If you enjoy working with wood, fabrics and metal in artistic ways, you can put those talents to use in the field of furniture manufacturing and design. Programs in furniture design cover traditional woodworking techniques, along with classes on design, metalworking, fabrics, antiquing and stressing wood, marketing and business skills.
Modern furniture manufacturing and design are highly technical disciplines, requiring the use of computers, advanced technology and machinery to produce quality products. In fact, the production of modern furniture is heavily reliant on an assembly line. Furniture craftspeople may work with fabrics, metal, leather, wood or plastics to create new items of furniture. Traditional woodworking skills, like using drill presses, wood-nailing machines and other equipment, are often useful for your future career as a furniture maker or designer.
Advancement in the field depends on your level of education, training and work experience. If you select a woodworking focus , you may be trained on-the-job. A high school diploma is the minimum requirement for most entry-level positions in wood and metal crafting. Other areas of furniture manufacturing and design require more advanced training. A number of universities offer degree programs in furniture design, manufacturing and production.
Career options vary based on specialty. You might consider becoming a cabinetmaker or bench carpenter, concentrating on customized cabinets for specific locations. In comparison, a path as an architectural woodworker would allow you to design and create custom interior pieces for a specific building or location, while becoming a carpenter would have you primarily construct, install and repair mostly wooden creations.
If you choose to emphasize metal or plastic components in your furniture, you might consider training as a metal decorating pressman, which would build your skills with metal presses, as well as teach you to weld, solder and cut metal. Some sculpting training programs also offer metalworking instruction.
Regardless of specialty or focus, most furniture designers create pieces for a variety of clients. Your training will teach you to balance function with aesthetics as well as push you creatively. Having a strong business sense is essential in any sub-specialty.
Highly skilled furniture designers and manufacturers can expect the best job prospects, but employment is extremely sensitive to the economic climate. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the mean annual wage for woodworkers in May 2010 varied depending on the specialty (www.bls.gov). Cabinetmakers and bench carpenters earned $31,790, furniture finishers earned $29,230 and specialty woodworkers earned $27,910. Carpenters in that same year enjoyed a mean annual wage of $43,890. Interior designers earned $52,100.
Many carpenters and woodworkers learn their craft on-the-job through apprenticeships. It can take more than three years of working under the supervision of an expert before you are considered experienced enough in your craft. After completing your training, you might choose to open your own business, but highly skilled woodworkers and carpenters are usually able to find employment with other businesses.
If you are interested in obtaining a degree in furniture manufacturing and design, programs are available that can help you launch a career. A Bachelor of Fine Arts in Furniture Design will usually require 120-180 hours of study. Courses will include various levels of drawing, computer design and modeling programs, furniture design history, art survey and design techniques. You can expect to spend a considerable amount of time in a studio working with creative concepts and construction. And, many furniture design programs offer required or elective courses in metalworking, plastics construction and fabrics, in addition to classes in woodworking and design essentials.
A Master of Arts degree program requires 45 hours of work, whereas a Master of Fine Arts can require 60-90 hours, depending on the school. Both programs will cover subjects such as presentation, design principles, the evolution of furniture design and interior design theory. You will need to create a final presentation or a complete a unique line of furniture that you have created in order to receive criticism and graduate.