Job hunting advice for an apprentice

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Forum topic by johnljr posted 01-25-2012 07:03 PM 1588 views 0 times favorited 19 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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4 posts in 2581 days

01-25-2012 07:03 PM

Topic tags/keywords: apprentice assistant job hunting

Hello all,

I’ve been doing carpentry work the past year and a half and am looking to make the transition into woodworking. I live in the NYC area so there are lots of shops around but I am not having any luck getting my feet into the door. Besides scouring Craigslist and jumping on the occasional ad that applies to me, my strategy has been to e-mail cover letters and resumes inquiring if anyone would be willing to take on an assistant. I realize I have a lot to learn before an employer could make the most out of investing in me, but I do have some experience in cabinetry, finish work, basic joinery, etc. and a familiarity with the basic shop tools so I believe I could be of assistance to someone willing to take me on. I’m not wanting to limit any potential opportunities for work so have been sending my info out to shops doing cabinetry, milling, furniture, and anything else I can find. I have been asking a modest wage (especially for NYC cost of living) for the types of work that I have previous experience in and have even been offering to work unpaid for companies that I would be especially excited to get an opportunity to learn from. Any advice on how to get started in this industry? Is cold calling or showing up in person at a busy shop a bad idea? Is the job market really that tight? Thanks in advance.


19 replies so far

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3915 days

#1 posted 01-25-2012 07:28 PM

Go to school and learn to run CNC machines. Then you’ll have
a skill that will open wood shop opportunities for you.

View johnljr's profile


4 posts in 2581 days

#2 posted 01-25-2012 07:41 PM

That’s an interesting idea. I will look into that.

View Dallas's profile


3599 posts in 2754 days

#3 posted 01-25-2012 08:01 PM

I always had good luck with cold calls, although I may not have gotten the position I was looking for, or the pay… to begin with.
When I was working construction the best way I found to get a job was to find a jobsite and hit up the GC to see if he needed any help, or ask around to the SC’s to see if they were looking for help.

Sometimes I would get an hourly job working with a crew but sometimes I got a SC job such as building decks or finish work or as a punchout carpenter. Those positions paid better especially if I could do the job quickly, but the main thing was that they would let me be working around the people I really wanted to work for.

Loren brings up a great idea… learning to operate a CNC. I would add that learning to program one will make your services even more indispensable. I have a friend who has been a computer tech for almost 40 years… he started back when a computer tech was used to fix abacuses. Even though he’s retired now, he makes a good living with what he knows about programming CNC. A lot of times the designer or engineer doesn’t understand the needs of the wood or the metal they are working with and my friend has saved the company 10’s of thousands by re-writing the commands before entering them as parameters.
He isn’t interested in full time work and never went to school to learn CNC programming, but he makes more now than he did 10 years ago when we were working on computers for a living.

-- Improvise.... Adapt...... Overcome!

View johnljr's profile


4 posts in 2581 days

#4 posted 01-25-2012 08:26 PM

Thanks for the advice Dallas. To any owners of woodworking shops out there, what qualities and skills do you look for in a potential apprentice?

View Tootles's profile


808 posts in 2769 days

#5 posted 01-26-2012 03:37 AM

Make something small enough to carry that shows what you are capable of. Then knock on doors to say “I’m really interested in this work, this is what I can do, do you have any opportunities for me?”

-- I may have lost my marbles, but I still have my love of woodworking

View Vrtigo1's profile


434 posts in 3259 days

#6 posted 01-26-2012 04:47 AM

Here’s one that nearly always works providing you can swing it. Tell them you want to do an internship and work for free. I work in the IT field, and it is pretty common to offer jobs to interns if they did a good job during an internship. Obviously you would have to have some savings built up, or some other way to pay the bills while you don’t have income coming in, but working for free gets you real world experience that you can put on your resume and can also help you network with others in the field that could become potential employers.

View doughan's profile


96 posts in 2858 days

#7 posted 01-26-2012 05:22 AM

The job market in construction is as tight as I have seen it in 30 years….but we do have an election coming up thank god1

View Grandpa's profile


3261 posts in 2943 days

#8 posted 01-26-2012 05:41 AM

Most people get jobs through networking. talk to anyone that will listen then listen to them. one day someone will say I have a friend that might use you and I will talk to him. then you have your foot in the door. Be prepared to make the most of that. In the mean time do as they said above. You have to have a trade or education to sell. Get it.

View BentheViking's profile


1782 posts in 2831 days

#9 posted 01-26-2012 05:44 AM

I love wood working very much. At first I tried to get into doing it full time in shops, but learned that I couldn’t afford to do it as a full time career because my bills didn’t fit with the paycheck my skills warranted. Much of what we all love to do is artisan work that most people can’t afford to have done for them so we are left with professional woodworking being done by unskilled laborers putting wood into pre-programmed machines. I ended up coming to terms of being able to do woodworking 2 days a week (weekends) as opposed to 5-7 days a week. I don’t go through a single day of work anymore without wishing I was actually doing woodworking, but at least I am able to pay my bills.

Good luck John. I hope you do better than I did.

-- It's made of wood. Real sturdy.--Chubbs Peterson

View JAAune's profile


1864 posts in 2584 days

#10 posted 01-26-2012 06:41 AM

I got my apprenticeship by offering to work free of charge in return for instruction. Getting a job was just a matter of learning quickly and spending many, many hours of my evenings and weekends reading woodworking books, watching videos, enrolling in classes and practicing in my own shop. After a short while my future boss started working towards growing his business enough to put me on a payroll so I’d stay.

As far as qualities that we’d look for in an employee go… (We aren’t hiring though. Just got a new guy in the shop last year)

1. Lack of ego. Confidence is good but a new employee that gets offended because we choose to give instruction on how to operate a drill press won’t be high on the keeper list. Someone who is willing to be patient and listen carefully to an explanation of something he already knows is better material.

2. Eager to learn. A good employee wants to learn more, improve skills and takes an active interest in the work.

3. Reliable and prompt. Don’t make a habit of being late to work or taking random days off on short notice. Knowing that someone will be in the shop on every workday and at the right times makes it much easier to manage production in a shop environment.

4. Give just a little more than is required. Those who keep an eye on the clock so as to drop their tools and rush out the door the instant the clock hits quitting time leave a negative impression. Those who tidy up whatever task they are doing, put their tools away and sweep the shavings into the dustbin leave a good impression.

5. Learn to adjust to the workplace ethics. There are many ways to do a lot of tasks but sometimes the bosses choose to adopt a specific method for their shop. Be aware that it’s not possible to always do everything according to personal preference. If the boss wants everyone to sharpen with waterstones instead of oilstones then learn to do so.

6. Emotionally stable. Temperamental outbursts poison the atmosphere and create bad blood. No good employer can permit this to happen – especially in a small business.

7. Sense of humor. I don’t mean playing tricks and practical jokes on the other employees. By this I mean the sort of attitude that permits laughter when every bad thing that can happen in a day does happen.

As an additional bit of advice, learn to be frugal and enjoy living inexpensively. Some people do end up making quite a good income after being in the craft for many years. It never happens overnight. You’ll need to spend a great deal of time and even money (tools, books, subscriptions and possibly classes) during those early years acquiring the right skills.

-- See my work at and

View johnljr's profile


4 posts in 2581 days

#11 posted 01-26-2012 11:54 PM

Thanks for all the great advice folks. I actually met with a shop owner today who wasn’t really looking to hire but agreed to talk to me and it went well. I offered to work unpaid for a two week trial period to see if I’m a good fit for the company with a chance of hire after that. It seems like that was the ticket in for several others of you. I appreciate all of the caution in regards to finances, it is something very important to consider when starting down a new career road. I’m definitely not planning on becoming wealthy, just to make a living doing something I enjoy.

View SASmith               's profile


1850 posts in 3254 days

#12 posted 01-27-2012 01:26 AM

Good luck with your new gig.

-- Scott Smith, Southern Illinois

View EPJartisan's profile


1122 posts in 3392 days

#13 posted 02-20-2012 05:26 AM

@ JAAune ~ it’s like you read my mind, great advice. Mind if I borrow that. I have a guy coming in for an interview on Wednesday. Sigh..

@ John ~ There will always be guys like me out there. Shame you are not here in Chicago. I am having the hardest time finding someone who fits JAAune’s list.. reliability seems the hardest to find. And I can pay very well, yet somehow everyone wants to earn big $$$ or just play around. Where is the work ethic, desire to learn, and the desire to earn ones way in the world.

@ Rick ~ I agree not everyone has talent enough to be able to make a living in woodworking, but to tell all young folk this sentiment is just plain irresponsible of you. Wealth and joy does not always come from money,sure it makes it easier, but just because it does not pay well, does not mean they should not do it. Someone has to be interested enough to take the risk in keeping fine woodworking alive as a profession and trade. No … few of us will be wealthy, but please don’t try to brainwash youth that money is always the governing choice to follow. Your sentiment may dissuade someone talented from finding a way to real joy and prosperity. Your sentiment makes it harder for me to grow in business and pass on decades of knowledge to willing minds. Your sentiment is what made my journey a challenge to get to the amazing place I am today, so I stand up and say… it is worth the risk.. worth scraping change to get a saw blade and eating ramen noodles. It is worth learning this trade as a profession with it’s integrity, beauty, and pride of being hand made. CNC machines.. (rolling eyes) ... lol yeah go work for Ikea. Who are you people? :) joking … ~ peace

-- " 'Truth' is like a beautiful flower, unique to each plant and to the season it blossoms ... 'Fact' is the root and leaf, allowing the plant grow and bloom again."

View EPJartisan's profile


1122 posts in 3392 days

#14 posted 02-20-2012 05:53 PM

upon a nights sleep… another bit of advice, if you’ll allow me… what to look for in a woodworking boss..

Make sure that you have an idea of what you want to get out of the experience. Is he going to be a mentor to honor, is he going to be a friend with entwined lives , or just a person to learn from, a stepping stone, until something more comes along. Both you and your employer will appreciate being up front about this…

SO most of all.. Communicate. Small businesses and shops are intimate spaces.. yes learn the ethics and social structure, but please assert yourself, be yourself… speak honestly and timely, but mostly.. do not be afraid to ask if you don’t know, most of us WANT to share our knowledge, but get annoyed if we have to redo your work.

In my personal experience, people who do not or are unwilling to communicate always create uneasy environments and are difficult to work for and with.

-- " 'Truth' is like a beautiful flower, unique to each plant and to the season it blossoms ... 'Fact' is the root and leaf, allowing the plant grow and bloom again."

View Dallas's profile


3599 posts in 2754 days

#15 posted 02-20-2012 06:58 PM


I wish I had had a mentor like you 40 years ago.

-- Improvise.... Adapt...... Overcome!

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