Woodworker Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a woodworking career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a woodworker is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Woodworker Careers

While some artisans create wood products by hand, most woodworkers use advanced tools and automated equipment to produce items such as furniture, instruments and cabinets. Examine the pros and cons to determine if this path is the right career choice for you.

Pros of a Woodworker Career
Apprenticeships or on-the-job training is enough for entry into the field*
Woodworking jobs are available across the country*
Specialization opportunities exist (cabinetmakers, pattern-makers and furniture finishers)*
Opportunities for advancement with training and experience (supervisor, CNC programmer and quality inspector)*

Cons of a Woodworker Career
Occupations in woodworking have high rates of non-fatal injuries*
Working conditions may be noisy and dirty*
Job growth is lower-than-average for woodworkers (8% growth between 2012 and 2022)*
May be exposed to weather conditions if working outdoors*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

General Career Information

Job Description

A career as a woodworker may mean a position on an assembly line performing one task in a product-building process, such as operating computerized numerical control (CNC) machines. However, some woodworkers do create customized pieces and operate a variety of smaller tools such as drills, saws and sanders.

Today's woodworkers set up and operate a variety of machines to shape and cut the wood forms used to create a finished product. Woodworkers connect the shaped pieces together with adhesives and fasteners to build the completed product. Some woodworkers specialize in finish work as furniture finishers, adding stain, paint or varnish to the assembled piece to preserve and complete the product.

Salary Info and Specializations

As a woodworker, you may specialize in one particular aspect of the assembly process or perform many of the tasks in building a product. Cabinetmakers and bench carpenters, for example, design and build cabinets to fit a particular space and work on the cabinets all the way through to the installation in a customer's home. The median salary for cabinetmakers and bench carpenters was $31,580 in 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Furniture finishers, who work with both older and newer furniture, earned a median salary of $28,810 during the same period, per the BLS (www.bls.gov).

Carpenters perform a variety of tasks in the building of structures and remodeling homes such as building and installing cabinets, doors and windows; framing walls and building staircases. Professional carpenters may specialize in residential or commercial buildings and earned a median salary of about $40,820 in 2014, according to the BLS. The bureau also projected that employment growth for carpenters would increase significantly by 24% between 2012 and 2022.

What Are the Requirements?

Employers may seek woodworkers with a minimum of a high school diploma to set up and operate the advanced equipment used in the field. As a high school student, you can prepare for a career as a woodworker with courses such as mathematics and computer training. Courses at community colleges or technical schools also train you in the techniques and skills used in woodworking.

Most beginning woodworkers acquire the necessary skills through on-the-job training. Entry-level woodworkers learn how to set up and operate machinery, read blueprints and plan the steps in a woodworking project.

Carpenters may obtain the training on the job through apprenticeship programs or in a vocational program. While limited, a few employers may offer 3-4 year apprenticeship programs to aspiring carpenters.

What Employers Are Looking For

Woodworkers obtain skills and abilities, such as manual dexterity and eye-hand coordination, through experience and on-the-job training. Employers typically require you to have a minimum number of years experience in the field to qualify for a job, but entry-level woodworker positions are available for newcomers. The following are some examples of job postings from real employers in February 2012:

  • A woodworking company in Indiana was seeking workers knowledgeable in CNC machine programming and operation and furniture assembly, including kitchen cabinets and closets. The position also required applicants to have knowledge of a variety of wood-finishing techniques and materials.
  • A lumber company in Connecticut was looking for a candidate with skills and knowledge in machine operations who could fulfill woodworking positions that included a knife grinder, moulder operator and finishing operator.
  • A Pennsylvania cabinetmaking company was seeking an experienced woodworker with 5-7 years experience for a full-time position.
  • A cabinetmaker in Pennsylvania advertised for an entry-level cabinetmaker with a high school diploma or equivalent.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Get Training

Completing a training or vocational program in woodworking isn't a requirement for a position, but it can help you stand out in the job market. Advancement opportunities are available for those who pursue training and education in additional skills, such as CNC programming or computer-aided design programs.

Get Certified

The Woodwork Career Alliance of North America offers woodworkers certifications at three levels of proficiency, which are basic, intermediate and advanced (www.woodworkercareer.org). Individuals must demonstrate the knowledge and skills to set up and operate machinery and power tools while manufacturing wood parts according to specifications.

Certifications as journeypersons can help carpenters stand out in the field. The certifications are earned after the completion of a formal apprenticeship as a carpenter. Carpenters with language skills in Spanish and English can advance to supervisory positions in the construction industry.

Other Careers to Consider

Computer Control Operators

If the high rate of injuries in woodworking positions is a disincentive, but you're still interested in the technical aspects of the field, consider a career as a CNC programmer or setup operator. CNC equipment is used in other manufacturing environments, such as metal and plastics. CNC operators report fewer injuries than in many other manufacturing positions. Operators can train for a position on-the-job, while programmers may require formal training in a vocational school or technical college. Comparable to a woodworker's wage, the median salary for CNC operators was almost $35,000 in 2010, according to the BLS. Meanwhile, CNC programmers earned a higher median salary of nearly $46,000 during the same period.

Sheet Metal Workers

If the low median salary of woodworkers is a downside to the career, consider becoming a sheet metal worker for similar duties at a higher pay rate. Sheet metal workers bend, cut and shape metal into custom products such as countertops, ductwork, equipment cases and signs. According to the BLS, the median salary for sheet metal workers in 2010 was just under $42,000. Sheet metal workers receive training on the job and in the classroom. According to the BLS, employers may provide in-house training or send workers to vocational schools or community colleges for classroom instruction.

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