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Furniture Industry Job Descriptions, Careers in the Furniture Industry, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Industry, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Tables, sofas, desks, and filing cabinets are just some of the products manufactured by the furniture industry for use in homes, schools, offices, hospitals, and retail stores. Furniture factories are found in many areas of the country, although the Southeast is a principal center of the industry.

Many different kinds of workers are needed to make furniture. The specific jobs depend on the kind of furniture being made and on the size of the factory. Small factories that specialize in antique reproductions need skilled workers who can do detailed handwork. Large factories making modern styles of furniture need workers who can operate complex machinery and equipment used in automated production processes.

Much of today's furniture is made of wood. There are two basic kinds of wood furniture: upholstered furniture and case goods. Upholstered furniture is padded and covered with fabric. It includes couches and some kinds of chairs as well as other pieces. Case goods are not upholstered. They include chairs, tables, cabinets, and bookcases.

Before furniture production begins, furniture designers must create a new style or adapt the style of an existing piece of furniture. Usually, designers make sketches and diagrams of their ideas. Drafters then prepare blueprints of the designers' plans. Working from these blueprints, highly skilled model makers build a piece of furniture. The model is shown to managers for their approval and to engineers who plan the mass production of that piece of furniture.

Furniture factories receive wood in the form of rough lumber planks, which must be seasoned before it can be used. Seasoning means removing moisture from the wood to keep it from warping. First, the planks are placed in special structures called kiln trucks for several months of outdoor drying. Then lumber handlers move them into drying kilns for a few more weeks of drying. At this point, the

In the furniture industry, the specific jobs required of workers vary, depending on the type of furniture being made and on the size of the plant. At a pine furniture plant, this worker lines up wood for clamping and gluing. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission)

lumber is inspected and separated into various grades for further seasoning. Then machine operators, using crosscut saws, planers, ripsaws, and other kinds of machinery, cut the lumber into different sizes and shapes. Stock handlers send the wood on to the next department by mill trucks or conveyor belts.

Machine operators shape some wood pieces into furniture arms, legs, or other parts. They operate many kinds of special machines. Some machines can produce intricately carved wood furniture. Others drill holes or make grooves in the wood. Stock handlers take the shaped wood parts to the sanding department, where workers smooth surfaces using special sanding machines. Some wood pieces have a thin sheet of fine wood, known as veneer, glued and pressed onto their surface.

Next, the sanded or veneered wood is put together by workers in assembly and subassembly departments. Assemblers use special machines to glue and press small parts together. They assemble the frame and fit the drawers and doors using screwdrivers and other tools. Cabinetmakers are highly skilled workers who do fine handwork and difficult assembly jobs. The surface of the assembled piece of furniture is smoothed down by hand sanders.

Finally, the furniture goes to the finishing department, where finishers apply several finishing coats to color and seal it. Sometimes they use special techniques such as distressing, which means processing furniture to make it look old and worn. The finest furniture is hand rubbed with oil and sandpaper. Glass, trim, and hardware are added, if needed, and sometimes the piece is upholstered.

Education and Training Requirements

Many furniture manufacturers prefer to hire production workers who have a high school or vocational school education. Courses in woodworking or drafting are helpful in preparing for this work. New workers typically receive on-the-job training. It takes anywhere from a few days to several years to learn a job in this industry. Most managers and designers need a college education.

Getting the Job

The best way to get a job is to apply to a furniture factory. Sometimes jobs are listed on signs outside the factory, in newspaper want ads, or in job banks on the Internet. Your state employment office may also know of openings.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

There are several ways to advance in the furniture industry. Machine operators can learn to operate, maintain, or set up more complex machinery. Those who are skilled can become model makers. Some experienced production workers advance to jobs such as inspectors or supervisors.

Between 2000 and 2003 employment in the furniture industry declined by 105,000 workers, with approximately 557,000 employed in September 2005. Foreign competition and more efficient production processes are expected to continue to hold down the number of workers needed through 2014. Openings should occur as workers retire or leave their jobs for other reasons.

Working Conditions

Working conditions vary depending on the job. In some departments the machinery may be noisy. There are paint and chemical fumes and odors in the finishing department. Cabinetmakers and other highly skilled workers find their work interesting, while assembly workers tend to find the work monotonous. Workers need both manual dexterity and mechanical ability for many jobs. The workweek is usually forty hours, and there may be layoffs during slack periods. Some workers in the furniture industry belong to unions.

Where to Go for More Information

American Furniture Manufacturers Association
PO Box H-P7
High Point, NC 27261
(336) 884-5303

United Steelworkers of America
Five Gateway Center
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
(412) 562-2400

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings vary depending on the specific job, the location, and the plant's wage policies. In general, wages in the furniture industry are lower than in other manufacturing industries. Benefits vary, but they often include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesManufacturing & Production