Despite the abundance of plastics, metals, and other materials, wood products continue to be an important part of our daily lives. Many of these products are mass produced, including most furniture, kitchen cabinets, and musical instruments. Other products are custom-crafted in shops using specialized tools. The people who design, produce, and test these products are called woodworkers.
Although the term woodworker may evoke the image of a craftsman who builds ornate furniture using hand tools, 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. Even specialized artisans generally use a variety of power tools in their work. Much of the work is often done in a high production assembly line facility, but there is also some work that is customized and does not lend itself to assembly line fabrication. Woodworkers are employed in every part of the secondary wood products industry—from sawmill to finished product—and their activities vary greatly.
Woodworkers set up, operate and tend all types of machines, such as drill presses, lathes, shapers, routers, sanders, planers, and wood-nailing machines. Operators set up the equipment, cut and shape wooden parts, and verify dimensions using a template, caliper, or rule. After wood parts are made, woodworkers add fasteners and adhesives and connect the pieces to form a complete unit. Products are then sanded, stained, and, if necessary, coated with a sealer, such as a lacquer or varnish.
In some cases, these tasks are managed by different workers with specialized training. For instance, woodworking machine setters, operators, and tenders may specialize in operating specific pieces of woodworking machinery. Furniture finishers stain and seal wood products; they often work with antiques and must make judgments about how to best preserve and repair them.
On the other hand, some woodworkers are less specialized, and must know how to complete many stages of the process. Cabinetmakers and bench carpenters often design and create sets of cabinets that are customized for particular spaces. In some cases, their duties could begin with designing a set of cabinets to particular specifications and end with installing them. Architectural woodworkers design and create customized wooden furniture and accents that are part of a building. This might include a desk that is built into a hotel lobby, a bar in a pub, or booths in a restaurant. Other woodworkers, such as model makers, create scale models of products or buildings that are used in construction; patternmakers construct dies that are used for castings.
Working conditions vary greatly, depending on specific job duties. Workers may have to handle heavy, bulky materials and often encounter excessive noise and dust. Workers must often wear earplugs, gloves, and goggles to protect themselves. These occupations tend to have relatively high non-fatal injury rates, since woodworkers spend much of their time using power tools, which can be dangerous. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that sawing machine operators experienced a work-related injury and illness rate that was much higher than the national average.
Education & Training Required
Many employers seek applicants with a high school diploma or the equivalent because of the growing sophistication of machinery and the constant need for retraining. People seeking woodworking jobs can enhance their employment and advancement prospects by completing high school and receiving training in mathematics and computer applications.
Some woodworkers acquire skills through technical schools or community college courses. Others may attend universities that offer training in wood technology, furniture manufacturing, wood engineering, and production management. These programs prepare students for positions in production, supervision, engineering, and management and are increasingly important as woodworking technology advances.
While education is helpful, woodworkers are primarily trained on the job, where they learn skills from experienced workers. Beginning workers are assigned basic tasks, such as putting a piece of wood through a machine or catching the wood at the end of the process. As they gain experience, they perform more complex jobs with less supervision. They can learn basic machine operations and job tasks in about a year. Skilled workers learn to read blueprints, set up machines, and plan work sequences. Becoming a skilled woodworker often requires 3 or more years.
Other Skills Required (Other qualifications)
In addition to training, woodworkers need mechanical ability, manual dexterity, and the ability to pay attention to detail and safety. They should be comfortable working with geometric concepts; for example, they must be able to visualize how shapes will fit together in three dimensions. Skill with computers and computer-controlled machinery is increasingly important in this high-tech occupation.
Woodworkers - What They Do - Page 2