I'm wondering whether or not production-type millwork jobs are anything
like wooddorking. There's a definite appeal there, but I've found that
one of the fastest ways to stop enjoying something is to do it for a
living. If any of you have found that to be true (or complete BS),
then let me know.
I know, I know, every shop is different, but _how_ different can they
be? With regards to framing, a wall is a wall is a wall. No matter
who you're working for, the studs still go every sixteen inches, if you
know what I mean.
Without a "cabinet" notch on my toolbelt, am I qualified to work in a
cabinet shop, even though I understand and can apply terms like rail,
stile, carcass, dovetail and, most importantly, square? Scratch
that--most importantly, SAFE.
If I were to apply for work in a millwork shop, what would prospective
employers look for in desirable employees with regard to technical
At the age of ten I was interested in wood working. At 16 it was cars cars
cars. At 40 I retired successfully from the automotive business and
basically hated it as I had been in upper management for the previous 17
years and ran my own company owned store at 21. After retiring my friends
and relatives talked me in to going into business for my self doing wood
working. 10 years later I still love it.
Biggest difference, I had to work when I was in the automotive business, I
Good position to be in. Working in a production shop is like working in a
production shop. Working as you please is taking a hobby to new heights and
making money at it.
Small shops making one of a kind specialties may be interesting. Look at the
work of Plamann and Watson for instance, where every day is different. .
Working in a large cabinet shop is the same as working on the toaster
assembly line. I'd choose carefully or yes, you will lose a hobby and have
just another job.
Weeeelllll, that is what I thought years ago also. Doing the same thing
over and over would get boring. But, I have come to realize that being the
owner of my business and getting all the profit, that I prefer production
over the one of a kind items. Looking at the bottom line I can make more
money at production. If I was on a fixed salary the production work would
for sure get tiresome. Fortunately I do both and do not get tired of
Yes it can be and sometimes not. It depends on where you go
and what they are doing. Professional wooddorking has at
least a half dozen different types of shops.
Plastic Laminate (Plam) Counter Shops
Trade Show and Museum Exhibits
Kitchen Cabinet Shops
To name a half dozen.
(whew! for a minute there i didn't think i'd come up with a
And even inside of those above there are subsets (high end
to low end) making for better/worse places.
I don't think it's total BS but then I usually hear this
from people who've not had any experience to back it up.
Fundamentals are good to know but you won't be using terms
like dovetail a lot unless you're yacking it up with a
fellow employee. Most nearly every shop is set up different
from the rest though sometimes not a whole lot. Some shops
departmentalize the operations while some smaller shops take
something from start to finish using a single man/woman or a
small group. It's all different out there and sometimes
With the current labor pool you could probably look for and
find a job in a professional shop. A good job? That's hit
There's a lot of work out there and not a whole lot of
bodies to do it.
I once spent six months working in a furniture factory where the
primary product line was business/commercial furniture. I heard
recently that my old record of cutting 1200 chair frames (with no
rework/rejects and no CNC tooling) in a single shift still stands.
Production woodworking really isn't (IME) much like wooddorking.
It can be satisfying - but the reasons will be different.
Depends on the size of the shop. If it's a big custom place there is a lot
to learn and you can move through different stations like counters, drawers,
doors etc. I thought I brought decent skills to the job when I worked at
Hillcraft but quickly learned my skills really meant nothing there. Most of
the work really boiled down to being some schmoe running a machine.
Dowelling machines, dovetail machines panel cutters. No real room for
experience or talent. I spent 3 months running an edge bander and trimming
the waste from Melamine 4, 10 hour days with mandatory overtime on Friday
and Saturday for a total of 55 hours a week. Boring mind numbing work. When
the cool jobs came in it was saved for the folks who had spent the last
several years doing edge banding and this was only like a 10 person shop.
When we had a millwork shop, here were the things we looked for:
1. Dependability - was there a good chance we could get 40 hours of work per
week from the applicant
2. Enthusiasm - was the applicant excited to be interviewing us, or were
they just looking for the first job they were offered.
3. Math skills - could the applicant read a tape measure and add fractions.
Better yet, could the applicant divide fractions!
4. Common Sense - did the applicant understand the concept of "board foot"
for instance, and recognize the difference between volume measure and
surface measure. Did they understand the concept of "reference surface".
5. Safe work ethic - did the applicant have a full complement of fingers, or
a very good reason for the shortage
6. Hustle - on a walk from one end of the warehouse to the other (for the
tour) did the applicant walk quickly (and keep up) or saunter along and fall
7. Attention to detail - Could the applicant identify differences between
good workmanship and poor workmanship
8. Technical Knowledge - had the applicant ever worked in a mill shop
before, and if so, what tools and machines had they used. This was the least
important criteria as we considered it teachable. In my experience, the
other thhings (even math) were not teachable. The applicant either had it,
or they didn't. If the applicants hadn't mastered basic math by the time
they were joining the work force, we were not going to be able to teach it
to them. (And it took me a while to figure that out, unfortunately.)
9. Woodworking skill - this depended upon the position we were attempting to
fill, of course. Generally, for non-supervisory positions, we accepted the
fact that most applicants were not serious woodworkers, and that we were
better off starting from scratch that un-training bad habits.
The reality of the the workplace is that we often hired applicants that fell
short in several areas, simply because the labor pool didn't support our
needs. The result was a greater training burden on my supervisors, and more
scrap. Most production shops are going to involve lots of repetitive
(possibly boring) tasks. Imagine feeding a moulder for 8 hours a day, for
example. I don't think that there is much difference between that and
working on an assembly line. However, work in a custom shop is going to
involve something new almost every day, and the employer is going to be
looking more carefully at #7, 8, & 9.
Jim Ray, President
McFeely's Square Drive Screws
a very good reason for the shortage
Years ago I was looking for shop help and a gent came in with 2 broken arms.
I asked how he broke the arms, and he mentioned he was doing some tree work
and fell...Ok...I asked how he lost the index finger on his right hand, he
pointed to the jointer and said "On one of those......needless to say I
didn't offer him the job.
Radial Arm Saw Forum: http://forums.delphiforums.com/woodbutcher/start
I've been at it since 1976 and still love the trade. There will always
be nasty moments as in any relationship but looking back over the last
30 years.....can't think of any. Things are better now, because my
operation is much smaller and I no longer feel the financial pressure.
If wood is in your blood, you'll do well. (I don't mean that in an Al
Gore sorta way.)
I believe that any career is rewarding if you love what you're doing.
Last study indicated only 5% of the working people actually love their
job. The break-down of that 5%, was that 80%+ were professionals...the
other 20% must have been wooddorkers. Then again, 70% of all statistics
Other than that, it would help you to remember that the only stupid
questions are the ones that weren't asked. Never pretend you know what
you're doing if you don't. If none of your co-workers want to teach you
anything...get the hell out of there!
In the nether regions of the 6th dimension, there float about a myriad
of mistakes that haven't been made yet. Several will have your name
engraved on them. When I interview, I pretty much go along with that
well drafted list of Mr. Jim Ray, especially the math and hustle part,
but at the end of the interview I will ask: "Tell me 3 of your biggest
screw-ups and how they tought you anything."... the way that question is
handled will most likely make up my mind about the applicant.
Oh... and to add to Jim's list....the applicant better have a sense of
Having been a former business owner (swimming pools, GC more or less),
I agree with what Jim Ray said about good employees. I've experienced
first-hand that you can teach anybody a job, but if they're a turd,
they're a turd and there's nothing you can do to change that.
Regarding The Fingerless Fellow, a friend of mine's dad has an old 6"
jointer, and I went over there to edge joint some stock. This was a
couple of weeks ago, before I got my very own brand new Ridgid jointer
(Beep, beep!). We rolled the thing out, sandpapered some of the rust
off the table and fence and plugged it in. I noticed that the return
spring on the guard wasn't working, so I made a mental note to be
EEEEXTRA careful when running the stock through.
Anyway, about half way through, Jay's dad came out and started talking
to us, and he, too, had lost the tip of his index finger. To a
jointer. To THAT jointer. The one with the still-broken guard.
If you don't mind dust so thick you can't see the other end of the shop and
doing repititious work that they haven't invented a machine for - you'll
Don't expect to start at the artist level.
Reliability is a big plus along with knowing how to operate the machinery.
I missed the OP on this because of my ISP's short-fuse policy on aging
posts, but here's my take on it:
Cut lists come out of the design room.
You roll up a sheet goods carrier, set up the table saw, adjust the saw for
each cut if it doesn't know how to do so itself, and run the sheet goods
through until you get a components stack.
You take some of the components to the shelf hole driller and shove them in
one end and they come out the other end drilled for the shelf supports.
Depending on your system, you take some of THOSE to the machine that drills
the hinge holes, set 'em up, and drill the hinge holes.
You take everything that needs edge-banding to the edge-banding machine, and
run them through, one edge at a time, filling up the glue pot whenever the
light comes on.
You take some of the components, set 'em up as the carcasses, and air-staple
You take the boxes and the shelves, and a bag of selected hardware, and run
them out to the site.
You set 'em in place, fasten them to the studs, install the hardware, adjust
the (purchased) doors for gap, slap the shelves in, and move off in a group
to the tavern and call it a day.
Done any woodworking yet, that you can identify?
Oh, and by the way, if your owner is enlightened, he'll have a really good
dust collector system, and the place will be clean.
And you throw away or hide any tapes that measure in inches, and use only
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