Woodworkers

Career, Salary and Education Information

What They Do: Woodworkers manufacture a variety of products such as cabinets and furniture, using wood, veneers, and laminates.

Work Environment: Most woodworkers work in manufacturing plants. Although working conditions vary, some woodworkers may encounter machinery noise and wood dust.

How to Become One: 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.

Salary: The median annual wage for woodworkers is $36,710.

Job Outlook: Overall employment of woodworkers is projected to grow 3 percent over the next ten years, slower than the average for all occupations.

Related Careers: Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of woodworkers with similar occupations.

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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 247,100 jobs. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up woodworkers is distributed as follows:

Cabinetmakers and bench carpenters 238,000
Woodworking machine setters, operators, and tenders, except sawing 69,400
Sawing machine setters, operators, and tenders, wood 47,100
Furniture finishers 18,700

The largest employers of woodworkers are as follows:

Furniture and related product manufacturing 40%
Wood product manufacturing 38%
Self-employed workers 5%
Specialty trade contractors 4%

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

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.

Woodworker Schedules

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

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 $36,710. 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 are 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

The median annual wages for woodworkers in the top industries in which they work are 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. Work schedules vary for some woodworkers.

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

Overall employment of woodworkers is projected to grow 3 percent over the next ten years, slower than the average for all occupations.

Despite limited employment growth, about 27,200 openings for woodworkers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Most 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 of Woodworkers

Employment growth for woodworkers will stem from demand for wood products. These products include furniture for home renovation projects and outdoor structures for restaurants and other businesses. However, automation, especially the use of computer numerical control (CNC) machines in wood product manufacturing, may limit the overall need for some of these workers over the projections decade.

Employment projections data for Woodworkers, 2021-31
Occupational Title Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31
Percent Numeric
Woodworkers 238,000 246,300 3 8,200
  Cabinetmakers and bench carpenters 102,900 106,500 4 3,600
  Furniture finishers 18,700 19,100 2 400
  Sawing machine setters, operators, and tenders, wood 47,100 49,000 4 1,900
  Woodworking machine setters, operators, and tenders, except sawing 69,400 71,700 3 2,200


A portion of the information on this page is used by permission of the U.S. Department of Labor.


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