What does a Furniture Maker do? (with pictures)

Cassie L. Damewood
Cassie L. Damewood
A jointer, which is used to make one side of a wooden board flat so that it can be used to make furniture or in other projects.
A jointer, which is used to make one side of a wooden board flat so that it can be used to make furniture or in other projects.

A furniture maker builds tables, chairs, sofas and other furnishings for residential and commercial consumers. He may work in a small, independent shop that produces custom furniture or in a factory that mass-produces pieces of furniture. A furniture maker may create his own designs or work from the sketches, drawings and blueprints of others.

A factory-employed furniture maker usually works from the drawings of a designer. He builds a piece of furniture from the designer’s sketches and submits it to management. If they approve the piece, it proceeds to the engineering department. After the details of mass-producing the piece are finalized, production on the piece begins.

Many different kinds of furniture, such as dining room sets, are made out of wood.
Many different kinds of furniture, such as dining room sets, are made out of wood.

If a furniture maker is a custom designer who makes unique pieces by hand, he normally meets with the customer to begin the process. They generally review drawings and discuss the type of wood desired as well as the style, function and size of the piece. After he fully understands the wants and needs of the customer, the furniture maker gathers the necessary materials and the project moves forward.

Furniture makers often use a miter saw to make precise crosscuts.
Furniture makers often use a miter saw to make precise crosscuts.

Most furniture is made of wood and falls into one of two categories: case goods and upholstered furniture. Bookcases, tables, desk chairs and tables are case goods. Furniture that is padded or covered with cloth, leather or other materials is considered upholstered. This category traditionally includes sofas, couches, armchairs and ottomans. A custom furniture maker typically makes both types while a factory furniture maker normally specializes in one or the other.

A furniture maker may design elaborate pieces, such as an entertainment center.
A furniture maker may design elaborate pieces, such as an entertainment center.

The tools used by a custom designer generally include more hand tools than a factory furniture maker. These customarily include hand and power saws, molders, shapers, files and chisels. In the factory environment, much larger saws are used as well as industrial gluing, nailing and sanding machines.

The final stage of furniture making in both environments is the finishing process. Factory made furniture is regularly sprayed with different colored stains and then sealed with varnish to guard against scrapes and nicks. Handmade furniture is normally made from higher grades of wood. It is typically hand smoothed with sandpaper and hand rubbed with a preservative oil.

Furniture makers might design simple pieces, including bookshelves.
Furniture makers might design simple pieces, including bookshelves.

A high school diploma or equivalent is normally a requirement for this position. Vocational or trade school education in drafting or woodworking is preferred. Custom furniture makers often work as an apprentice for an experienced furniture designer and commonly proceed to self-employment. Most factory employed furniture makers receive extensive on-the-job training.

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Discussion Comments

bbffm2010

I have built many custom pieces from Morris chairs to Prairie settles. I am a Vermont certified master craftsman and now have my shop in Black Mountain, N.C.

Brian B., fine furniture maker.

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    • A jointer, which is used to make one side of a wooden board flat so that it can be used to make furniture or in other projects.
      A jointer, which is used to make one side of a wooden board flat so that it can be used to make furniture or in other projects.
    • Many different kinds of furniture, such as dining room sets, are made out of wood.
      Many different kinds of furniture, such as dining room sets, are made out of wood.
    • Furniture makers often use a miter saw to make precise crosscuts.
      Furniture makers often use a miter saw to make precise crosscuts.
    • A furniture maker may design elaborate pieces, such as an entertainment center.
      A furniture maker may design elaborate pieces, such as an entertainment center.
    • Furniture makers might design simple pieces, including bookshelves.
      Furniture makers might design simple pieces, including bookshelves.