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Wood Processing Worker

Kaimahi Kani Rākau

Alternative titles for this job

Wood processing workers set up and use woodworking machinery to cut logs into timber for building, furniture and other products.


Wood processing workers usually earn

$48K-$50K per year

Source: Competenz, 2017.

Job opportunities

Chances of finding work as a wood processing worker are average due to lower overseas demand for processed wood.


Pay for wood processing workers varies depending on experience.

  • Trainee wood processing workers usually earn minimum wage or a little more a year.
  • Qualified wood processing workers can earn up to $50,000.

Source: Competenz, 2017.

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)

What you will do

Wood processing workers may do some or all of the following:

  • operate sawmill machinery, log loaders and forklifts
  • sort, stack and grade timber
  • trim timber pieces to a standard length
  • record timber sizes and grades and the amount of timber in the yard
  • design and make templates and knives
  • check and maintain equipment
  • clean the work areas and equipment
  • package and wrap timber for delivery.

Skills and knowledge

Wood processing workers need to have knowledge of:

  • the sawmill process
  • timber characteristics
  • the sizes and grades of timber required for different products
  • safety procedures
  • mechanical skills for doing basic maintenance on machinery.

Working conditions

Wood processing workers:

  • work regular business hours, but may do shift work and work weekends
  • work in sawmills and timber yards, and may work in noisy and dusty conditions.

What's the job really like?

Wood processing worker video

Daniel Hales talks about how to become a timber machinist – 2:22 mins. (Video courtesy of Competenz)

Daniel: My name is Daniel Hales, I work at Kiwi Lumber as a timber machinist. Kiwi Lumber is a sawmill located in Dannevirke. I had heard about Kiwi Lumber and had a friend working out here so I thought I'd come out and apply for a job.

So my boss came and approached me about doing the apprenticeship and I was really keen to do it. I was interested in doing it because I watched all the guys up on the machine and it looked very hands-on and skilful and it seemed a challenge.

So the apprenticeship lasts approximately three to four years. It consists of four block courses, three weeks at a time in Rotorua, you work on one a year usually. I started about four months ago and I really enjoy it, really enjoy it

This apprenticeship would suit anybody that likes to be hands-on, is skilful and is very patient, definitely. Also somebody that is hardworking and keen to learn new skills every day.

Being a qualified machinist will bring a lot of opportunities to me; moving on from here going anywhere around the country, or even overseas, they're always looking for timber machinists and there's always going to be timber mills.

Personally, there's good money so yeah, I'll be able to buy a house or travel or do whatever.

The greatest advantages of doing this apprenticeship is you earn while you're learning.

The most enjoyable thing is seeing a raw product come in and machining it down to a finished product, for example, decking, weatherboard.

Another reason I like working with Kiwi Lumber is that I come to work and there's a good bunch of guys to work with. Everyone gets along which is a big deal.

I enjoy setting up the machine, it's very technical, you're working with very expensive equipment and it takes a lot of skills.

So far my apprenticeship has been straightforward, but I know that if I had trouble with anything I can ring Competenz and they'd help.I see my account manager from Competenz every three to four months, she's been a great help and who always talks to me and works through things with me.

My apprenticeship means the world to me now with loads of career opportunities in the near future. I'm happy I've taken this timber machinist apprenticeship. Everything starts with a dream.

Entry requirements

To become a wood processing worker you need to complete an apprenticeship and gain a New Zealand Certificate in Solid Wood Manufacturing (Level 2 to Level 4). Competenz oversees apprenticeships.

A forklift licence is useful.

Secondary education

There are no specific secondary education requirements to become a wood processing worker. However, construction and mechanical technologies, maths and processing technologies are useful.

Personal requirements

Wood processing workers need to be:

  • practical
  • careful and efficient
  • safety-conscious
  • able to remain calm under pressure.

Useful experience

Useful experience for wood processing workers includes:

  • work in the timber or forestry industries
  • work with heavy machinery
  • engineering experience.

Physical requirements

Wood processing workers need to have a good level of health and fitness. They also need to have normal colour vision and good hand-eye co-ordination.

Find out more about training

0800 526 1800 - -

What are the chances of getting a job?

Chances of finding work as a wood processing worker are average, as although there is high demand for processed wood from the construction industry, there is increasingly low demand for processed wood from overseas.

Lack of wood to process limits jobs

Higher demand for unprocessed wood from overseas means many local sawmills don't have enough unprocessed wood to turn into products.

Sawmills may close if the high demand for unprocessed wood from overseas continues. With less sawmills, it will be harder to find a job as a wood processing worker.

According to the Census, 3,205 wood processing workers worked in New Zealand in 2018.

Small range of employers 

Wood processing workers work for sawmills and wood processing companies.


  • Competenz website, accessed July 2017, (
  • Employers and Manufacturers Association, 'Business Confidence Strong, Skills Shortage is a Concern', 07 December 2016, (
  • Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, 'Short-Term Employment Forecasts: 2017-2020', May 2017, (
  • Radio New Zealand, 'Wood-Processing Industry Under Threat – Wood Council', 16 August 2016, (
  • Soo, P, digital experience executive, Competenz, Careers Directorate – Tertiary Education Commission interview, July 2017.
  • Stats NZ, '2018 Census data',2019.
  • Wood Council of New Zealand, 'Forest Industry's Challenge to Manage Supply', 12 August 2016, (
  • Wood Processors and Manufacturers Association of New Zealand, 'Crisis in New Zealand Log Supply', 28 July 2016, (
  • Wood Processors and Manufacturers Association of New Zealand, 'Log Grab: Quick Cuts Endanger Jobs', 25 August 2016, (

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)

Progression and specialisations

Wood processing workers may progress into management or supervisory roles.

Wood processing workers may specialise in:

  • finger jointing
  • timber machining.


A wood processing worker planes a plank of wood.

Wood processing workers turn logs of wood into timber

Last updated 27 March 2024