Occupation Profile for Woodworking Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders

Set up, operate, or tend woodworking machines, such as drill presses, lathes, shapers, routers, sanders, planers, and wood nailing machines.


Significant Points

  • Most woodworkers are trained on the job; basic machine operations may be learned in a few months, but becoming a skilled woodworker often requires several years of experience.
  • Job prospects will be best for highly skilled woodworkers who produce customized work, which is less susceptible to automation and import competition, and for those who can operate computerized numerical control machines.
  • Employment is highly sensitive to economic cycles; during economic downturns, workers are subject to layoffs or reductions in hours.


$23,940.00 Median Annual Wage 3,000 Average Job Openings Per Year
8.6 Average Unemployment Percentage 81.9 Percentage That Completed High School
100,000 Employment Numbers in 2006 15.3 Percentage That Had Some College
106,000 Employment Numbers in 2016 (est.) 0.0 Percentage That Went Beyond College Degree

Sample Job Titles
Adzing and Boring Machine Operator
Artificial Log Machine Operator
Automatic Lathe Setup and Tooler
Balloon Sander
Band Nailer
Band Saw Operator
Bander Operator
Barker Operator
Barrel Builder
Barrel Charrer
Barrel Lathe Operator
Barrel Lathe Operator, Inside
Barrel Lathe Operator, Outside
Barrel Maker
Basket Assembler
Basket Braider
Basket Maker
Basket Weaver
Belt Sander, Woodworking
Bender Machine Operator
Bender, Machine
Bending Frame Operator
Blind Slat Stapling Machine Operator
Board Finisher
Boring Machine Operator
Bottom Hoop Driver
Bottom Turning Lathe Tender
Bottom Turning Lathe Turner
Bowl Turner
Box Blank Machine Operator
Box Stapler
Box-Blank-Machine Operator
Briar Cutter
Bucket Chucker
Bucket Turner
Cabinet Maker
Checkering Machine Adjuster
Chip Machine Operator
Chip Mixing Machine Operator
Chipper Machine Operator
Chucking and Boring Machine Operator
Chucking Machine Operator
Chucking Machine Set Up Operator
Cleat Blanker
Cleat Maker
Clipper, Automatic
Coat Hanger Shaper Machine Operator, Wood
Computer Numerical Control Operator (CNC Operator)
Copy Lathe Tender
Core Composer Feeder
Core Layer Machine Operator
Cork Grinder
Cork Molder
Corrugated Fastener Driver
Custom Shop Worker
Cylinder Sander Operator
Dado Operator
Dolly Operator
Door Clamper
Double End Trimmer and Boring Machine Operator
Dovetail Machine Operator
Dowel Inserting Machine Operator
Dowel Machine Operator
Dowel Maker
Drill Operator, Wood
Drilling Machine Operator, Wood
Embossing Machine Operator
End Frazer
End Matcher
End Matcher Operator
End Stapler
End Touching Machine Operator
Engineer, Creosoting
Engineer, Retort
Engineer, Treating
Excelsior Machine Operator
Excelsior Machine Tender
Flake Cutter Operator
Flooring Machine Operator
Foot Miter Operator
Frame Builder
Frame Polisher
Frame Table Operator
Gouger, Wood
Groover and Striper Operator
Heading Machine Operator
Heading Pinner
Heavy Equipment Operator
Heel Nailing Machine Operator
Hinging Machine Operator
Hoop Expander
Hoop Machine Operator
Hoop Maker
Hoop Riveter
Incising Machine Operator
Jointer Machine Operator
Jointer Operator
Knife Setter
Knot Saw Operator
Laminating Machine Operator
Lap Machine Operator
Last Scourer
Last Trimmer
Last Turner
Lathe Operator
Lathe Sander
Lathe Set Up Operator
Lathe Spotter
Linderman Machine Operator
Linderman Operator
Line Tender
Lock Corner Machine Operator
Log Cooker
Lumber Press Operator
Lumber Tripper
Machine Carver, Wood
Machine Operator
Machine Sander
Machine Setter
Manufacturing Assistant
Manufacturing Associate
Manufacturing Operator
Miller, Wood
Milling Machine Hand, Wood
Milling Machine Operator, Wood
Milling Machine Tender, Wood
Molder Feeder
Molder Operator
Molding Cutter
Molding Sander
Mortising Machine Operator
Multi-Purpose Machine Operator
Multiple Drum Sander
Nail Kegger
Nail Setter
Nail Sticker
Nailer Operator
Nailhead Operator
Nailhead Setter
Nailing Machine Operator
Nailing Machine Operator, Automatic
Panel Shaper
Pipe and Tank Fabricator
Planer Operator
Planer Operator / Grader
Planer Setup Operator
Planer Type Milling Machine Setup Operator
Planing Machine Operator
Plow and Boring Machine Tender
Plug Machine Operator
Plugging Machine Operator
Plywood Scarfer Tender
Pole Peeling Machine Operator
Power Barker
Power Barker Operator
Power Bender Operator
Prefitter, Doors
Press Operator
Profile Shaper Operator
Profile Shaper Operator, Automatic
Pulley Mortiser Operator
Punch Press Operator
Putty Worker
Rabbet Operator
Rafter Cutting Machine Operator
Rail Bender
Rodding Machine Tender
Roof Truss Builder
Roof Truss Machine Tender
Rough Planer Tender
Rounding Machine Tender
Router Hand, Wood
Router Operator
Router Tender
Router, Wood
Sander Operator
Sander, Machine
Sander, Portable Machine
Sander, Woodworking, Machine
Sanding Machine Buffer
Sanding Machine Operator or Tender
Sanding Machine Tender
Saw Operator
Scooping Machine Tender
Set Up Worker
Set-Up Mechanic
Shake Backboard Notcher
Shank Threader
Shaper Operator
Shook Machine Operator
Shuttle Spotter
Sizing Machine Tender
Skiving Machine Operator
Skoog Machine Operator
Skoog Operator
Skoog Patching Machine Operator
Slab Tripper
Slack Cooper
Slat Basket Maker
Slat Basket Maker, Machine
Slicing Machine Operator/Tender
Slicing Machine Tender
Smoking Pipe Driller and Threader
Spar Machine Operator
Speed Belt Sander
Speed Belt Sander Tender
Spindle Carver
Splicer Operator
Splitter Tender
Splitting Machine Operator
Splitting Machine Tender
Squeezer Operator
Stacker Tender
Stapling Machine Operator
Stave Jointer
Stave Machine Tender
Steam Box Operator
Stemhole Borer
Stock Checkerer
Stroke Belt Sander Operator
Swing Type Lathe Operator
Tenon Operator
Tenoner Operator
Timber Sizer
Timber Sizer Operator
Tip Inserter
Tongue and Groove Machine Operator
Touch-Up Carver
Trimmer and Borer Machine Operator
Trimming Machine Set-Up Operator
Truss Builder
Turning Lathe Tender
Turning Machine Set-Up Operator
Turning Sander Operator
Turning Sander Tender
Turret Lathe Operator
Turret Lathe Set Up Operator
Veneer Clipper
Veneer Joiner
Veneer Jointer
Veneer Jointer Operator
Veneer Lathe Operator
Veneer Press Operator
Veneer Slicing Machine Operator
Veneer Splicer
Whiting Machine Operator
Wire Stitcher
Wood Borer
Wood Boring Machine Operator
Wood Carving Lathe Operator
Wood Carving Machine Operator
Wood Chopper
Wood Handler
Wood Heel Back Liner
Wood Molder
Wood Planer
Wood Sander, Machine
Wood Turner
Wood Turning Lathe Operator

  • These occupations often involve using your knowledge and skills to help others. Examples include sheet metal workers, forest fire fighters, customer service representatives, pharmacy technicians, salespersons (retail), and tellers.
  • These occupations usually require a high school diploma and may require some vocational training or job-related course work. In some cases, an associate's or bachelor's degree could be needed.
  • Some previous work-related skill, knowledge, or experience may be helpful in these occupations, but usually is not needed. For example, a teller might benefit from experience working directly with the public, but an inexperienced person could still learn to be a teller with little difficulty.
  • Employees in these occupations need anywhere from a few months to one year of working with experienced employees.

Many woodworkers are highly skilled and require significant on-the-job training. Mathematics skills, especially geometry, are essential and computer skills are increasingly important.

Education and training. Employers seek applicants with a high school diploma or the equivalent because of the growing sophistication of machinery and the constant need for retraining. People seeking woodworking jobs can enhance their employment and advancement prospects by completing high school and receiving training in mathematics, science, and computer applications.

Woodworkers increasingly acquire skills through higher education. For many workers, this means earning a degree from a vocational or trade school. Others may attend colleges or universities that offer training in wood technology, furniture manufacturing, wood engineering, and production management. These programs prepare students for positions in production, supervision, engineering, and management and are increasingly important as woodworking technology advances.

Most woodworkers are trained on the job, however, picking up skills informally from experienced workers. They can learn basic machine operations and job tasks in a few months, but becoming a skilled woodworker often requires 2 or more years.

Beginners usually observe and help experienced machine operators. They may supply material to, or remove fabricated products from, machines. Trainees also do simple machine operating jobs while closely supervised by experienced workers. As beginners gain experience, they perform more complex jobs with less supervision. Some may learn to read blueprints, set up machines, and plan the sequence of the work.

Other qualifications. In addition to training, woodworkers need mechanical ability, manual dexterity, and the ability to pay attention to detail and safety. As the industry becomes more sophisticated, skill with computers and computer-controlled machinery is becoming more important.

Advancement. Advancement opportunities are often limited and depend on education and training, seniority, and a worker’s skills and initiative. Sometimes experienced woodworkers become inspectors or supervisors responsible for the work of a group of woodworkers. Production workers can advance into these positions by assuming additional responsibilities and attending workshops, seminars, or college programs. Those who are highly skilled may set up their own woodworking shops.

Nature of Work

Despite the abundance of plastics and other materials, wood products continue to be useful and popular. Woodworkers help to meet the demand for wood products by creating finished products from lumber. Many of these products are mass produced, such as many types of furniture, kitchen cabinets, and musical instruments. Other products are crafted in small shops that make architectural woodwork, handmade furniture, and other specialty items.

Although the term woodworker often evokes images of a craftsman who builds ornate furniture using hand tools, the modern wood industry is highly technical. Some woodworkers still build by hand, but more often, handtools have been replaced by power tools, and much of the work has been automated. Work is usually done on an assembly line, meaning that most individuals learn to perform a single part of a complex process. Different types of woodworkers are employed in every stage of the building process, from sawmill to finished product. Their activities vary greatly.

Many woodworkers use computerized numerical control (CNC) machines to operate factory tools. Using these machines, woodworkers can create complex designs with fewer human steps. This technology has raised worker productivity by allowing one operator to simultaneously tend a greater number of machines. The integration of computers with equipment has improved production speed and capability, simplified setup and maintenance requirements, and increased the demand for workers with computer skills.

Production woodworkers set up, operate, and tend all types of woodworking machines. In sawmills, sawing machine operators and tenders set up, operate, or tend wood-sawing machines that cut logs into planks, timbers, or boards. In manufacturing plants, woodworkers first determine the best method of shaping and assembling parts, working from blueprints, supervisors’ instructions, or shop drawings that woodworkers themselves produce. Before cutting, they often must measure and mark the materials. They verify dimensions and may trim parts using handtools such as planes, chisels, wood files, or sanders to ensure a tight fit.

Woodworking machine operators and tenders set up, operate, or tend specific woodworking machines, such as drill presses, lathes, shapers, routers, sanders, planers, and wood-nailing machines. New operators may simply press a switch on a woodworking machine and monitor the automatic operation, but more highly skilled operators set up the equipment, cut and shape wooden parts, and verify dimensions using a template, caliper, or rule.

After wood parts are made, woodworkers add fasteners and adhesives and connect the pieces to form a complete unit. The product is then finish-sanded; stained, and, if necessary, coated with a sealer, such as lacquer or varnish. Woodworkers may perform this work in teams or be assisted by helpers.

Precision or custom woodworkers, such as cabinetmakers and bench carpenters, modelmakers and patternmakers, and furniture finishers, often build one-of-a-kind items. These highly skilled precision woodworkers usually perform a complete cycle of tasks—cutting, shaping, and preparing surfaces and assembling complex wood components into a finished wood product. Precision workers normally need substantial training and an ability to work from detailed instructions and specifications. In addition, they often are required to exercise independent judgment when undertaking an assignment. They may still use heavy machinery and power tools in their everyday work. As CNC machines have become less expensive, many smaller firms have started using them.

Work environment. Working conditions vary by industry and specific job duties. In logging and sawmills, for example, workers handle heavy, bulky material and often encounter excessive noise, dust, and other air pollutants. However, the use of earplugs and respirators may alleviate these problems. Safety precautions and computer-controlled equipment minimize risk of injury from rough wood stock, sharp tools, and power equipment.

In furniture and kitchen cabinet manufacturing, employees who operate machinery also must wear ear and eye protection. They follow operating safety instructions and use safety shields or guards to prevent accidents. Those who work in areas where wood is cut or finishings applied often must wear an appropriate dust or vapor mask or a complete protective safety suit. Prolonged standing, lifting, and fitting of heavy objects are common characteristics of the job.

Related Occupations

Sources: Career Guide to Industries (CGI), Occupational Information Network (O*Net), Occupation Outlook Handbook (OOH)

Median annual wage-and-salary earnings of cabinetmakers and bench carpenters were $27,010 in May 2006. The middle 50 percent earned between $21,350 and $34,290. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $17,660, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $43,060.

Median annual wage-and-salary earnings of sawing machine setters, operators, and tenders, wood were $24,280. The middle 50 percent earned between $19,620 and $29,930. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $16,290, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $36,220.

Median annual wage-and-salary earnings of woodworking machine setters, operators, and tenders, except sawing were $23,940. The middle 50 percent earned between $19,460 and $29,480. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $16,410, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $35,950.

Median annual wage-and-salary earnings were $25,010 for furniture finishers and $22,580 for all other woodworkers.

For the latest wage information:

The above wage data are from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey program, unless otherwise noted. For the latest National, State, and local earnings data, visit the following pages:

  • Cabinetmakers and bench carpenters
  • Furniture finishers
  • Model makers, wood
  • Patternmakers, wood
  • Sawing machine setters, operators, and tenders, wood
  • Woodworking machine setters, operators, and tenders, except sawing
  • Woodworkers, all other
  • Job Outlook

    Overall employment of woodworkers is expected to grow slower than average. Opportunities should be good for skilled applicants.

    Employment change. Overall employment of woodworkers is expected to grow by 3 percent during the 2006-16 decade, which is slower than the average of all occupations. This slow growth will be a result of increased automation in the wood products manufacturing industry. Technology is becoming increasingly important to this industry, and automation has greatly reduced the number of people required to produce a finished product. Furthermore, international competition—especially from China—has led to a significant decline in domestic employment of these workers.

    Employment of sawing and woodworking machine setters, operators, and tenders is expected to grow more slowly than the average through 2016. Import growth will lead to job losses in the U.S. industry. To remain competitive, some domestic firms are expected to move their production processes to foreign countries, further reducing employment. Firms that stay are increasingly using advanced technology, such as robots and CNC machinery. These developments will prevent employment from rising with the demand for wood products, particularly in the mills and manufacturing plants where many processes can be automated.

    Employment of furniture finishers is expected to decline slowly. Since furniture is largely mass-produced, it is highly susceptible to import competition; the percentage of imported furniture sold in the United States has steadily increased over the years, a trend that is expected to continue. Labor is significantly less expensive in developing countries, so these forces will likely affect the industry for quite some time.

    Employment of bench carpenters and cabinetmakers is expected to grow more slowly than average, while modelmakers and patternmakers are expected to decline rapidly. Other specialized woodworking occupations will experience little or now change in growth. Demand for these workers will stem from increases in population, personal income, and business expenditures and from the continuing need for repair and renovation of residential and commercial properties. Therefore, opportunities should be available for workers who specialize in items such as moldings, cabinets, stairs, and windows. Firms that focus on custom woodwork will be best able to compete against imports without transferring jobs offshore.

    Job prospects. Despite slower than average employment growth, prospects should be good for qualified workers. Many experienced woodworkers will soon reach retirement age, and this will create a need for new workers. In general, opportunities for more highly skilled woodworkers will be better than for woodworkers in specialties susceptible to automation and competition from imported wood products. The need for woodworkers with technical skills to operate their increasingly advanced computerized machinery will be especially great. Custom workers and modelmakers and patternmakers who know how to create and execute designs on a computer may have the best opportunities. These jobs require an understanding of wood and a strong understanding of computers—a combination that can be somewhat difficult to find.

    The number of new workers entering these occupations has declined greatly in recent years, as training programs become less available or popular. Competition for jobs is expected to be mild, and opportunities should be best for woodworkers who, through vocational education or experience, develop highly specialized woodworking skills or knowledge of CNC machine tool operation.

    Employment in all woodworking specialties is highly sensitive to economic cycles. During economic downturns, workers are subject to layoffs or reductions in hours.


    Woodworkers held about 370,000 jobs in 2006. Self-employed woodworkers, mostly cabinetmakers and furniture finishers, accounted for 12 percent of these jobs.

    Three out of 4 woodworkers were employed in manufacturing. About 2 out of 5 worked in establishments manufacturing household and office furniture and fixtures, and 1 in 3 worked in wood product manufacturing, producing a variety of raw, intermediate, and finished woodstock. Wholesale and retail lumber dealers, furniture stores, reupholstery and furniture repair shops, and construction firms also employ woodworkers.

    Woodworking jobs are found throughout the country. However, lumber and wood products-related production jobs are concentrated in the Southeast, Midwest, and Northwest, close to the supply of wood. Furniture-making jobs are more prevalent in the Southeast. Custom shops can be found everywhere, but generally are concentrated in or near highly populated areas.

    • Mathematics — Knowledge of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, statistics, and their applications.
    • Engineering and Technology — Knowledge of the practical application of engineering science and technology. This includes applying principles, techniques, procedures, and equipment to the design and production of various goods and services.
    • Sales and Marketing — Knowledge of principles and methods for showing, promoting, and selling products or services. This includes marketing strategy and tactics, product demonstration, sales techniques, and sales control systems.
    • Medicine and Dentistry — Knowledge of the information and techniques needed to diagnose and treat human injuries, diseases, and deformities. This includes symptoms, treatment alternatives, drug properties and interactions, and preventive health-care measures.
    • Physics — Knowledge and prediction of physical principles, laws, their interrelationships, and applications to understanding fluid, material, and atmospheric dynamics, and mechanical, electrical, atomic and sub- atomic structures and processes.
    • Equipment Maintenance — Performing routine maintenance on equipment and determining when and what kind of maintenance is needed.
    • Coordination — Adjusting actions in relation to others' actions.
    • Active Learning — Understanding the implications of new information for both current and future problem-solving and decision-making.
    • Writing — Communicating effectively in writing as appropriate for the needs of the audience.
    • Troubleshooting — Determining causes of operating errors and deciding what to do about it.
    • Near Vision — The ability to see details at close range (within a few feet of the observer).
    • Stamina — The ability to exert yourself physically over long periods of time without getting winded or out of breath.
    • Explosive Strength — The ability to use short bursts of muscle force to propel oneself (as in jumping or sprinting), or to throw an object.
    • Oral Comprehension — The ability to listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences.
    • Hearing Sensitivity — The ability to detect or tell the differences between sounds that vary in pitch and loudness.
    • Supplemental — Operate gluing machines to glue pieces of wood together, or to press and affix wood veneer to wood surfaces.
    • Core — Install and adjust blades, cutterheads, boring-bits, or sanding-belts, using hand tools and rules.
    • Supplemental — Sharpen knives, bits, and other cutting and shaping tools.
    • Core — Inspect and mark completed workpieces and stack them on pallets, in boxes, or on conveyors so that they can be moved to the next workstation.
    • Supplemental — Trim wood parts according to specifications, using planes, chisels, and wood files or sanders.
    • Monitoring and Controlling Resources — Monitoring and controlling resources and overseeing the spending of money.
    • Guiding, Directing, and Motivating Subordinates — Providing guidance and direction to subordinates, including setting performance standards and monitoring performance.
    • Assisting and Caring for Others — Providing personal assistance, medical attention, emotional support, or other personal care to others such as coworkers, customers, or patients.
    • Repairing and Maintaining Electronic Equipment — Servicing, repairing, calibrating, regulating, fine-tuning, or testing machines, devices, and equipment that operate primarily on the basis of electrical or electronic (not mechanical) principles.
    • Getting Information — Observing, receiving, and otherwise obtaining information from all relevant sources.
    Related College Curriculum
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