If you're interested in working in the furniture manufacturing industry, you may want to further explore the field by participating in such hobbies as whittling, woodworking, or furniture refinishing. In addition, woodshop courses at your high school or a local community college can give you an idea of some of the skills and knowledge required of furniture manufacturing workers.
Summer and/or part-time employment in a furniture repair shop or a furniture factory can also provide an in-depth view of the field. Alternatively, you may be able to find work assembling furniture for area retailers and/or their customers. Such experience will allow you to actually work with furniture, as well as provide you with a firsthand look at how various furniture companies operate. A job as a furniture salesperson will enable you to see the inner workings of the retail side of the furniture industry. You may also, however, get a glimpse at the manufacturing end as you order pieces and interact with furniture makers and factory staff alike.
Another way to investigate the industry is to take a tour of a furniture manufacturing factory. Finally, you may want to read articles from any of the magazines devoted to the furniture industry, such as Furniture Today (http://www.furnituretoday.com) and Furniture World (http://www.furninfo.com).
Furniture manufacturing draws on the skills of many different workers, including furniture designers, woodworkers, assemblers, finishers, hand carvers, upholsterers, cabinetmakers, and finished-stock inspectors. The process usually begins with furniture designers, who translate their ideas into blueprints, shop drawings, computer-aided designs, or similar plans from which the pieces of furniture will be created.
Once the designs have been completed, woodworkers cut and shape the components that will be used to produce such furniture pieces as tables, chairs, beds, and dressers. Working from blueprints, computer-aided designs, or supervisors' orders, woodworkers use power saws, planers, lathes, and other machinery. After all lumber, plywood, and other wood products have been shaped, woodworkers inspect the dimensions of the pieces, use hand tools to trim them if necessary, and then sand them. While some pieces move on to the assembly department, others are sent to be decoratively carved.
Hand carvers carve ornamental designs, such as scrolls and stylized leaves and flowers, into wood furniture parts. Some create their own designs; most carvers, however, work from sketches furnished by an architect, furniture designer, or customer. Drawing the design to scale, carvers transfer the outline to the wood by tracing it with carbon paper and a stylus. Then they clamp the wood piece in a vise and rough out the design, using a chisel, mallet, jigsaw, and router. The rough design is then trimmed and refined with precision hand and power tools, and the carved part is sent on to be included in the assembly process.
Assemblers at large factories often do one or two simple tasks over and over again. Using screwdrivers and other tools, assemblers may work on subassemblies or on single pieces. Once assembled, the pieces are clamped with power-driven rams, and assemblers apply radio-frequency heating to set any glue that has been used. The pieces are then ready to be finished.
Furniture finishers apply colors and coatings to wood to create a specified finished surface and appearance. They often begin by inspecting the unfinished piece and correcting tiny defects in the surface, applying fillers and smoothing the wood with abrasives and power tools. They then make sure that the wood surface is smooth and perfectly clean. After selecting and mixing the ingredients that will produce the specified finish and masking any parts that are not to be finished, workers brush or spray multiple coats of stain, varnish, shellac, or paint on the piece. Once the final coating is dry, finishers may polish the piece and attach such hardware items as hinges and catches. Some finishers specialize in gilded finishes, simulated antique finishes, or processes that create a simulated wood graining on the surface.
Although some furniture is now ready to be inspected, other pieces need to be upholstered. Upholsterers install padding, springs, and fabric or leather on wood frames to create soft coverings on furniture. In many factories, different workers handle different tasks in the upholstery process. The first step in transforming a bare, wood frame into a finished piece of upholstered furniture is often to stretch strips of strong webbing material onto the frame to form a tight mat for supporting metal springs. Workers firmly attach the springs to both the mat and the frame and smooth and cover them with burlap cloth. Then upholsterers put padding and stuffing made of synthetic fibers, foam, cotton, and other materials over the springs and frame and tack, staple, and glue on the cover fabric. Upholsterers often specialize in just one part of a piece of furniture. Arm makers, for example, must work padding and fabric around arms of chairs, adjusting and cutting the materials until the cushioning and cloth fit exactly right before finally securing the fabric in place permanently.
Like upholsterers, cabinetmakers and bench carpenters are specialists. However, they use wood to create customized products, such as cabinets, and do all the work from start to finish. Cabinetmakers and bench carpenters cut, shape, and assemble parts using a variety of woodworking machines and hand tools. With blueprints, computer-aided designs, and drawings as guides, they plan the operations needed to produce the product. Cabinetmakers select lumber of the proper color, grain, and texture for the furniture piece and mark the dimensions or outlines of the parts on the wood. They use power saws and other woodworking machines to cut and shape the parts and then trim them with planes, chisels, files, and other hand tools so that they fit together snugly. When the parts fit properly, they are joined together into one unit with glue, screws, dowels, and nails. Once the piece is fully assembled, its surface is sanded and scraped to prepare the piece for finishing. Sometimes these workers perform the finishing process themselves. They may also install such hardware as hinges and drawer pulls.
After all pieces of furniture have been assembled and finished, finished-stock inspectors examine them to ensure that they meet manufacturing standards. They verify that each product matches the original specifications and carefully check the finish, construction, and upholstery for defects. Inspectors reject items with serious flaws and indicate that they should be repaired. Once all furniture pieces have been checked to the inspectors' satisfaction, they are shipped out of the factory.
Many furniture manucturing workers use automated machinery, such as computerized numerical control (NC) machines, to do much of the work. Wood sawing machine setters, operators, and tenders operate CNC machines. Woodworking machine setters, operators, and tenders operate woodworking machines, such as sanders, drill presses, lathes, routers, and planers. They also operate CNC machines.