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  1. #1
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    Question Who does what: Joiner/Cabinet Maker/Furniture Maker

    Rather than posting in the Employment section, I'm hitting here in the hope of more viewers and input...

    I've just finished a short pre-apprenticeship course in Carpentry, Joinery and Furniture Making to get some official recognition for what I can already do but I'm having trouble figuring out which trade does what jobs exactly (except carpentry) and where I should be looking for the kind of work that's going to satisfy me.

    I would really prefer being able to work with natural timbers primarily and it's the kind of projects that appear in Woodsmith magazine that I REALLY would like to be doing at an apprentice/professional level - tables, benches, cupboards, bookshelves, chairs, beds, drawers, entertainment units etc.

    I also wouldn't mind doing timber windows, doors and stairs. Heck, I could probably manage a few really fine kitchens or bathrooms a year too, but they're not something I'd like to be stuck doing for the rest of my life.

    As I understand it at the moment, a traditional joinery/joiner does the latter, as well as laundries and storage cabinets (mostly with chipboard/laminate). But is it a cabinet maker or furniture maker that makes the prior "Woodsmith" items, or does some of that fall into joinery too? In my mind, there's a blurring between a joiner and a cabinet maker, and a furniture maker and a cabinet maker, but not one between a joiner and a furniture maker.

    I know I don't want to get stuck making only CNC kitchens, laundries and bathrooms out of manufactured products so I've been avoiding sending resumes to dedicated kitchen center type joineries.

    For what it's worth, the products shown on this site (and one of the places I could *definitely* handle working at) - Ballarat Furniture Company - would probably give me the ultimate job satisfaction. I LOVE their stuff. Sure, it's obvious it's a furniture place, but are the staff furniture makers and/or cabinet makers and would a joiner do that kind of work as well as the usual kitchen/laundry/bathoom/doors/windows/stairs?

    Set me straight o' wise and experienced ones

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  3. #2
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    Hi Red shirt guy,
    A Joiner would be mostly machining timber and constructing door and window joinery staircases and the like, Cabinetmaker these days would be mostly making boxes out of board products eg.Kitchens and vanity units some melamine some fancy veneer. Furniture maker possibly solid timber and fancy veneer in various forms be it chairs,tables or cabinetry including free flowing form's.
    Well that's my take on it for what it's worth.
    Regards Rod.

  4. #3
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    In Vic, Furniture Making and Cabinet Making aprenticeships went through the same section of TAFE until recently. Now they have split the courses, so cabinet makers only get to work with manufactured board and furniture makers work with real wood. Therefore given the preferences you express, I am thinking Joinery or Furniture Making might be more in your line, assuming that these changes are occuring in your area also.

  5. #4
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    I suspect that it may be somewhat different from business to business. I did an apprenticeship as a cabinet maker here. During that time I learned to make solid timber furniture in the Arts and Crafts tradition. Unlike the apprentices in factories I later worked in in Perth, WA my 'cabinet making' apprenticeship included wood machining and polishing.

    In addition, because this was a small shop (the boss and 5 staff) in a small country town we did a lot of work for builders that would normally be considered as Joinery/Carpentry work, making and installing doors/frames, windows, staircases and wall panelling.
    It was also quite common in this part of Yorkshire (and elsewhere for all I know) for the cabinet maker/carpenter/joiner in small towns to be the undertaker as well so I learned coffin making.

  6. #5
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    Rod: That sounds about right. My teachers were joiners/carpenters and couldn't specifically say if I should head towards cabinet maker or furniture maker. From what I could bleed out of them a joiner/cabinet maker would be pretty lucky to work with solid timber around here (besides doors, windows and stairs).

    Malb: At TAFE it sounded like those changes have happened here too, hence some of the confusion between the old and the new.

    Phil: What you did in the UK and WA is what I thought a joiner/cabinet maker did. I guess that was in the good old days of not specialising for better business returns. Funnily enough earlier in the year I'd looked at a vacancy for an apprentice coffin maker but thought I'd get bored making too similar things...as lovely as they looked.


    It's clearer now that furniture maker is probably the direction I should be heading career-wise. I had thought that maybe I could do joinery/cabinet maker for work and satisfy my furniture desire at home but I just don't get enough time to do anything substantial after hours, so I'm sure I'd go mad if I tried that.

    Thanks for the input thus far guys. Keep it coming. I'd still like to hear from someone who's been in these trades for only a few years and can tell me about what they're seeing now.

  7. #6
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    Aaaah!!!!

  8. #7
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    I was always taught that;

    Cabinet Makers work to the thou'

    Furniture makers work to a 1/32 inch

    and

    Joiners work Monday to Friday.
    Dragonfly
    No-one suspects the dragonfly!

  9. #8
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    Range View, Australia
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    The only thing I can add would be to avoid the big places. If you work in a small shop you'll be called on to do everything. No matter if you do sheet work or solid timber there is a lot to learn about making boxes to the exact size ordered, in a reasonable time.
    Cheers, Bill

  10. #9
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    Going on my past experience I would recommend looking for a apprentice in what is called the Shop Fitting Industry and or what is called the Office Fit out Industry . In these industries you would get experience in all aspects of Joinery , Cabinet Making and Furniture Making and even in working in metal work such as Aluminium and Stainless Steel.
    Regards .
    Mac

  11. #10
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    Here we go dr4g0nfly whats the difference between a cabinet maker and a carpenter - about 2", was the saying when I was a youngster. It always amazed me as an apprentice Pattern maker that as a pattern maker you had a tool box full of precise hand tool's that cost a fortune and the skill to use them and were paid the lowest of all timber trades then you became a cabinet maker and got some hand tools and a few power tool's and reasonable skill level and got paid a bit more or you became a form worker had a hammer a nail bag and say huh and got paid a heap of money. And I worked in them all and still can't work it out.
    Regards Rod.

  12. #11
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    @Ball Peen: Agree with you there. Ideally I'd be part of a small team and be able to talk directly with a boss who is across everything so I can discuss ideas without having to climb through a tree of other managers. A good variety of different work is going to keep my happier too.

    @Malcom: Yeh, some of the office/shop joints around here have nice looking products too. The metal work would be a bonus as I like mixing materials in projects. I'm just afraid that in those industries I'd get stuck with more chipboard and veneers than I'd probably like, although the mix of jobs is appealing. It's something to consider as a backup plan if I can't land a #1 job. I just don't want to waste anyone's time working for them until something I really want turns up. I know I can't be too picky but this career change has a big "love" factor to it that will need to be satisfied.

    @Rod: At TAFE it would crack me up how the carpenters and the joiners would bicker at each other over their "gap tolerances". I was also kind of steered away from furniture (which I think is the finer, higher skilled craft) because of the lower pay. It gives me the irrits...the finer the skill, the less the value...and that's not meant to be an offensive comment on chippies and joiners either

  13. #12
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    Try to find work in the field you most enjoy, but dont be surprised if positions are hard to find in the furniture trade. I have worked in all the areas you have mentioned plus yacht fitouts and now, in semi retirement, am able to indulge myself with the pleasures of furniture making. IMHO this is the most satisfying field in which to work. There is nothing like a nice bit of stick, a satisfied customer and a sense of achievement.

  14. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by rustynail View Post
    There is nothing like a nice bit of stick, a satisfied customer and a sense of achievement.
    Damn straight!!

  15. #14
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    I'm off to do a full-time year long course in furniture making next year, so I'll let you know how it goes

  16. #15
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    Neat. Would love to hear/see about it.
    Are you doing it for self satisfaction or is there another purpose?

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