Ringa Pūrere Rākau
This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
Wood machinists set up and operate specialised woodworking machinery to transform wood into finished products such as finger-jointed skirting board, planed timber for furniture and joinery, or surfaced lumber for export.
Wood machinists usually earn
$16-$30 per hour
How much a wood machinist earns depends on qualifications, skills and experience.
- Trainee wood machinists usually earn between minimum wage and $15 an hour.
- Once trained, wood machinists usually earn between $17 and $30 an hour.
- MoreBusiness.com website - use this calculator to convert pay and salary information
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website - information about minimum pay rates
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job information)
What you will do
Wood machinists may do some or all of the following:
- check saws, blades and other equipment to make sure they're working properly and safely
- design and make templates and knives
- use planers, moulders, surfacers and other machinery to surface wood and make veneer panels
- maintain machinery and parts
- check timber is manufactured to the right size and quality
- pack manufactured timber.
Skills and knowledge
Wood machinists need to have:
- knowledge of the sawmilling process
- knowledge of wood characteristics, sizes and quality
- practical skills to operate machinery
- knowledge of safety procedures in the wood processing plant
- knowledge of how to operate computer-controlled machines.
- work regular business hours but may work overtime
- work in wood processing plants and workshops
- work in conditions that may be noisy, hot and dusty.
What's the job really like?
Watch the video below to find out about being a sawmill operator, saw doctor or timber machinist - 6.20 min. (Video courtesy of FITEC, the wood industries training organisation)
Clinton: Well Isaia, we may have the perfect opportunity for you with the largest employer in Taupo. Tenon is an award-winning sawmill, taking high-quality clear wood and creating products for the American DIY market. The general manager of the Taupo site is Mark Taylor, who will take you through the mill's processes, once you’ve had your safety briefing.
Mark: When we’re employing someone to come and work with us at Tenon, there are several things that we’re looking for. First and foremost, we’re looking for people that have a good attitude, that have good values, good timekeeping and are prepared to give things a go.
Mark: So we’re in the head-rig now, and this is where the logs are initially broken down. Guy has got a really important job here, because he has to take the log on to the carriage and then look to extract the clear wood, or the high grade, from the outside of the log.
Mark: So the control stick Guy is using is similar to a helicopter, and you can see that Guy is needing to co-ordinate with both hands a number of jobs, as well as foot pedals, so it’s a really technical job.
Clinton: The central block contains knots formed when branches grow, making the timber low quality. Tenon specialises in timber milled from the outer layers that grow once the branches have been trimmed off. That is called clear wood, and has four times the value. But to get the most out of that clear wood, the saws need to be sharp, so you better call in the doctor, the saw doctor.
Isaia: So what is saw doctoring?
Chris: Saw doctoring is mainly is maintaining the saws we use in the sawmill. Every sawmill has saws, therefore a saw doctor is an important part of any sawmill.
Clinton: The big band saws are flattened to ensure a straight cut before being sharpened.
Chris: The classic signs of the saws going well is when you don’t see any of those guys out there. If there’s problems with the saws out there, they’ll be in here, and we’re lucky enough that we seldom see them.
Clinton: Much of the process is automated, but some blades are still straightened by hand.
Chris: So start here, check that little section there and see if you can find any lumps in it.
Isaia: Yeah, there’s one over here.
Chris: Yep, OK grab your hammer and level it.
Clinton: Is Isaia’s grip on the tools steady enough to make him a saw surgeon?
Chris: That is nice and flat.
Clinton: The saw is straight, so the timber’s not going to turn to dust, which is good because it’s back to the factory where the lumber is sorted and stacked ready to be dried.
Mark: Well we’re down at the kilns now, and you can see this timber has come out of the sawmill, it’s been filleted. We place these fillet stickers in between the boards and that’s to allow consistent air flow to dry the timber. So this timber is now going to head into the kilns.
Mark: So the kilns behind me run at temperatures up to 180 degrees. We’re fortunate in that they’re fuelled through geothermal heat, and the kiln drying can take anything from one to five days.
Mark: So we’re at the back of the kilns now. This timber has come out of the kilns. It’s between 10 and 12 percent moisture content, and by drying it that low we prevent any risk of sap-stain.
Clinton: The timber is dry and ready to be processed in the moulding factory. Each plank is individually cut to get the highest-quality result. The heart of the operation is the grinding room, where the blades are set and sharpened. Moulding line plant supervisor Peter Carter will show Isaia how it’s done.
Peter: Welcome to the grinding room. We’re going to turn this piece of clear wood here into this profile here. And this is the head that does it, with all these knives going around. Once this head is set on the machine, it spins at 6000 revolutions per minute.
Clinton: Isaia gets the chance to set the knives into the head.
Peter: Slide it in to the pocket, place it there, flush on both sides, grab the knife and slip it in. Yep, like that.
Clinton: If the blades are not in line, the head gets unbalanced, and at 6000 revolutions a minute all sorts of things can go wrong, so Isaia has to get it right.
Peter: So now we're going to place the head on the CMA stand, and we’re going to put all the knives into the same cutting circle. First we’ll turn it on, see that? It’s on the O-line. That’s good, turn it around to the next knife – not quite in the right cutting circle. Tap that knife across a bit, give it a little tweak, and that’s that knife done. Move on to the next one. Right, now you have a go.
Clinton: Once Isaia has got the blades in line, they are sharpened either by hand or automatically. Then they are ready for use in the moulders, where Peter shows Isaia a head ready to go.
Peter: You can actually see the head in there. So that's spinning, cutting the profile...
Clinton: The mouldings are used to edge windows and doors, it’s all about adding value. Off-cuts are used as kindling and all other by-products of the manufacturing process are either used as fuel or in the production of particle board, paper and the like. The goal is for Tenon to extract every scrap of viable timber. The mouldings are being packed into the container ready to start their journey to the United States. So what did Isaia think of his time at the mill?
Isaia: It was pretty good to see how the machine runs and all that stuff, where the logs come from, where all the wood goes to and all that stuff, so yeah, it was pretty good. I found the head-rig pretty interesting for me, just how the controls work and stuff like that. It was pretty good.
Clinton: Workers generally start off as a table hand sorting timber, a filleter or yard hand and can move on from there. Students can study national certificates in a full range of positions in the sawmill, including log yard operator, saw doctor and timber machinist. As mills become more automated, jobs skills are evolving, creating new challenges for the mill and it’s employees.
There are no entry requirements to become a wood machinist. However, some employers prefer to employ wood machinists who have or are working towards a qualification.
Wood machinists can do a New Zealand Certificate in Timber Machining (formerly National Certificate in Timber Machining) through Competenz. This qualification can be completed on the job, and by attending a series of block courses at a polytechnic. It can be completed through a traineeship or New Zealand Apprenticeship.
A first-aid certificate is also useful.
- New Zealand Apprenticeships website - information about the scheme
- Competenz website - information on careers in solid wood processing
There are no specific secondary school educational requirements, but NCEA Level 1 maths, science, technology and English are useful.
Wood machinists need to be:
- accurate, with an eye for detail
- safety conscious.
Useful experience includes:
- work in a sawmill or timber yard
- forestry work
- mechanical engineering work.
Wood machinists need to be reasonably fit and strong as they may have to do heavy lifting. Good hand-eye co-ordination is also important.
Find out more about training
- 0800 526 1800 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.competenz.org.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Although demand for sawn products has improved after a severe drop in demand during the 2008-2009 recession, job numbers are only slowly increasing.
Increased demand for sawn timber products is due to:
- higher demand from the construction industry for timber products due to major building projects happening throughout the country, particularly the Christchurch rebuild
- strong demand for New Zealand sawn timber by international markets such as China.
If demand for sawn timber products continues to increase, demand for wood machinists will pick up.
Growth in emerging markets, such as India, may also lead to an increasing demand for timber and raw logs in future.
Wide distribution of sawmills and high turnover creates opportunities for new wood machinists
The distribution of sawmills (there are 29), and wood product manufacturers around the country, means a steady supply of skilled labour is needed for production. With reasonably high turnover in the industry, new wood machinists who are able to demonstrate a mechanical aptitude and have a positive attitude are more likely to be taken on and trained by employers. Approximately 19% of wood machinists have a Level 4 trade certificate.
Types of employers
Wood machinists work for sawmills and wood processing companies.
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2003-2012 Occupational Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2012.
- Ministry for Primary Industries, 'Situation and Outlook for Primary Industries (June 2014), 2014, (www.mpi.govt.nz).
- Statistics New Zealand, ‘Census of Population and Dwellings’, 2014 (www.stats.govt.nz).
- The sawmill datatase, (www.sawmilldatabase.com,) accessed November 2014.
Progression and specialisations
Experienced wood machinists can move into a charge-hand role or become a supervisor or assessor.
Last updated 7 June 2017