Looking For an Apprenticeship

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Forum topic by Withers posted 12-02-2013 01:43 PM 1460 views 1 time favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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16 posts in 2128 days

12-02-2013 01:43 PM

Recently, I have truly figured out what i want to do with my life. I want to be a woodworker, a fine woodworker. I want to be able to make beautiful pieces of art and sturdy functional pieces of furniture and make a living at it. The only problem im facing is how to acquire the skills necessary to be good enough to do that. i know there are many people who are self taught and make it on there own, but i feel that if i could find an apprenticeship with a furniture maker, that would really accelerate my learning. So if any one in the southern New jersey area knows anyone whos looking for an apprentice, or can point me in the right direction, that would be spectacular.

thanks all.

-- If you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life

8 replies so far

View NoLongerHere's profile


893 posts in 3159 days

#1 posted 12-02-2013 03:08 PM

”Recently, I have truly figured out what i want to do with my life …...”

can’t tell you how many times I’ve said that one. Along with:

“This commercial project manager union gig is hard work but the pay is awesome! I’ll never go back to remodeling basements!”

“I’ll never work for someone else again!”

“If I hire another crew, work weekends in the office, I could break 6 figures this year.”

“Things are going great! .... I wonder if I should borrow 200 grand and open a cabinet shop?” – 2007

“I need to be around more people and grow my network, learn from them and improve my people skills”

“Fuck everyone! .... I just need to work by myself in my 3 car garage shop and make some cool shit to sell at an art show”

“I think I’ll write for a living….”

At 57 yr.s old, this is where I am. And I had such plans.

All I can say is, if you have a job and your making any money – don’t quit, not now. It may not seem as glorious as building a beautiful piece of furniture for a lot of money but it pays the bills. You can always do side work.

Hell, side jobs paid for all of my motorcycles, 4×4s and boats. I did a kitchen once for a Yamaha 350 Banshee.

Wood workers are like starving artists, most of them have regular jobs and do this on the side for fun and a little money. The ones that are doing well now have well known talent and had their shop set up before the down turn and are living off their references and low overhead because everything is already paid for.

I hope you find what you are looking for but don’t be surprised to find a lot of people in the same boat, thinking the same thing considering our careers have been up ended and there are no jobs out there for us.

I’m glad I didn’t open a huge cabinet shop, it would have destroyed me. But instead, I used the remodeling business to allow me to build built ins like fireplace mantles and bookcases in my garage shop. Paid about 20% less compared to remodeling but I had fun, the business bought the tools and my projects looked great.

I admire your zeal and encourage you to keep looking to move up. But, it seems you have what you want already. (I read your home page)

Just take it to the next level. Don’t work for him, hire him. But, you have to get the cabinet job first.

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 4131 days

#2 posted 12-02-2013 03:58 PM

Look into timber framing. There’s a guild.

To know how to buy equipment and set up a shop and have
products that you can make a living on… that knowledge
is not easy to acquire. It can take a long time to figure out
what direction you want to go within woodworking. You
can do it if you want and make a career of it but it may
restrict other life choices like where you can afford to
live and the sort of family life you can afford to have.

For all the hours it takes to get really good at woodworking,
which is an awful lot, you could apply yourself to going to
school to train for a field that pays better. Computers is
a good field to look at. Learning all about CNC machines would be
a way to combine computer skills and be an in-demand
employee. Get the trade magazine “Cabinetmaker FDM”
and read it and consider the industry it describes.

View canadianchips's profile


2627 posts in 3480 days

#3 posted 12-02-2013 04:01 PM

An apprenticeship is the way to go. If you are starting in woodworking there is more to it than just building beautiful pieces, the business end of it, the clients, sourcing out quality materials, etc. etc. If you can find a good employer they will teach you a lot of these things. No need to “re-invent the wheel”.
When I completed cabinet making apprenticeship school; I worked for companty for 1 year. In my case my father took ill and I quit the paying job moved home and helped him. I started my own remodelling business at that time.I am not sorry I did what I did, I am suggesting to others keep the paying job till you get established better than I did, I always felt I was catching up, never the machinery or tools I needed to do the work I loved to do, therefore I did smaller jobs with what I had available. Did I get rich ….....NO ! I did enjoy it.

-- "My mission in life - make everyone smile !"

View JAAune's profile


1866 posts in 2800 days

#4 posted 12-03-2013 12:19 AM

It looks like other people have already given the cautionary advice. I’ll add some more along with some other helpful information.

The world of furniture-making is changing due to the increasing availability of CNC and other computerized technology. This is a good thing because it will bring down the cost of fine furniture in the long run and allow more people to get involved in buying.

However, the number of people that can make a living via Nakashima, artistic type woodworking is diminishing. If you get good enough to become one of a handful of craftsman building for the highly wealthy, this can still be done. Unless you intend to invest a lot of time and effort into the craft this isn’t going to happen. Loren has a good point that CNC programmers and operators will likely be in high demand in the wood industry for the near future at least.

I really wanted to earn my living in this field so I did put the time and money into doing so. My approach ended up being a three-pronged one.

1. Learn skills that most woodworkers never acquire (steam-bending for example).
2. Learn computer skills and CNC operation.
3. Invest in efficient equipment.

Basically a professional needs to be skilled enough to attract discerning clients and also be fast enough to do the work quicker than any hobbyist could ever manage. This is done mainly by practice but is also helped by obtaining specialized equipment (CNC, lasers, etc). Just having good tools isn’t enough though. You’ll need to know how to use them efficiently and creatively.

Don’t get sucked into the trap of thinking that new tech makes old skills obsolete. You don’t teach children math by giving them calculators. You teach them basic math first then only let them have the calculators after they’ve mastered the simple tasks and are ready to move onto advanced concepts. Computer software and CNC are great but you need to know how to lay out and cut a joint with hand tools before using the Cad-Cam and operating a CNC if you want to get maximum benefit from such tools.

It’s only recently that I’ve reached a point where I think I’ll be able to earn a respectable living as a furniture-maker. It took 2 years as an apprentice, 8 as an employee and one year establishing the foundation of a business. It will probably take one more year to hit the financial goals.

I should mention that most of my wages from those 8 years were reinvested into either tooling or education. Much of my free time was spent either practicing or studying. Since becoming self-employed, I’ve had to work 50+ hours a week.

So yes, it is possible to make a good salary by woodworking but you should think carefully upon whether or not you’d be willing to stick with it for the long haul.

If you still wish to continue, then start looking for ways to diversify your income stream. All of the successful furniture makers I know use their skillset to obtain multiple sources of revenue. Some are teachers, consultants, product developers, store owners, etc. My own choice was to focus on furniture-making and product development. It’s critical to have alternative income sources when the furniture commissions slow up.

-- See my work at and

View mahdee's profile


4291 posts in 2250 days

#5 posted 12-03-2013 12:38 AM

Keep the job. Every comment here makes so much sense. If you still insist, then think about what the Y generation is into; digitally enhanced furniture.


View David Dean's profile

David Dean

608 posts in 3382 days

#6 posted 12-03-2013 02:00 AM

Im with mrjinx007 dont quit your day job but if you most start out small and work your self up and learn the old school ways frist.

View BentheViking's profile


1782 posts in 3047 days

#7 posted 12-03-2013 12:31 PM

I used to be an apprentice and realized that the money that it pays is so low I couldn’t ever support my self (when I rented a shitty apartment and drove a 25 year old truck that I bought for $350). I had to realize that I was better off woodworking 2 days a week rather than 5, but live a more comfortable life. If you want to be an apprentice just know what you’re getting in to. If you try to teach yourself woodworking you will most likely learn more than enough to make beautiful woodworking projects.

That being said if money was no object I’d totally be a furniture/cabinet maker

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

View MJCD's profile


595 posts in 2854 days

#8 posted 12-03-2013 02:35 PM

Excellent Comments – All.

One philosophy I have, and it’s mentioned in JAAune’s note, is to become an expert at what other professionals choose not to do. I say professionals, because that’s who you’re competing with. Also, (a very politically inappropriate statement follows) most consumers of woodworking don’t care about furniture enough to pay what is necessary for a craftsman to survive: the cost of equipment, tools, consumables (sandpaper, saw blades)..., let alone feeding yourself and family, insurance, saving for retirement…
For example, Hal Taylor sells his rocking chairs at $6,500 each; Scott Morrison’s are in that range; Marc Spagnuolo (TheWoodWhisperer) has thrived long enough to get corporate sponsorship, and has invested his life in getting recognized as the next generation of woodworking.
I know this must be the sound of a cold shower, being negative; and we’re not the ones to tell anyone what their dreams should or can be.
Again, become an expert at something few others want to do; then do it.

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