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Thread: Finding an Apprenticeship

  1. #1
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    Finding an Apprenticeship

    I'm determined to find an apprenticeship to become a furniture maker/cabinetmaker, and my dream is to become an apprentice. I've built up a tiny apartment workshop with hand tools, and I'm in the process of building myself a Scandinavian cabinetmakers bench. As much as books and Youtube have been helpful, I am much more interested in learning from an experienced craftsperson in a hands on way. Although I'm in Chicago, I figured that this community at large might have tips or thoughts that might be helpful.

    Thanks in advance!!

  2. #2
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    First thing that comes to my mind is you need to start hitting the sidewalks. Chicago is a huge population area and probably has dozens to maybe hundreds of cabinet shops. Google them and make a list. Then start visiting those on your list. Walk in and tell them you are looking for a job. Sooner or later one of them will have so much work piled up they will hire a low/non experienced person. You might go through a bunch of shops while looking, but with persistence you will succeed.

  3. #3
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    I really doubt if there are hundreds of cabinet shops in Chicago. Expensive real estate is a major factor up there. Lots of places selling cabinets, but shops and factories are not that common. Furniture making shops would be even more rare. But I'm sure there are some, maybe a lot of 2-3 man shops in that genre. Might look into a co-op where you share shop space and have the opportunity to learn from others. It would be tough to take the time for them to teach since they have to be struggling for income right now. I would suggest you also check here, https://www.carpentersunion.org/prog...ement-program/ I wonder about the salaries paid for apprentices and the cost of living in Chicago. Might be an opportunity to leave Chicago and find a smaller town where apprentice wages will provide well enough.

  4. #4
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    Do you plan on making your living through woodworking? If so you are on the right track by thinking of working for someone else to learn.
    If I was a young man I would love to get a job with Thomas Moser's furniture company, for me they make some of the most beautiful chairs. They are big enough to have employees, and small enough that their quality is great, in both design and execution.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Gibney View Post
    Do you plan on making your living through woodworking? If so you are on the right track by thinking of working for someone else to learn.
    If I was a young man I would love to get a job with Thomas Moser's furniture company, for me they make some of the most beautiful chairs. They are big enough to have employees, and small enough that their quality is great, in both design and execution.
    Big enough to have employees is a bit of an understatement! There are going to more and more automation. I think the only hand work on their classic chairs left is loading the seat blanks into a CNC router, loading strips into gluing forms, and then hand scraping and forming the bow back. A 2019 article says they have 88,000-square-foot manufacturing facility and 110-person staff


  6. #6
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    Depending on your definition of "an apprenticeship" I cant fathom that you couldnt land yourself somewhere almost instantaneously with some face to face networking and introduction. I kind of agree with Richard in that most areas it may be tricky to find a "furniture maker" that is productive enough to consider taking someone on who needs an income commensurate with full time employment but I have a hard time believing there isnt a shop within lets say a 50 mile radius (painful daily commute but welcome to my world) that wouldnt snatch up an eager individual in a nano-second. Its pretty much every shop owners dream to find someone eager to learn and that also understands that apprenticeship means working your way up. That doesnt mean making poverty level wages or working for free but that it takes time for a shop to get you up to speed and have faith in their increased capacity on your behalf. If you were then willing to commute farther or even relocate your prospects would grow exponentially.

    On the flip side, not wanting to impart any amount of cockiness to your pursuit, given what you are likely looking for you would need to be qualifying them as an employer just as much as they would be qualifying you as an employee. Going to work in a melamine cabinet production shop that does zero bench work is likely not going to make you happy. That said, finding a bespoke shop that works like a bunch of tibetan monks whittling furniture out of carefully harvested tree stumps would likely land you in a shop that cant afford to pay you.

    If I were young and had your pursuit in mind I would be compiling a massive qualified list in an excel or google docs spread sheet of any and all potential prospects in the radius your willing to cover. I would qualify them on size, type of work, distance, and so on. And then I would set aside the time to contact, arrange a time to visit, and have a quick interaction being respectful of their time. Many could likely be a knock and talk. Leave them a contact card. After the visit take a lot of notes. Add them to your qualifier list and work down from there.

    I will guarantee you your phone will likely ring before you return to some of them. I will bet you a few will want to snatch you up before you get too far afoot. At the very least you will gather gobs and gobs of valuable information and networking contacts.
    Last edited by Mark Bolton; 10-30-2020 at 4:53 PM.
    Sometimes I just want to look at pretty pictures,... Thats when I go to the Turners Forum

  7. #7
    Benjamin,
    Some really good points above. To that Vistaprint.com used to have free business cards.

    One thing I think you should look for (personally) is a furniture/cabinet repair shop. If furniture is what you're looking at making. I'm in the far west burbs of Chicagoland (heyo) and there is George Saupp violins. They have a repair shop here and in Chicago. I think with repair you'll get the knowledge & variety. Perhaps you might consider re-upholstering as well but I'm not sure how much wood working a shop like that would do. Here's to hoping for your sucess.

    Daniel

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Richard Coers View Post
    A 2019 article says they have 88,000-square-foot manufacturing facility and 110-person staff

    Wow! I had no idea. I pictured low winter light through the windows as the men pushed handplanes over the benches, men who carry their own sandwiches wrapped in brown paper for lunch and who still wear neckties to the job.

  9. #9
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    Do commercial hand built furniture shops even exist anymore? I know small cabinet shops are an endangered species, but still some out there. Not much resembling traditional woodworking in the cabinet shops that actually make a profit in my experience.

    Don't mean to discourage Benjamin but if considering going into a career making sawdust, keep in mind the word career. Lots of people woodwork and furniture build, but most of those are hobby pursuits that do not need to make a living from the woodworking. It's trickier to find something in the field that people will pay a living wage for you to do. In my experience, unless your name is Nakashima or Maloof already, you will have a pretty hard time selling pretty furniture for the $ it costs to build, and even if you do succeed in building a brand that people will pay that extra bit to get you a comfortable living, it will have taken many years to accomplish. There are other paths though in the trades that allow you to work making sawdust and a pretty good living. Finish carpentry for example. Maybe widen your search a little.

    FYI, when we hire someone, reliable and sober will get them a job, willingness and ability to learn will graduate them from cleanup guy to however high they want to go.
    Last edited by Steve Rozmiarek; 10-31-2020 at 9:20 AM.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Rozmiarek View Post
    Do commercial hand built furniture shops even exist anymore? I know small cabinet shops are an endangered species, but still some out there. Not much resembling traditional woodworking in the cabinet shops that actually make a profit in my experience. .
    Yes, they do. Thos Moser and Nakashima studios are just two examples and there are many small makers out there that specialize in commission work or have specific products they produce to order from their own designs. There are multiple folks here at SMC who do work like that. There will always be a market for custom/hand-built products, but that market is decidedly "high end" at this point.

    Custom/Semi-custom cabinetry is probably a bigger market as it's more related to the real estate/housing/commercial market, but even there, mass market has a big foothold and a wide quality range. (It's easy to dismiss companies like Ikea in that respect, but their higher end cabinetry stuff is pretty decent) This is probably where the OP will find the most opportunity, but they are going to need to try and target organizations that use the kinds of skills they want to learn in their operation. Manufacturing has changed a lot so many tasks that used to be performed by individuals are done differently today. It's less "making" and more "assembling" due to automation, etc. There are still custom shops, however. My neighbor across the street and his partners are good examples. They build by hand and are tied into multiple architects to get their high-end work. Sometimes, they are even installing their work in NYC or beyond. But even so, they are earning a modest living.
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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Becker View Post
    Yes, they do. Thos Moser and Nakashima studios are just two examples and there are many small makers out there that specialize in commission work or have specific products they produce to order from their own designs. There are multiple folks here at SMC who do work like that. There will always be a market for custom/hand-built products, but that market is decidedly "high end" at this point.

    Custom/Semi-custom cabinetry is probably a bigger market as it's more related to the real estate/housing/commercial market, but even there, mass market has a big foothold and a wide quality range. (It's easy to dismiss companies like Ikea in that respect, but their higher end cabinetry stuff is pretty decent) This is probably where the OP will find the most opportunity, but they are going to need to try and target organizations that use the kinds of skills they want to learn in their operation. Manufacturing has changed a lot so many tasks that used to be performed by individuals are done differently today. It's less "making" and more "assembling" due to automation, etc. There are still custom shops, however. My neighbor across the street and his partners are good examples. They build by hand and are tied into multiple architects to get their high-end work. Sometimes, they are even installing their work in NYC or beyond. But even so, they are earning a modest living.
    Of course there will always be an exception to any statement made. America is huge, and there is always someone that has carved out their niche and are great at it. Finding that shop and getting an apprenticeship often leads to your own business. But to be successful at a niche career, it will take more than 1 apprenticeship. The first could be to learn woodworking skills, but those skills are pretty useless in a small business if you can't market your work. So a second apprenticeship will be needed with someone great at marketing. One of my best friends here in Peoria is the best marketing woodworker I know. When he finds someone interested in his work, he is not fixated in selling that piece to them, even though they usually do buy that piece that caught their eye, he is interested in making them a collector or patron of his work first. That starts with a dinner party or meeting for wine, and advances from there. To find that extremely small percentage of buyers like that, he traveled to only the best art shows in the country and moved his work more towards sculpture. Now Covid has killed that method of marketing. But his effort in forming patrons first has kept him making money with zero art shows since March 1. http://pearcepearce.com/one-of-a-kind

  12. #12
    This has me thinking of my beginnings long ago. The boss showed me around the shop then said "Here's your first tool - use it well" and handed me a broom.



  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Gornall View Post
    This has me thinking of my beginnings long ago. The boss showed me around the shop then said "Here's your first tool - use it well" and handed me a broom.
    More than one started off with that being their first tool. What you need to do is show you are glad to do it. Also ask questions. If it's a shop with a few people in it you'll figure out the ones who will be more likely to answer them. Also if you see someone feeding wood into a tool like a planer ask if you can help.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Becker View Post
    Yes, they do. Thos Moser and Nakashima studios are just two examples and there are many small makers out there that specialize in commission work or have specific products they produce to order from their own designs. There are multiple folks here at SMC who do work like that. There will always be a market for custom/hand-built products, but that market is decidedly "high end" at this point.

    Custom/Semi-custom cabinetry is probably a bigger market as it's more related to the real estate/housing/commercial market, but even there, mass market has a big foothold and a wide quality range. (It's easy to dismiss companies like Ikea in that respect, but their higher end cabinetry stuff is pretty decent) This is probably where the OP will find the most opportunity, but they are going to need to try and target organizations that use the kinds of skills they want to learn in their operation. Manufacturing has changed a lot so many tasks that used to be performed by individuals are done differently today. It's less "making" and more "assembling" due to automation, etc. There are still custom shops, however. My neighbor across the street and his partners are good examples. They build by hand and are tied into multiple architects to get their high-end work. Sometimes, they are even installing their work in NYC or beyond. But even so, they are earning a modest living.
    I'm glad to hear that some exist. I don't know of any around here that are not cabinet shops primarily and only a couple of them left, but this is a backwater. I've personally had a few furniture commissions, but definitely not enough to make a living from. Lot's of people want houses built though and some of them turn into some pretty in depth custom woodworking. The OP would definitely be able to dabble in pro woodworking through that career path if he wanted.

  15. #15
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    Probably you’ll have to move to an area near one of the successful medium sized shops doing the work you want to do. So; Boggs, Nakashima, Maloof, etc.
    Bumbling forward into the unknown.

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