Furniture Maker

The Job and What's Involved

Furniture 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.

Furniture 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 shopfitting.

Increasingly, furniture 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, furniture makers now spend a lot of their time setting and programming machinery.

For some jobs, furniture makers 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.

They then:

  • Carefully measure and mark out the materials, to make sure the parts will fit together properly.
  • Cut and shape the materials using saws, chisels, planes, power tools and woodworking machinery.
  • Glue joints and fit parts together to form sections of furniture.
  • Fix the sections together using staples, dowels, screws and nails.
  • Either finish the furniture or pass this job on to polishers and sprayers.
  • Fit any hinges, locks, catches, glass, mirrors, drawers and shelves.

Furniture makers may also be involved in repairing damaged furniture or restoring antique furniture.

Some furniture makers deal directly with customers, discussing designs and negotiating prices. Some may supervise and train apprentices.

Furniture makers working for furniture manufacturers usually work 39 hours a week, Monday to Friday. Overtime and shift work is common.

For self-employed furniture makers, and those working in small craft workshops, hours vary depending on their workload. They may have to work long hours, including weekends, to meet deadlines.

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. Occasionally a furniture maker may work in a client's home or on site, such as when shopfitting. In small companies, furniture 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 trainee may earn between £5,200 and £10,400 a year. Earnings vary for self-employed furniture makers. Some factories may offer bonuses.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are around 7,700 businesses involved in manufacturing furniture, employing around 120,000 people. They are spread across the whole of the UK.

The vast majority of these businesses are small to medium sized, generally employing ten people or less. However, a handful of large manufacturers still employ about 40 per cent of the total workforce. Many furniture makers are self-employed.

There is currently a demand for trained furniture makers because of the increasing popularity of fitted and bespoke furniture, both for domestic use as well as in offices and retail units. However, there is also strong competition from overseas furniture makers.

Vacancies may be advertised through local newspapers, Jobcentre Plus offices, Connexions centres and manufacturing job websites.

Education and Training

Although no particular qualifications are required, some employers may ask for GCSE's/S grades (A-E/1-5), particularly in subjects such as English and maths.

Employers often look for some kind of practical experience of working with furniture or in a workshop.

There are different ways to enter furniture making, including:

- Through an Apprenticeship
- By starting work straight from school, as a trainee
- By doing a full-time college course

There are a number of college courses that cover furniture skills, including a City & Guilds Certificate in Furniture Production, which usually takes two years, and SQA national certificates relating to furniture, which usually take one year to complete.

There are also some higher-level qualifications, including:

  • A BTEC 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/two H grades and four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications.
  • An SQA HNC in Furniture Construction and Design. Courses last one or two years. Entry qualifications are usually a relevant SQA national certificate, or an SVQ or City & Guilds certificate.
  • 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/SQA national diploma or certificate, or two A levels/three H grades and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3).

It may be possible to enter some companies as a furniture assembler, and to learn the skills needed to become a furniture maker on the job.

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Training is normally on the job. Entrants are likely to cover two or more of the four basic skills needed to make furniture - wood machining, upholstering, French polishing and cabinet making.

Trainees who start work straight from school, without any previous experience of furniture making, may go to college part time to take a City & Guilds Certificate in Furniture Production or an NVQ/SVQ.

Relevant NVQ's/SVQ's include:

  • Making and Installing Furniture at Level 2.
  • Making and Repairing Hand-Crafted Furniture and Furnishings at Level 3.
  • Making and Installing Production Furniture at Level 3.

Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Furniture makers should:

  • Have practical skills and be good at using their hands.
  • Be safety-conscious.
  • Be patient and able to work accurately.
  • Have some artistic ability.
  • Be good with figures, for measurements, calculations and costs.
  • Understand designs, technical drawings and written instructions.
  • Be able to work without supervision and as part of a team.
  • Be good at dealing with customers.
  • Be able to work with computers.
  • Have good business skills, if self-employed.

Your Long Term Prospects

With experience, furniture makers working for a large manufacturer may be able to progress to supervisory or management positions. They may also take responsibility for training new furniture makers.

Others may start their own furniture making business or become self-employed, carrying out their own work as well as working on a freelance basis for other furniture making firms, furniture restorers and/or antique dealers.

There may also be opportunities to move into teaching and furniture design.

Get Further Information

The Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers,
Furniture Makers' Hall, 12 Austin Friars, London EC2N 2HE
Tel: 020 7256 5558

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