* Most woodworkers are trained on the job; basic machine operations may be learned in a few months, but becoming a skilled woodworker often requires several years of experience.
* Job prospects will be best for highly skilled woodworkers who produce customized work, which is less susceptible to automation and import competition, and for those who can operate computerized numerical control machines.
* Employment is highly sensitive to economic cycles; during economic downturns, workers are subject to layoffs or reductions in hours.
Nature of the Work
Despite the abundance of plastics and other materials, wood products continue to be useful and popular. Woodworkers help to meet the demand for wood products by creating finished products from lumber. Many of these products are mass produced, such as many types of furniture, kitchen cabinets, and musical instruments. Other products are crafted in small shops that make architectural woodwork, handmade furniture, and other specialty items.
Although the term woodworker often evokes images of a craftsman who builds ornate furniture using hand tools, the modern wood industry is highly technical. Some woodworkers still build by hand, but more often, handtools have been replaced by power tools, and much of the work has been automated. Work is usually done on an assembly line, meaning that most individuals learn to perform a single part of a complex process. Different types of woodworkers are employed in every stage of the building process, from sawmill to finished product. Their activities vary greatly.
Many woodworkers use computerized numerical control (CNC) machines to operate factory tools. Using these machines, woodworkers can create complex designs with fewer human steps. This technology has raised worker productivity by allowing one operator to simultaneously tend a greater number of machines. The integration of computers with equipment has improved production speed and capability, simplified setup and maintenance requirements, and increased the demand for workers with computer skills.
Production woodworkers set up, operate, and tend all types of woodworking machines. In sawmills, sawing machine operators and tenders set up, operate, or tend wood-sawing machines that cut logs into planks, timbers, or boards. In manufacturing plants, woodworkers first determine the best method of shaping and assembling parts, working from blueprints, supervisors’ instructions, or shop drawings that woodworkers themselves produce. Before cutting, they often must measure and mark the materials. They verify dimensions and may trim parts using handtools such as planes, chisels, wood files, or sanders to ensure a tight fit.
Woodworking machine operators and tenders set up, operate, or tend specific woodworking machines, such as drill presses, lathes, shapers, routers, sanders, planers, and wood-nailing machines. New operators may simply press a switch on a woodworking machine and monitor the automatic operation, but more highly skilled operators set up the equipment, cut and shape wooden parts, and verify dimensions using a template, caliper, or rule.
After wood parts are made, woodworkers add fasteners and adhesives and connect the pieces to form a complete unit. The product is then finish-sanded; stained, and, if necessary, coated with a sealer, such as lacquer or varnish. Woodworkers may perform this work in teams or be assisted by helpers.
Precision or custom woodworkers, such as cabinetmakers and bench carpenters, modelmakers and patternmakers, and furniture finishers, often build one-of-a-kind items. These highly skilled precision woodworkers usually perform a complete cycle of tasks—cutting, shaping, and preparing surfaces and assembling complex wood components into a finished wood product. Precision workers normally need substantial training and an ability to work from detailed instructions and specifications. In addition, they often are required to exercise independent judgment when undertaking an assignment. They may still use heavy machinery and power tools in their everyday work. As CNC machines have become less expensive, many smaller firms have started using them.
Working conditions vary by industry and specific job duties. In logging and sawmills, for example, workers handle heavy, bulky material and often encounter excessive noise, dust, and other air pollutants. However, the use of earplugs and respirators may alleviate these problems. Safety precautions and computer-controlled equipment minimize risk of injury from rough wood stock, sharp tools, and power equipment.
In furniture and kitchen cabinet manufacturing, employees who operate machinery also must wear ear and eye protection. They follow operating safety instructions and use safety shields or guards to prevent accidents. Those who work in areas where wood is cut or finishings applied often must wear an appropriate dust or vapor mask or a complete protective safety suit. Prolonged standing, lifting, and fitting of heavy objects are common characteristics of the job.
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