Furniture Manufacturing Operative

The Job and What's Involved

Furniture manufacturing operatives make items of furniture by hand or by using machines. They may also be known as wood machinists, hand craftspeople, upholsterers or furniture products operatives.

They mainly use wood use hardwoods such as oak, walnut or teak. Sometimes they use other materials, such as plastic, metal and glass. Using electrical and hand tools and sometimes computer-controlled machines, they make items such as chairs, tables, chests of drawers, fitted furniture and cabinets for storage or display.

Furniture manufacturing operatives:

  • Cut and shape the item.
  • Assemble the pieces.
  • Add any decorative features.
  • Smooth the surface of the item.
  • Finish the item with polish or varnish.
  • Add protective coatings.
  • Add handles and hinges.
  • Upholster the furniture, if required.
  • Check products for faults, including weighing samples.

More experienced operators may also work out the size of a piece of furniture and the amount of material needed. They might be responsible for choosing the materials needed for each item.

In larger factories, many of the processes are automated and controlled by computers, so operatives may:

  • Set up and switch on machines.
  • Keep machines supplied with material or components.
  • Keep an eye on gauges and instruments.
  • Make checks on temperature, speed and pressure.
  • Adjust the machine or call in maintenance staff if the machine stops working.

Many manufacturers now make furniture for sale as flat packs. In such cases, operatives assemble the pack after cutting and shaping the pieces. They add items such as nuts, bolts, screws, glue and handles and pack each item with instructions to ensure that customers can complete the assembly at home.

Operatives may work in a factory or a workshop. Factories may be run by large organisations with many employees. Workshops are smaller and usually make more specialist furniture or cater for a special segment of the market. They may employ only a handful of operatives, who are usually more skilled.

Operatives normally work 39 hours a week. Shift work may be required and overtime is fairly common. They may need to work extra hours to meet seasonal peaks or when the factory has a delivery deadline to meet.

Factories and workshops may be noisy and dusty. Some materials used for finishing work have a strong smell. Operatives may have to wear protective clothing, together with a face mask and ear protectors for certain jobs. They might have to bend and stand for long periods or lift heavy weights.

The starting salary for a furniture manufacturing operative is from around £12,000 a year.

Experienced operatives earn around £15,000 a year. Highly skilled operatives may earn up to £25,000 or more.

Working overtime and shifts may increase pay.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Over 150,000 people work in the furniture industry in the UK. There are over 7,500 furniture manufacturing businesses. Most of them are small or medium-sized companies, with a few large manufacturers.

There are manufacturing companies in most areas, although they are concentrated in major cities, especially London and in the south-east and the north-west.

There is a wide range of operative jobs available and with increased mechanisation and use of technology, the need for physical strength is being replaced in most cases with a need to understand IT, operate specialist machinery and understand the systems and processes involved in producing goods.

Vacancies may be advertised in local newspapers, Jobcentre Plus offices and Connexions centres.

Education and Training

There are no specific entry qualifications, although GCSE's (A*-E) are useful and may be required by some employers. Any skills or experience in manufacturing may be useful.

There are Apprenticeships available in wood machining and in making and installing furniture.

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

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work, Careers Wales; and for Northern Ireland contact

Entrants may be asked to take a sight test or a test for normal colour vision.

There are courses available in colleges that are relevant to this work such as City and Guilds (C&G) Level 1, 2 and 3 Certificate in furniture production.

The Diploma in manufacturing and product design may also be relevant for this work.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Training is usually on the job with a more experienced member of staff. New entrants may work towards a relevant qualification NVQ, such as:

  • Level 1 in supporting the production of furniture and furnishings.
  • Levels 2 and 3 in wood machining.
  • Levels 2 in making and installing furniture.
  • Level 3 in making and repairing hand-crafted furniture.
  • Level 3 in making and installing production furniture.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Furniture manufacturing operatives should:

  • Be good at working with their hands.
  • Be able to work quickly and carefully.
  • Have normal eyesight and good hand to eye co-ordination.
  • Be versatile and willing to do a variety of tasks.
  • Be strong enough to do some lifting and carrying.
  • Have the ability to take orders and work under supervision.
  • Be able to work well alone and as part of a team.
  • Be able to concentrate on repetitive tasks.
  • Be good at judging colour and shape.
  • Be patient, careful and accurate in their work.
  • Have artistic ability for some jobs.

Your Long Term Prospects

Experienced operatives may have the opportunity to progress to more senior roles, such as team leader, supervisor, shift manager or manager. There is more chance of promotion in a large company. Those in smaller companies or workshops may have to move to gain promotion.

Some people move into craft cabinet making, furniture restoration or furniture design or into teaching.

Self-employment is also possible.

Get Further Information

Association of Master Upholsterers & Soft Furnishers (AMU),
Francis Vaughan House, Q1 Capital Point Business Centre,
Parkway, Cardiff CF3 2PU
Tel: 029 2079 3508

Institute of Carpenters, 3rd Floor D,
Carpenters' Hall, 1 Throgmorton Avenue,
London EC2N 2BY
Tel: 020 7256 2700

Proskills UK, Centurion Court, 85b Milton Park,
Abingdon, Oxfordshire OX14 4RY
Tel: 01235 833844
Websites: and

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