Woodworkers

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Woodworkers Do[About this section] [To Top]

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 of Woodworkers

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 hand tools 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 performed 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 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 may operate CNC machines.

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

Work Environment for Woodworkers[About this section] [To Top]

Woodworkers hold about 263,500 jobs. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up woodworkers is distributed as follows:

Cabinetmakers and bench carpenters 109,300
Woodworking machine setters, operators, and tenders, except sawing 77,100
Sawing machine setters, operators, and tenders, wood 54,800
Furniture finishers 22,400

The largest employers of woodworkers are as follows:

Furniture and related product manufacturing 39%
Wood product manufacturing 38
Self-employed workers 8
Specialty trade contractors 3

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, safety glasses, and respirators or masks.

Injuries and Illnesses for Woodworkers

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

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

Woodworker Schedules

Most woodworkers work full time during regular business hours.

How to Become a Woodworker[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Woodworkers near you!

A high school diploma or equivalent is typically required to become a woodworker. Although some entry-level jobs can be learned in less than 1 year, becoming fully proficient generally takes several years of on-the-job training. The ability to use computer-controlled machinery is becoming increasingly important.

Education for Woodworkers

Because of the growing sophistication of machinery, many employers are seeking applicants who have a high school diploma or equivalent. People seeking woodworking jobs can enhance their employment prospects by 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.

Woodworker 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 stacking 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 month, they learn basic machine operations and job tasks. Becoming a skilled woodworker often takes several months or even years. Skilled workers can read blueprints, set up machines, and plan work sequences.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations for Woodworkers

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

Important Qualities for Woodworkers

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 in order to visualize how a three-dimensional wooden object, such as a cabinet or piece of furniture, will fit together.

Mechanical skills. The use of hand tools, such as screwdrivers and wrenches, is required to set up, adjust, and calibrate machines. Modern technology systems require woodworkers to be able to use computers and other programmable devices.

Physical stamina. The ability to endure long periods of standing and repetitive 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.

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

Woodworker Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for woodworkers is $30,180. 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 $20,550, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $47,690.

Median annual wages for woodworkers are as follows:

Cabinetmakers and bench carpenters $33,050
Furniture finishers 30,550
Woodworking machine setters, operators, and tenders, except sawing 28,510
Sawing machine setters, operators, and tenders, wood 28,380

The median annual wages for woodworkers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Specialty trade contractors $35,930
Furniture and related product manufacturing 31,570
Wood product manufacturing 28,260

Most woodworkers work full time during regular business hours.

Job Outlook for Woodworkers[About this section] [To Top]

Overall employment of woodworkers is projected to show little or no change over the next ten years.

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.

However, automation and a greater emphasis on computerized numerical controlled machines may limit the employment growth of some woodworkers in the wood product manufacturing industries.

Job Prospects for Woodworkers

Woodworkers who know how to create and carry out custom designs on a computer should have the best job opportunities in manufacturing industries.

Those who can demonstrate leadership, problem-solving, and advanced math 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.

Employment projections data for Woodworkers, 2016-26
Occupational Title Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26
Percent Numeric
Woodworkers 263,500 266,300 1 2,700
  Cabinetmakers and bench carpenters 109,300 111,800 2 2,500
  Furniture finishers 22,400 22,300 0 -100
  Sawing machine setters, operators, and tenders, wood 54,800 54,600 0 -200
  Woodworking machine setters, operators, and tenders, except sawing 77,100 77,500 1 500


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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