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What Woodworkers Do About this section

Woodworkers
Woodworkers ensure that products meet industry standards and project specifications.

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:

  • Read 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 and watch for excessive vibration in machinery
  • Ensure that products meet industry standards and project specifications, adjusting as necessary
  • Select the proper cutting, milling, boring, and sanding tools for completing a job
  • Use handtools to trim pieces or assemble products
  • Maintain machines, such as by cleaning and oiling them or replacing worn blades

Woodworkers make 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.

Modern woodworking is highly technical. Skilled operators use automated machinery, such as computerized numerical control (CNC) machines, to ensure accuracy in all phases of their work. Woodworkers do many of their tasks  on an assembly line, but some customized work must be done by hand.

Woodworkers set up, operate, and tend all types of woodworking machines, such as saws, milling machines, drill presses, sanders, and wood-fastening machines. Operators use equipment to cut and shape wooden parts and to verify dimensions, using a template, caliper, and rule. 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.

The following are examples of types of woodworkers:

Cabinetmakers and bench carpenters cut, shape, and assemble parts for wood products. They often design and create sets of customized cabinets, sometimes seeing a project all the way through to installation.

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 production process.

Woodworking machine setters, operators, and tenders use band saws, circular saws, hack saws, or other equipment to cut wood. They also use drill presses, lathes, sanders, and other types of woodworking equipment to smooth and shape wood.

Work Environment About this section

Woodworkers
Woodworkers make wood products from lumber and synthetic wood materials.

Woodworkers held about 247,100 jobs in 2020. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up woodworkers was distributed as follows:

Cabinetmakers and bench carpenters 103,900
Woodworking machine setters, operators, and tenders, except sawing 74,600
Sawing machine setters, operators, and tenders, wood 50,500
Furniture finishers 18,100

The largest employers of woodworkers were as follows:

Wood product manufacturing 39%
Furniture and related product manufacturing 37
Self-employed workers 7
Specialty trade contractors 3

Working conditions vary. At times, woodworkers handle heavy, bulky materials and may encounter noise and dust. As a result, they regularly wear hearing protection, safety glasses, and respirators or masks.

Injuries and Illnesses

Wood sawing machine setters, operators, and tenders have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. These workers use saws and other tools and equipment that may be dangerous and can cause cuts or lacerations. Workers must wear safety equipment and be mindful of their surroundings to avoid injury.

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

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

Work Schedules

Most woodworkers work full time during regular business hours. Work schedules vary for some woodworkers.

How to Become a Woodworker About this section

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

A high school diploma or equivalent is typically required to become a woodworker. Although some entry-level jobs may be learned in 1 month or less, becoming fully proficient may take several months to more than a year of on-the-job training. Woodworkers also must be able to use computer-controlled machinery.

Education

A high school diploma is typically required to enter the occupation. Training in computer applications and math may enhance employment prospects.

For woodworking production jobs, employers may prefer to hire candidates who have taken some vocational-technical or college courses.

Training

Typically, entry-level woodworkers train on the job, learning their skills from experienced workers. Beginning workers do basic tasks, such as feeding a piece of wood through a machine and stacking the finished product at the end of the process. As they gain experience, woodworkers do more complex tasks with less supervision.

Becoming a skilled woodworker often takes several months or years. Skilled woodworkers read blueprints, set up machines, and plan work sequences.

Some workers also receive training through apprenticeships offered by employers or unions.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Although not required, credentials often demonstrate competence and professionalism. They also may help a candidate advance in the occupation.

The Woodwork Career Alliance of North America offers a national certificate program, with five progressive credentials.

Because of the prevalence of CNC machines in production, workers also may benefit from obtaining CNC machine certification. Certification is offered by community colleges and CNC machine manufacturers.

Advancement

With experience, skilled woodworkers may advance to other positions that offer greater responsibility. For example, they may be promoted to team lead or floor supervisor, positions in which they help to oversee the work of other woodworkers.

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 handtools and power tools, so they need good hand-eye coordination.

Math skills. 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 handtools, such as screwdrivers and wrenches, is required to set up, adjust, and calibrate machines. These automated systems also require woodworkers to use computers and other programmable devices.

Physical stamina. Woodworkers often stand for long periods performing many of the same functions.

Physical strength. Woodworkers must be able to lift bulky, heavy pieces of wood.

Technical skills. Woodworkers must be able to interpret design drawings and technical manuals for a range of products and machines. They also should be able to troubleshoot issues as they arise.

Pay About this section

Woodworkers

Median annual wages, May 2021

Total, all occupations

$45,760

Production occupations

$37,710

Woodworkers

$36,710

 

The median annual wage for woodworkers was $36,710 in May 2021. 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 $24,610, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $48,920.

Median annual wages for woodworkers in May 2021 were as follows:

Cabinetmakers and bench carpenters $37,540
Furniture finishers 36,580
Woodworking machine setters, operators, and tenders, except sawing 36,090
Sawing machine setters, operators, and tenders, wood 35,340

In May 2021, the median annual wages for woodworkers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Specialty trade contractors $37,760
Furniture and related product manufacturing 37,270
Wood product manufacturing 35,620

Most woodworkers work full time during regular business hours.

Job Outlook About this section

Woodworkers

Percent change in employment, projected 2020-30

Total, all occupations

8%

Woodworkers

8%

Production occupations

0%

 

Overall employment of woodworkers is projected to grow 8 percent from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 28,400 openings for woodworkers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Much of the projected employment growth in these occupations is due to recovery from the COVID-19 recession that began in 2020 and is likely to occur early in the decade.

High demand for wood products for home renovation projects and constructing outdoor structures for restaurants and other businesses will support growth early in the decade for woodworkers. Some demand for woodworkers is expected in residential and commercial property repairs and renovations. However, automation, especially the use of computer numerical control (CNC) machines in wood product manufacturing, should limit the overall need for these workers over the decade.

Employment projections data for woodworkers, 2020-30
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2020 Projected Employment, 2030 Change, 2020-30 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Woodworkers

247,100 267,900 8 20,900

Cabinetmakers and bench carpenters

51-7011 103,900 113,100 9 9,100 Get data

Furniture finishers

51-7021 18,100 19,100 6 1,000 Get data

Sawing machine setters, operators, and tenders, wood

51-7041 50,500 53,900 7 3,400 Get data

Woodworking machine setters, operators, and tenders, except sawing

51-7042 74,600 81,900 10 7,300 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

For details about apprenticeships or other work opportunities for woodworkers, contact the offices of the state employment service, the state apprenticeship agency, local firms that employ laborers, or local union-management apprenticeship committees. Apprenticeship information is available from the U.S. Department of Labor's Apprenticeship program online or by phone at 877-872-5627. Visit Apprenticeship.gov to search for apprenticeship opportunities.

For more information about woodworkers, visit

Architectural Woodwork Institute

Association for Manufacturing Technology

Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International

National Tooling and Machining Association

Woodwork Career Alliance of North America

Wood Industry Resource Collaborative

Woodworking Machinery Industry Association

O*NET

Cabinetmakers and Bench Carpenters

Furniture Finishers

Sawing Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Wood

Woodworking Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Except Sawing

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