Studying Furniture Making: Degrees at a Glance
Furniture making includes the efforts of artisans, designers and manufacturers who use materials such as wood, fabric, metal and plastic to produce furniture. Preparation for a career in furniture making can range from vocational training to apprenticeships to certificate, associate degree and bachelor's degree programs. In a furniture design, furniture manufacturing, fine woodworking or furniture making degree program, you might learn woodworking, cabinetmaking or upholstering, custom crafting and design or industrial engineering for furniture manufacturing. Specialized on-campus bench and machine workshops, studios and testing facilities may be open to you. As a furniture maker, you could work for small to large companies, design studios or for yourself.
Associate degree programs might help you work in a studio dedicated to custom, architectural or fine furniture making. With a bachelor's degree, you might be a production manager in a furniture manufacturing facility or a furniture designer. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that employment growth in general would increase 14% from 2010-2020. Furniture design or high-end craft skills could be helpful, since opportunities for industrial managers may grow only 6% as furniture manufacturing continues to move overseas. Income for business owners, artisans and designers who do custom work is difficult to determine but could be higher than production-based incomes like those below.
|Who is this degree for?||Individuals who want an entry-level position in a furniture making field|| Individuals interested in management positions or employment advancement|
|Common Career Paths|| - Cabinetmaker and bench carpenter ($31,000)*|
- Upholsterer ($30,000)*
- First-line supervisor of production workers ($47,000)*
- Master craftsperson in an academic environment (salary unavailable)
| - Industrial designer ($61,000)* |
- Industrial production manager ($88,000)*
- Furniture designer ($29,000-$95,000)**
- Sales manager ($102,000)*
|Time to Completion||1-2 years, full-time|| 4-5 years, full-time |
|Common Graduation Requirements|| - Typically 60-70 credits, including major area subjects and liberal arts core requirements|
| - Approximately 120 credits |
- Internship or capstone project
|Prerequisites||High school diploma or GED||High school diploma or GED|
|Online Availability||Limited online courses may be available||Some online courses may be available|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011 median wages), **PayScale.com (2012 total pay range, including salary and bonuses, tips, commission, overtime wages and profit sharing).
Associate Degree Covering Furniture Making
You can learn carpentry and cabinetmaking through vocational or on-the-job training or apprenticeships, but if you're interested in self-employment or custom work using fine materials, you may want to pursue formal education, such as an associate degree. An associate degree program will generally require academic core courses followed by professional and technical training courses. You will typically learn about design, hand tools, woodworking machinery, freehand drawing and computer drawing. You may produce progressively more complex pieces using your school's facilities. These facilities may include workshops and laboratories for handling wood, metal, upholstery, plastics, paint and veneers. Degree options can include Associate of Occupational Studies, Associate of Arts or Associate in Science.
Pros and Cons
- School may have articulation or transfer agreement for a bachelor's degree completion program at a 4-year school
- Programs under supervision of skilled artisans are designed to develop skills supportive of custom, creative or independent work
- Facilities and equipment may exceed those available in vocational or apprenticeship programs
- Focus on design and entrepreneurship
- Craft focus may not be necessary for production-oriented students
- Some professions may be accessible through on-the-job training
- May require relocation; these programs are not available in every geography and nature of work may require on-campus presence with access to facilities
- There may be an assumption that students have already-acquired skills and knowledge because of portfolio requirement
Courses and Requirements
Programs may include math, communications, furniture history and design study as well as computer and hand-based drawing. You could develop skill in 2-D and 3-D design, freehand drawing and technical drawing and related software programs. You might learn skills to support starting your own business. Your school may require studio work and internships. You might encounter courses that offer specialized instruction on pieces of furniture like Windsor chairs, chests of drawers, rocking chairs or wall units, or more general courses like these:
- Business and computer marketing for artisans
- Models and mock-ups
- Beginning design
- Planning, layout and design
- Furniture construction
- Wood finishing
- Introduction to joinery
Online Class Options
Studio, workshop and laboratory work may be difficult to pursue online. Associate degree programs in furniture making typically require on-campus presence due to the hand-on nature of the work. You might be able to complete some of your requirements online, taking core curriculum or some computer-assisted design courses virtually. If your school offers this option, you'll usually be held to the same standards as students taking courses on campus.
Getting Ahead with This Degree
Your program may offer exhibition space for your work or opportunities to enter competitions. An exceptional portfolio of work could attract attention from employers. You may have opportunities to pursue style, regional or period specialties, like Spanish Colonial, which could give you an edge in these markets. You may be able to identify an unfilled niche or connect with design or architecture students or professionals who can use your artisan expertise to realize their designs. Some schools may help you develop a viable business plan.
Bachelor's Degrees Covering Furniture Making
Bachelor's degrees related to furniture making may broadly emphasize either design and crafts or production categories. Graduate may become designers for office, residential or commercial furniture, or production workers, who turn out products. Furniture manufacturers also need staff skilled in the full range of business disciplines, including sales professionals and industrial engineers for production management.
Production-oriented degrees may be offered as Bachelor of Science programs. Design programs typically award Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degrees. You'll satisfy core curriculum and studio requirements. Your program could integrate theoretical concepts and hands-on work in the shop. You'll learn to use a variety of materials, tools and techniques. Programs may explore technology and the impact of economic conditions. They could include working on design challenges through sponsored industry research. You may have access to computer, metal, machine, upholstery, plastics and other kinds of specialized lab facilities with standard professional tools.
Pros and Cons
- A 4-year degree may be necessary for career advancement
- Participation in student exhibitions can lead to networking and advancement
- Formal business training could help get your own studio off the ground successfully
- A 4-year degree isn't necessarily required to be a furniture maker
- May have to choose between a furniture design or production emphasis
- The number of programs is limited and you may need to relocate
Courses and Requirements
Besides core coursework, your program may include participation in a senior exhibition or production of a business plan supportive of running a studio. Programs may require a portfolio based on your work. A senior project or internship may also be required. In a bachelor's degree program covering furniture design, you might find courses like these:
- History of furniture design
- Computer modeling and making workshop
- Casting and mixed media
- Digital fabrication
- Drawing for furniture
- Designing for 3-D and sculpting in wood
- Business for artisans and computer marketing
The hands-on nature of this degree requires on-campus presence. Students may benefit from laboratory and workshop facilities as well as on-campus collaboration with architecture and interior and industrial design students. You may be able to take some general education or other courses online if your school offers this option. These courses may require access to specific browsers or software programs.
Standing Out with This Degree
In a furniture design program, you may have opportunities to build your professional network and make contacts through collaboration with other students and visiting artists and lecture series. Part-time work or internships could lead to employment offers or positive recommendations. Quality performance in studios sponsored by retailers and manufacturers and a standout portfolio could attract favorable attention. Participation in your school's exhibition program or student design competitions sponsored by organizations like the American Society of Furniture Designers could be a valuable experience.
You could gain professional polish through a study abroad program that includes workshops and visits to design studios and manufacturers. Travel to trade shows sponsored by organizations like the American Home Furnishings Alliance could also broaden your horizons and help you make contacts.