by the woodworkers themselves. Before any cuts are made, woodworkers have to make measurements, marking the products where it should be cut. All dimensions must be double checked, and parts must be trimmed utilizing planes, chisels, sanders, and wood files to make sure the parts fit snuggly together. Woodworking machine operators and tenders must take care of setting up, operating, and monitoring certain woodworking machines, like drill presses, lathes, shapers, routers, sanders, planers, and wood-nailing machines. Those with minimal skills and experience may just turn machines on and off by the flip of a switch while experienced operators are responsible for setting up machinery, cutting and shaping the wooden parts, and checking the size against a template or by using a caliper or ruler.

After the product has been cut out different subassemblies must be run utilizing fasteners and adhesives. Then the pieces have to be fit together to form the finished good. After it is put together the piece must be finish-sanded, stained, and, coated by a sealer like lacquer or varnish as needed. These duties may be performed by teams or woodworkers may be aided by assistants.

The jobs of woodworkers have changed due to innovations related to computer-controlled machinery. Such innovations have raised productivity as now a single operator can monitor several different machines. Using computerized numerical controls (CNC), an operator is able to program a machine to carry out a series of functions automatically, which allows for better precision and reliability. The utilization of computerized machinery has facilitated faster production speeds and increased capabilities, helped simplify preparation and maintenance tasks, while heightening the need for workers with computer skills.

While investments in expensive capital greatly impacts workers in the large companies, workers such as precision or custom woodworkers normally work for smaller companies and thus are affected by such new equipment as they continue to use the older production methods. Other workers like cabinetmakers and bench carpenters; model makers and patternmakers; and furniture finishers perform custom specialty work, normally making unique products. These precision woodworkers must have a big skill set as they are expected to perform an array of duties. They typically cut, shape, and prepare the wood, then assemble the pieces into the finished good. Since these workers perform so many different task they typically require a lot of training as well as the capacity to precisely follow instructions. Additionally, these woodworkers must also responsibly make decisions by themselves when carrying out a task.

Woodworker Training and Job Qualifications

The majority of woodworkers learn the tricks of the trade on the job from other workers with experience. For the most part it only takes beginning woodworkers a few months to pick up the basic skills, but to learn all the skills of woodworking it make take 2 or more years.

Many woodworkers learn the trade via vocational education or through work experience as carpenters doing construction. Others might go to colleges or universities which provide training in fields like wood technology, furniture manufacturing, wood engineering, and production management. These programs ready pupils to fill openings in production, supervision, engineering, and management.

Normally novices will watch and assist experienced machine operators. They might feed the machines with materials or gather the products as they are produced. Beginners can also perform simple machine operations as experienced workers look on. After some experience is gained more difficult tasks will be assigned to them. Some workers will learn to understand blueprints, prepare and set up equipment, or plan out the sequence in which the operations will be performed. More and more employers are looking for workers that are high school graduates or have an equivalent degree since machinery is becoming increasingly sophisticated and workers must constantly receive additional training. Those desirous of woodworking positions can improve employment and advancement opportunities by getting a high school diploma and obtaining instruction in mathematics, science, and computer applications. It is also helpful that applicants have mechanical ability, manual dexterity, and have an eye for detail.

Prospects for promotion are somewhat restricted and vary according to availability, seniority, and a worker’s skills and initiative. Some woodworkers with experience will be promoted to supervisory and inspection positions over a team of woodworkers. Production workers can be promoted to better jobs by taking on added responsibilities and by going to workshops, seminars, or college programs to enhance their skills and value to the company. Some highly skilled workers might choose to start their own business.

Woodworker Job and Employment Opportunities

Employment of woodworkers is projected to rise slower than the average through 2012. Minimal growth, if any at all is projected for employment of woodworking machine setters, operators, and tenders. Those working as cabinetmakers and bench carpenters and furniture finishers can expect employment to rise slower than the average. Employment of model makers and patternmakers is projected to grow on pace with the average for all occupations. Positions will also open up as some woodworkers move to new occupations and others leave the work force.

Demand for woodworkers will be created from the growing population, personal income, and business expenditures, as well as the ever present need to repair and renovate residential and commercial buildings. Thus prospects should be good for woodworkers who can perform work related to moldings, cabinets, stairs, and windows. Because many processes are becoming fully automated, skilled woodworkers with a background in computerized numerical control machine tool operation will be in demand.

A number of different factors will affect the growth of employment of woodworking jobs. Advancements in technology has created innovative robots and CNC machinery, allowing companies to improve productivity rates by woodworkers ensuring firms don’t have to hire more labor to keep up with rising demand for wood products. Additionally, as imports increase the U.S. will lose more and more jobs since many firms will move operations off shore to take advantage of cheaper labor rates. Another problem is the need for wood may be adversely affected by the increasing use of materials like metal, plastic, and fiberglass as substitutes for wood. Other issues such as environmental measures drawn up and enforced in order to limit pollution created by woodworking operations will hurt employment growth.

Woodworking occupations are extremely sensitive to changes in the economy. When the economy is down workers will be susceptible to being laid off or working reduced hours.

Historical Earnings Information

In 2002, the average wages of cabinetmakers and bench carpenters were $11.54. The middle 50 percent made anywhere from $9.26 to $14.66. The bottom 10 percent made less than $7.70, and the top 10 percent made upwards of $18.11 an hour.