Cabinet making is a broad term that refers to the production of pieces of furniture such as chairs, tables, chests of drawers, desks and cabinets for storage or display.
Cabinet makers make both mass-produced products and individually designed furniture. They also manufacture the various components needed to produce fitted kitchens, bathrooms or bedrooms and may also be involved with shop fitting.
Increasingly in the larger companies, cabinet making is becoming an automated profession carried out in large furniture factories, where many of the traditional tasks are carried out by computer-controlled machines. As a result, cabinet makers may now spend a lot of their time setting and programming machinery. For some jobs, cabinets makers may design their own pieces of furniture, but in most cases they use an existing pattern or template. They must follow instructions about the quantity to be made and what materials to use. They are likely to work with a range of materials, including hardwood, softwood, glass, metal, plastic, leather and textiles.
However, in the companies that specialise in bespoke work, cabinet makers are likely to design and make their own pieces of furniture, to a specification agreed with the customer. The making of the piece of furniture will be undertaken using traditional methods combined with new technology.
The typical tasks of a cabinet maker may include:
Cabinet makers working for furniture manufacturers usually work 39 hours a week, Monday to Friday. Overtime and shift work is common.
Self-employed cabinet makers and those in small craft workshops may have to work long hours to meet deadlines, including weekends, and hours will vary with workload.
Most of the work takes place in factories or workshops. These are usually well lit with fume and dust extractors, although some can be cramped. Shop fitting or kitchen installation takes place in the client's premises or home. In small companies, cabinet makers may also visit suppliers, such as timber yards, or deliver finished items to clients.
Protective clothing such as overalls, masks, gloves and ear protectors are worn when using tools and powered machinery.
A lot of time is spent standing and bending and some heavy lifting may be involved.
The work may not be suitable for people with dust allergies or breathing difficulties.
A trained cabinet maker may earn around £20,000 to £25,000 a year and a fully experienced cabinet maker may earn £30,000 a year.
Businesses involved in manufacturing furniture are spread across the whole of the UK with clusters in London, the south-east and north-west.
Most of these businesses are small to medium sized, with ten people or fewer. However, a handful of large manufacturers still employ about 40 per cent of the total workforce. Many cabinet makers are self-employed.
There is currently a demand for trained cabinet makers because of the increasing popularity of fitted and bespoke furniture, both for domestic use and in offices and retail units. However, there is also strong competition from overseas cabinet makers.
Vacancies may be advertised through local newspapers, Jobcentre Plus offices, Connexions centres and manufacturing job websites.
There are no set entry requirements, but three or more GCSE's (A*-C) are useful, particularly English and mathematics. The Diploma in manufacturing and product design may be relevant for this area of work.
There are different ways to enter cabinet making, including:
- Through an Apprenticeship
- By starting as a trainee
- By doing a full-time college course
There are a number of courses covering furniture skills, including:
City & Guilds (C&G) Certificate in furniture production, which usually takes two years.
BTEC Higher National Diploma (HND) in subjects such as furniture design, furniture studies or furniture design and making. Courses normally last two years. Students usually need at least one A level and four GCSEs (A*-C) or equivalent qualifications.
Degrees (including foundation degrees) in subjects such as furniture design. Courses usually last three years or two years for a foundation degree. Candidates normally need a foundation art and design course, a relevant BTEC Diploma or Certificate or two A levels and five GCSEs (A*-C).
Candidates should check with individual institutions for exact subject or grade requirements.
It may be possible to enter some companies as a furniture assembler and to learn the skills needed to become a cabinet maker on the job.
Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.
Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.
There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The New Entrants Training Scheme provides work-based training in crafts, including furniture making, through colleges in rural areas, such as Herefordshire College of Technology.
Trainees who start work without any previous experience of cabinet making may go to college part time to take a Certificate in furniture production or a relevant NVQ such as:
Oil Drilling Roustabouts and Roughnecks work as part of a small team on offshore oil or gas drilling rigs or production platforms. Roustabouts do unskilled manual labouring jobs on rigs and platforms, and Roughneck is a promotion from roustabout.
Roustabouts do basic tasks to help keep the rig and platform working efficiently and Roughnecks do practical tasks involved in the drilling operation, under the supervision of the driller.
Cabinet makers should:
With experience, cabinet makers working for a large manufacturer may be able to progress to supervisory or management positions, which may also involve training new cabinet makers.
Others may become self-employed with their own cabinet making business or working on a freelance basis for other furniture or cabinet making firms, furniture restorers or antique dealers.
It may be possible to move into teaching and furniture design. There may also be opportunities to work abroad.
Crafts Council, 44a Pentonville Road, Islington, London N1 9BY
Tel: 020 7806 2500
Herefordshire & Ludlow College, Folly Lane, Hereford HR1 1LS
Tel: 0800 032 1986
Institute of Carpenters, 3rd Floor D,
Carpenters' Hall, 1 Throgmorton Avenue, London EC2N 2BY
Tel: 020 7256 2700
The Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers,
Furniture Makers' Hall, 12 Austin Friars, London EC2N 2HE
Tel: 020 7256 5558
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.