Wood Machinist

The Job and What's Involved

Wood machinists prepare wood and other timber-based materials, such as chipboard, plywood and medium density fibreboard, for indoor and outdoor building work. They cut the materials to a particular size, then shape and finish them using specialist machines such as:

  • Saws, including those that convert logs to boards and those that cut boards to size for particular products.
  • Morticers and tenoners to cut joints.
  • Planers to smooth-finish sawn wood.
  • Lathes, spindle moulders and routers to shape and edge wood.
  • Edge moulders and banders for decorative effects on furniture.
  • Sanders to smooth and finish wooden products.

Some machinery is operated by hand and some is controlled by computer.

Wood machinists work from written instructions and drawings and make their own jigs (devices that hold pieces of machine work and guide the tools operating on them) and patterns. The work that they do varies according to the type of industry they are employed in.

If they work in the construction industry, they make items such as doors, door frames, window frames, floorboards, skirting boards, staircases, fences, pallets, and barrels and timber frames for houses.

In the furniture industry, they make components for items such as kitchen units, desks, chairs, beds, tables, cabinets and boxes. These are usually fitted together later by other workers, but some wood machinists also do assembly work. Some make flat-pack furniture for DIY stores.

Other machinists make parts for toys, luxury cars and musical instruments.

Typical tasks include:

  • Selecting the appropriate material for each job.
  • Selecting and fitting knives, saws, drill bits or other tools to the machines.
  • Attaching guides, fixtures or jigs to machines.
  • Adjusting the guide and stop controls on the machine.
  • Selecting the direction and speed of rotation of machinery to produce smooth finishes.
  • Feeding the wood into machines.
  • Operating compute-aided design (CAD) and computer numerical control (CNC) machines.
  • Checking the accuracy of machines.
  • Carrying out routine servicing and doing some mechanical repairs to machinery.

They may work on their own or as part of a team of machinists, supervisors and managers.

Wood machinists typically work 39 hours a week. This may include shift work, which may include evenings, nights and weekends during busy periods. Overtime may be available.

Wood machinists usually work in a workshop. The work can be dusty, but modern workshops have dust extraction systems and are generally clean. Wood machinists must wear protective footwear, face masks, overalls and gloves. Where noise levels are high, it may be necessary to wear ear protectors. Machines have safety guards fitted at all times.

The work can be physically demanding and involves standing for long periods, bending and moving around when setting and operating machinery, as well as lifting and carrying wood. However, heavy loads are usually moved by machines, including, in large workshops, robots.

Salaries for newly qualified wood machinists may start between £11,500 and £15,000 a year. With some experience and training earnings could rise to around £17,542 or £20,402.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are about 30,000 wood machinists employed throughout the UK.

A large number of machinists work for joinery manufacturers. Other employers include furniture manufacturers, timber yards, sawmills and construction and shop fitting companies.

There is a growing demand for skilled wood machinists related to homebuilding, office building, home improvements and the fact that people are buying more wood products.

Job vacancies are advertised in the local press, in Jobcentre Plus offices and on companies' websites.

Education and Training

There are no set entry requirements to become a wood machinist, although some employers prefer applicants with GCSE grades (A*-C). Useful subjects are maths, and design and technology.

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

In some areas, employers offer Apprenticeships.

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.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

Some people take a full-time course, such as the City & Guilds Level 2 Certificate in wood machining before entering employment. It is important to check specific entry requirements with individual colleges.

Self-employed wood machinists are likely to need a driving licence.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Wood machinists usually train on the job, learning from a more experienced employee. Some employers supplement on-the-job training by using use the distance learning materials provided by the Institute of Wood Science, which runs foundation course and certificate courses, both of which are suitable for wood machinists.

Trainees may also work for NVQ's. There are several available that cover wood machining. These include Levels 2 and 3 in:

- Wood machining
- Wood occupations
- Engineering, wood working, pattern and model making

Day release and attendance at short courses are common.

All wood machinists are trained in health and safety. Courses are delivered either in house or by colleges and external training providers.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Wood machinists need:

  • Good hand skills.
  • The ability to carry out basic mathematical calculations.
  • An aptitude for using machinery.
  • To be able to work safely with dangerous machinery.
  • To be capable of understanding written instructions.
  • To be able to work to a high level of accuracy.
  • To have normal colour vision.
  • To have no allergies to dust or fabrics.

Your Long Term Prospects

With experience, it is possible to become a team leader, supervisor or manager or to move into a specialist area, such as computer-aided design and manufacture, high-value joinery, shop fitting, machine maintenance or systems installation.

Some machinists set up their own businesses.

Get Further Information

Proskills UK, Centurion Court,
85b Milton Park, Abingdon,
Oxfordshire OX14 4RY
Tel: 01235 833844
Website: www.proskills.co.uk
and www.prospect4u.co.uk

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