Woodworkers

Summary

woodworkers image
Workers use automated machinery, such as computerized numerical control (CNC) machines, to do much of the work.
Quick Facts: Woodworkers
2012 Median Pay $28,440 per year
$13.67 per hour
Entry-Level Education High school diploma or equivalent
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training See How to Become One
Number of Jobs, 2012 202,700
Job Outlook, 2012-22 8% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 15,700

What Woodworkers Do

Woodworkers manufacture a variety of products such as cabinets and furniture, using wood, veneers, and laminates. They often combine and incorporate different materials into wood.

Work Environment

Although working conditions vary from plant to plant, some woodworkers may encounter machinery noise and wood dust. Others work in modern plants with good lighting, active dust control, and sound deadening enclosures. Woodworkers have a higher rate of injuries and illnesses than the national average.

How to Become a Woodworker

Although some entry-level jobs can be learned in less than 1 year, becoming fully proficient generally takes at least 3 years of on-the-job training. The ability to use computer-controlled machinery is becoming increasingly important.

Pay

The median hourly wage for woodworkers was $13.67 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of woodworkers is projected to grow 8 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Those who have advanced skills, including the ability to use computer-controlled machinery, should have the best job opportunities in manufacturing industries.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of woodworkers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about woodworkers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Woodworkers Do About this section

Woodworkers
Woodworkers measure finished products for imperfections.

Woodworkers manufacture a variety of products such as cabinets and furniture, using wood, veneers, and laminates. They often combine and incorporate different materials into wood.

Duties

Woodworkers typically do the following:

  • Understand detailed architectural drawings, schematics, shop drawings, and blueprints
  • Prepare and set up machines and tooling for woodwork manufacturing
  • Lift wood pieces onto machines, either by hand or with hoists
  • Operate woodworking machines, including saws and milling and sanding  machines
  • Listen for unusual sounds or detect excessive vibration in machinery
  • Ensure that products meet industry standards and project specifications, making adjustments as necessary
  • Select and adjust the proper cutting, milling, boring, and sanding tools for completing a job
  • Use hand tools to trim pieces or assemble products

Despite the abundance of plastics, metals, and other materials, wood products continue to be an important part of our daily lives. Woodworkers make wood products from lumber and synthetic wood materials. Many of these products, including most furniture, kitchen cabinets, and musical instruments, are mass produced. Other products are custom made from architectural designs and drawings.

Although the term “woodworker” may evoke the image of a craftsman who uses handtools to build ornate furniture, the modern woodworking trade is highly technical and relies on advanced equipment and highly skilled operators. Workers use automated machinery, such as computerized numerical control (CNC) machines, to do much of the work with great accuracy.

Even specialized artisans generally use CNC machines and a variety of power tools in their work. Much of the work is done in a high-production assembly line facility, but there is also some work that is customized and does not lend itself to being made on an assembly line.

Woodworkers set up, operate, and tend all types of woodworking machines, such as saws, milling machines, drill presses, lathes, shapers, routers, sanders, planers, and wood-fastening machines. Operators set up the equipment, cut and shape wooden parts, and verify dimensions, using a template, caliper, and rule. After the parts are machined, woodworkers add fasteners and adhesives and connect the parts to form an assembled unit. They also install hardware, such as pulls and drawer slides, and fit specialty products for glass, metal trims, electrical components, and stone. Finally, workers then sand, stain, and, if necessary, coat the wood product with a sealer or topcoats, such as a lacquer or varnish.

Many of these tasks are handled by different workers with specialized training.

The following are examples of types of woodworkers:

Cabinetmakers and bench carpenters cut, shape, assemble, and make parts for wood products. They often design and create sets of cabinets that are customized for particular spaces. In some cases, their duties begin with designing a set of cabinets to specifications and end with installing the cabinets.

Furniture finishers shape, finish, and refinish damaged and worn furniture. They may work with antiques and must judge how to preserve and repair them. They also do the staining, sealing, and top coating at the end of the process of making wooden products.

Wood sawing machine setters, operators, and tenders specialize in operating specific pieces of woodworking machinery. They often operate CNC machines.

Woodworking machine setters, operators, and tenders, except sawing, operate woodworking machines, such as drill presses, lathes, routers, sanders, and planers.

Work Environment About this section

Woodworkers
Woodworkers are exposed to hazards and must wear safety equipment.

Woodworkers held about 202,700 jobs in 2012. About 83 percent worked in manufacturing industries.

The industries that employed the most woodworkers in 2012 were as follows:

Cabinetmakers and bench carpenters86,200
Woodworking machine setters, operators, and tenders, except sawing61,500
Sawing machine setters, operators, and tenders, wood40,200
Furniture finishers14,800

Although many smaller shops employ a few workers, production factories can have as many as 2,000 employees.

Working conditions vary with the specific job duties. At times, workers have to handle heavy, bulky materials and may encounter noise and dust. As a result, they regularly wear hearing protection devices, goggles, and respirators or masks.

Injuries and Illnesses

Woodworkers are exposed to hazards such as harmful dust, chemicals, or fumes. Others may be exposed to excessive noise and must wear hearing protection devices.

Specifically, cabinet makers and bench carpenters have a higher rate of injuries and illnesses than the national average.

Most injuries involve sprains, back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and hernia. These injuries or illnesses come from excessive amounts of awkward bending, reaching, twisting, and overexertion or repetition.

Work Schedules

Most woodworkers are employed full time and work during regular business hours.

How to Become a Woodworker About this section

Woodworkers
After high school, most woodworkers are trained on the job, learning from more experienced workers.

Although some entry-level jobs can be learned in less than 1 year, becoming fully proficient generally takes at least 3 years of on-the-job training. The ability to use computer-controlled machinery is becoming increasingly important.

Education

Because of the growing sophistication of machinery, many employers are seeking applicants who have a high school diploma or the equivalent. People seeking woodworking jobs can enhance their employment prospects by completing high school and getting training in computer applications and math.

Some woodworkers obtain their skills by taking courses at technical schools or community colleges. Others attend universities that offer training in wood technology, furniture manufacturing, wood engineering, and production management. These programs prepare students for jobs in production, supervision, engineering, and management, and are becoming increasingly important as woodworking technology advances.

Training

Education is helpful, but woodworkers are trained primarily on the job, where they learn skills from experienced workers. Beginning workers are given basic tasks, such as placing a piece of wood through a machine and grabbing the finished product at the end of the process.

As they gain experience, new woodworkers perform more complex tasks with less supervision. In about 1 year, they learn basic machine operations and job tasks. Becoming a skilled woodworker often takes 3 or more years. Skilled workers can read blueprints, set up machines, and plan work sequences.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Although not required, becoming certified can demonstrate competence and professionalism. It also may help a candidate advance in the profession. The Architectural Woodwork Institute (AWI) offers a national certificate program, which adds a level of credibility to the work of woodworkers. The Woodwork Career Alliance of North America also offers five progressive credentials.

Important Qualities

Detail oriented. Woodworkers must pay attention to details in order to meet specifications and to keep themselves safe.

Dexterity. Woodworkers must make precise cuts with a variety of hand tools and power tools, so they need a steady hand and good hand-eye coordination.

Math skills. Knowledge of basic math and computer skills are important, particularly for those who work in manufacturing, in which technology continues to advance. Woodworkers need to understand basic geometry to visualize how the wood pieces will fit together to fabricate a three-dimensional object, such as a cabinet or piece of furniture.

Mechanical skills. Modern technology systems require woodworkers to be able to use robots, computers, and other programmable devices.

Physical stamina. The ability to endure long periods of standing and repetitious movements is crucial for woodworkers, who often stand all day performing many of the same functions.

Physical strength. Woodworkers must be strong enough to lift bulky and heavy pieces of wood, such as plywood.

Technical skills. Woodworkers must be able to understand and interpret design drawings and technical manuals for a range of products and machines.

Pay About this section

Woodworkers

Median hourly wages, May 2012

Total, all occupations

$16.71

Production occupations

$14.87

Woodworkers

$13.67

 

The median hourly wage for woodworkers was $13.67 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.03 per hour, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $21.31 per hour.

Median hourly wages for woodworker occupations in May 2012 were as follows:

  • $14.90 for cabinetmakers and bench carpenters
  • $13.70 for furniture finishers
  • $13.00 for woodworking machine setters, operators, and tenders, except sawing
  • $12.59 for sawing machine setters, operators, and tenders, wood

Most woodworkers are employed full time and work during regular business hours.

Job Outlook About this section

Woodworkers

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Total, all occupations

11%

Woodworkers

8%

Production occupations

1%

 

Employment of woodworkers is projected to grow 8 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Employment growth will stem from greater demand for domestic wood products. In particular, the continuing need to repair and renovate residential and commercial properties will likely require more woodworkers.

Employment growth should be good for woodworkers who specialize in items used in renovation, such as moldings, cabinets, stairs, and windows. Firms that focus on custom woodwork should be able to compete against imports without the need to outsource jobs to other countries.

The increasing use of automated systems is expected to require more workers to operate and maintain the newer equipment in manufacturing facilities.

Woodworkers who know how to create and carry out custom designs on a computer will likely be in strong demand.

Job Prospects

Those with advanced skills, including advanced math and the ability to interpret design drawings, should have the best job opportunities in manufacturing industries.

Those who can demonstrate leadership and problem-solving skills should also have the best job prospects.

Some job openings will result from the need to replace those who retire or leave the occupation for another job.

Although overall job opportunities should be good, employment in all woodworking specialties is highly sensitive to economic cycles. During economic downturns, woodworkers are subject to layoffs or reductions in hours.

Employment projections data for woodworkers, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Woodworkers

202,700 218,400 8 15,700

Cabinetmakers and bench carpenters

51-7011 86,200 89,700 4 3,500 [XLS]

Furniture finishers

51-7021 14,800 15,300 3 500 [XLS]

Sawing machine setters, operators, and tenders, wood

51-7041 40,200 45,700 13 5,400 [XLS]

Woodworking machine setters, operators, and tenders, except sawing

51-7042 61,500 67,700 10 6,300 [XLS]

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of woodworkers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2012 MEDIAN PAY Help
Carpenters

Carpenters

Carpenters construct and repair building frameworks and structures—such as stairways, doorframes, partitions, and rafters—made from wood and other materials. They also may install kitchen cabinets, siding, and drywall.

High school diploma or equivalent $39,940
Computer programmers

Computer Programmers

Computer programmers write code to create software programs. They turn the program designs created by software developers and engineers into instructions that a computer can follow.

Bachelor’s degree $74,280
Machinists and tool and die makers

Machinists and Tool and Die Makers

Machinists and tool and die makers set up and operate a variety of computer-controlled and mechanically-controlled machine tools to produce precision metal parts, instruments, and tools.

High school diploma or equivalent $40,910
Sheet metal workers

Sheet Metal Workers

Sheet metal workers fabricate or install products that are made from thin metal sheets, such as ducts used for heating and air conditioning.

High school diploma or equivalent $43,290
Structural iron and steel workers

Structural Iron and Steel Workers

Structural iron and steel workers install iron or steel beams, girders, and columns to form buildings, bridges, and other structures. They are commonly referred to as ironworkers.

High school diploma or equivalent $46,140
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Woodworkers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/production/woodworkers.htm (visited December 20, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014