Furniture manufacturers and designers are skilled and creative craftspersons who work with wood, fabrics and metal to create furniture pieces. Read on for more information about apprenticeships, degree programs and potential earnings for furniture designers and woodworkers.
Contemporary furniture manufacturing and design are highly technical fields, where craftspeople and designers use fabrics, metal, plastics and wood to produce quality products. Automated and computerized equipment are essential to mass production, which usually takes place on an assembly line. Traditional woodworking skills, including the use of drill presses and nailing machines, are also important when constructing handcrafted pieces.
Creative and technical responsibilities can vary according to your area of specialization. For example, as a cabinetmaker or bench carpenter, you might create customized cabinets for commercial or residential customers. By comparison, a position as an architectural woodworker would allow you to design and produce custom interior pieces for a specific building or location. As a carpenter, your activities might include constructing, installing and repairing wooden structures and storage units.
If you are more interested in working with metal or plastic components, you might consider training as a metal-decorating pressman and learning how to solder and weld. Some sculpting programs also include instruction in metalworking.
A high school diploma is the minimum requirement for obtaining an entry-level position in cabinetry, carpentry and general woodworking. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average yearly wage for cabinetmakers and bench carpenters was $32,960, as of May 2013. At that same time, furniture finishers and carpenters earned $30,140 and $44,980 respectively. Interior designers, which may include furniture experts, had an average annual income of $54,200, as of May 2013 (www.bls.gov).
Many carpenters and woodworkers learn their craft on the job through supervised apprenticeships, which can take up to three years to complete. Formal degree programs in furniture manufacturing and design are also available at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. In addition to traditional woodworking and finishing techniques, the curriculum may include topics in business and marketing. Some schools provide opportunities for internships.
A Bachelor of Fine Arts in Furniture Design usually requires 120 credits to complete and includes introductory studies in art, design and drawing. You'll also pursue more specialized topics in computer design and modeling, furniture design history and woodworking. Individual programs may provide training in fabric applications, metalworking and plastics construction. Expect to spend a considerable amount of time in the studio developing your creative and construction abilities.
Graduate programs in furniture design can lead to a Master of Arts or Master of Fine Arts, which typically require 45 and 60 credits of coursework respectively. At this level, you may study advanced art and design theory, the evolution of furniture design, experimental fabrications and interior design. Along with studio work, you might also conduct research and participate in critiques. Additional requirements can include a final project, unique line of furniture or written thesis. Depending on the school, graduate field and teaching internships may also be available.