Kaihanga Kapata Taonga
This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
Cabinet makers make and repair furniture for homes, businesses and boats.
Cabinet makers 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 cabinet makers varies depending on experience.
- Trainee cabinet makers usually earn between $28,000 and $30,000 a year.
- Qualified cabinet makers usually earn between $40,000 and $50,000 a year.
What you will do
Cabinet makers may do some or all of the following:
- use computer-aided design (CAD) programs to design furniture
- select timber and other materials, and cut to size
- screw or glue the pieces together, and attach fittings such as handles
- trim, sand and polish or paint furniture
- repair or replace damaged furniture parts
- program computers to operate machinery
- calculate costs if they have their own cabinet-making business
- supervise other cabinet makers if working in a factory.
Skills and knowledge
Cabinet makers need to have:
- knowledge of furniture styles, and timber and cabinet-making materials
- cabinet-making skills, including knowledge of furniture-making and repair methods
- design skills
- technical drawing skills and the ability to read diagrams
- knowledge of production standards
- the ability to operate machinery and use tools correctly.
Self employed cabinet makers need marketing and business skills.
- usually work regular business hours but may work late or weekends to complete orders
- work in factories or small workshops
- work in conditions that can be noisy, dusty and may contain fumes.
What's the job really like?
Joel checks out two furniture manufacturing companies - 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 cabinet maker you need to complete an apprenticeship and gain a National Certificate in Furniture Making (Level 4) through Competenz.
Marine cabinet makers can gain a National Certificate in Boatbuilding - Cabinet Making (Level 4) from the New Zealand Marine Industry Training Organisation.
- Competenz website - information on training in cabinet making and furniture
- New Zealand Marine Industry Training Organisation website - information on boat building apprenticeships and other marine-related training
There are no specific secondary educational requirements, but three years of secondary education in English and maths are recommended. Other useful subjects include woodwork, technical drawing, and workshop technology.
Cabinet makers must be:
- quick and neat in their work
- accurate, with an eye for detail
- able to work independently or as part of a team (if working in a furniture factory).
You need an eye for detail, so that your design in one bit isn't clashing with the design in another bit. Sometimes you can have a very square look, and if you have a square look then you don't want to have any round bits.
Russell Tuck - Cabinet maker
Useful experience for cabinet makers includes:
- furniture sales work
- courses or work in carpentry or joinery.
Cabinet makers need to have good hand-eye co-ordination and steady hands. People with asthma or other breathing problems need to be able to control these conditions in the workshop.
Find out more about training
- 0800 526 1800 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.competenz.org.nz
- NZ Marine Industry Training Organisation
- 09 360 0056 - email@example.com - www.nzmarine.com
What are the chances of getting a job?
Opportunities for getting work as an apprentice cabinet maker have risen significantly in the last two years, as more employers want to take on apprentices. This is because interior fit outs are increasingly needed for:
- shops and houses being built following the Christchurch earthquakes
- the rising number of houses being built in other parts of the country, particularly Auckland.
Opportunities for experienced cabinet makers particularly good
Job opportunities for experienced cabinet makers are particularly good in the construction services industry because of the Christchurch and national building boom.
Types of employers
Cabinet makers work for:
- large furniture manufacturing plants
- small specialist furniture businesses.
Many cabinet makers run their own businesses or work as sole traders from home.
- Competenz, Careers New Zealand interview, September 2014.
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2003-2012 Occupation Data’ (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2012.
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, 'New Zealand Sectors Report - Construction 2013', November 2013, (www.mbie.govt.nz).
- New Zealand Herald, Gibson, A, 'Construction boom revs up', April 8, 2014, (www.nzherald.co.nz)
Progression and specialisations
Cabinet makers can progress into supervisor or management roles, or become self-employed.
They may also specialise in marine cabinets for boats, ships and yachts.
Last updated 28 September 2016