Kaiwhakapaipai Uhinga Waka
This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
Upholsterers make, install and attach the springs, padding, linings and covers of furniture.
Trainee upholsterers usually earn
$28K-$30K per year
Qualified upholsterers usually earn
$40K-$50K per year
Current job prospects
How many people are doing this job?
Source: Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2003-2012 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2012.
Pay for upholsterers varies depending on experience.
- Trainee upholsterers usually earn between the starting-out or training minimum wage and $30,000 a year.
- Qualified upholsterers usually earn between $40,000 and $50,000.
- MoreBusiness.com website - use this calculator to convert pay and salary information
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website - information about minimum pay rates
What you will do
Upholsterers may do some or all of the following:
- discuss requirements with customers
- remove, repair or replace damaged or worn furniture parts
- draw up patterns or cutting plans
- cut and sew fabrics to the right size and shape
- attach springs, padding and covers to furniture frames.
Skills and knowledge
Upholsterers need to have:
- knowledge of upholstery methods and materials
- knowledge of furniture styles
- knowledge of fabrics, threads, and colours
- sewing and pattern-making skills.
- usually work regular business hours
- work in workshops, factories, furniture shops, and homes.
What's the job really like?
Watch the video above to find out more about what's involved in being a furniture maker or upholsterer 5.56 mins. (Video courtesy of Competenz)
Clinton: Joel’s first stop is Danske Mobler. They are a large-scale modern furniture design & manufacturing company.
They produce for both outside clients and to supply their own retail showroom.
Richard: You do get a lot of satisfaction from making a piece or an item, and that’s what a lot of people who work with timber do, because it’s actually something you can visibly see. I think you’ve got to be a very practical person, good with your hands, and an ability to put that into practice.
Joel: Hi there, I’m Joel.
Richard: Gidday Joel, I’m Richard. Would you like to come and see what we do?
Joel: Yes please.
Clinton: As a top-end manufacturer, the majority of Danske Mobler’s products are made from solid wood, so finish is everything.
Richard: Just slide your hand across the top and pull it out with that hand.
Richard: You’ve got a finished surface which is clean and straight, ready for the next operation.
Clinton: Because Danske Mobler deal in large volume production, many operations are computer-controlled.
Richard: OK Joel, this is what we call a C&C machine, so we’ve got a lot of facility on here, it’s a multiple boring machine as well as routering, and we can do a whole lot of horizontal boring as well. We’ve got 33 drills, we’ve got three large routers and for the object we’re going to do today, we’re going to be boring a whole series of screw holes for a table.
Richard: OK Joel, this is an edge-bander for putting veneer tape on. Basically what happens with this machine is that you have your veneer tape here, it runs through on a conveyor belt – your work piece. We have a glue tank in here. The veneer tape gets put on, the saw cuts off the excess off one end and the excess off another end. Two little knives trim the top and bottom and take the veneer off flush.
Richard: OK, now just turn it around and have a look at it. We check to make sure that it’s clean, check to make sure that there’s no damage and that it’s stuck on. It’s all good.
Richard: You’re always screaming out for people – young guys that are coming through, and girls that want to do a trade in furniture making and machinery cabinet making.
Clinton: Within the furniture industry there are other disciplines that apprentices may wish to specialise in – such as finishing and upholstery.
Mike: Well Joel, what we’re going to do today is we’re going to actually convert one of these, into one of these.
Joel: That sounds cool.
Mike: I’m passionate about what I do, I enjoy what I do, the work is rewarding. It has... as I say, it’s colourful, you pick up different chair in a different colour and you feel as though you’re doing a new thing every time.
Joel: It’s nice and comfortable!
Clinton: Next, Joel is off to try his hand at more traditional furniture making. Molloy specialise in making one-off pieces of furniture – from rough-sawn wood through to the finished item.
Chris: Wood is just a natural product, it’s warm, it’s giving. I just like the fact that you can make something tangible, and at the end of the day you can see what you’ve done. It’s rewarding to think that what you do for a job is good enough for people to pay for and put it in their house and you meet the people and you deal with them. And most people come back time and time again, and you sort of build up a relationship with them and it’s really nice.
Chris: All right, so what we mostly do is just one-offs – make orders for customers to their own specs, and they have rough sketches of what they want. So I thought we’d make a DVD rack or a CD rack or something. Have you got any ideas of what you want to do?
Joel: Yep, I’ve got a few ideas!
Chris: Cool, just sketch something up.
Joel: And there we have it.
Chris: All right, so the next step is timber.
Chris: Our apprenticeships tend to go faster, because the guys are doing more work on a daily basis, like different machines on a daily basis. We generally are able to knock at least a year off an apprenticeship. We have a different mindset that we’d rather everyone can do everything, so you understand all the facets of the job, so you make it easier for the next person, if there is a next person.
Chris: I guess that if you enjoy your job and you enjoy the materials you’re working with, you’re going to have much nicer day at work and it makes coming to work every day more enjoyable. In saying that, for lots of people, it grows on them a bit – the smell of it, the feel of it. To some people it’s just a block of wood, just a piece of dead tree, but I just enjoy making things, and I like training people. I just really enjoy it – I wouldn’t do anything else!
Chris: All right Joel, that’s how you turn a piece of raw wood into a piece of finished furniture.
Chris: And it will look even better when it’s got DVDs in it!
Chris: Yeah, we’d definitely look at Joel for an apprenticeship. He’s keen on woodworking, he listens – we’d give him a crack.
Richard: Joel did well, he hopefully picked up a few ideas about the trade, what we do and what it’s all about.
Joel: I enjoyed getting in there, putting my hands into it and getting into it and getting dirty.
Clinton: Apprenticeships range from two-and-a-half to four years. This is a great career for people who have a passion for wood and like working with their hands. There are no specific education requirements but NCEA Level 1 English and maths are preferred. Other useful subjects include woodwork, technical drawing and workshop technology. Qualifications within the industry include Level 4 National Certificates in Furniture Making, Upholstery or Furniture Finishing.
To become a qualified upholsterer you need to complete an apprenticeship and gain a National Certificate in Furniture (Level 4), specialising in upholstery, through Competenz.
Three years of secondary education in English and maths, and Level 1 technology is recommended.
Upholsterers need to be neat and accurate in their work, with an eye for detail.
Useful experience for upholsterers includes:
- work in the furniture industry
- sales work
- factory work
- sewing work.
Upholsterers need to have steady hands and good hand-eye co-ordination.
Find out more about training
- 0800 526 1800 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.competenz.org.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
It can be difficult to get into this job as there are few positions available for upholstery apprentices. This is because:
- more furniture is imported, so fewer apprentices are needed
- furniture manufacturers only take on new apprentices when the business expands or an upholsterer leaves
Experienced upholsterers are in demand
However, qualified and experienced upholsterers are in demand. Following the Canterbury 2010 and 2011 earthquakes and the Christchurch rebuild, the job of upholster is on Immigration New Zealand's immediate skill shortage list, and on Immigration New Zealand's Canterbury skill shortage list, which means the Government is actively encouraging skilled furniture upholsterers from overseas to work in New Zealand.
Types of employers
Upholsterers work for:
- large furniture manufacturing plants
- small specialist furniture restoration businesses.
Many upholsterers run their own businesses or work as sole traders from home. Some do contract work for interior design firms. They may also offer restoration and repair work.
- Competenz, Careers New Zealand interview, September 2014.
- Immigration New Zealand, 'Canterbury Skill Shortage List', accessed September 2014, (www.immigration.govt.nz).
- Immigration New Zealand, 'Immediate Skill Shortage List', accessed September 2014, (www.immigration.govt.nz).
- Ministry of Business,Innovation and Employment, '2003-2012 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2012.
Progression and specialisations
Upholsterers may progress to run their own businesses.
Last updated 3 June 2016