A furniture finisher shapes, smoothens, or resmoothens damaged, worn, or used furniture or new furniture to a specified finish after which they wash the surfaces. Grinders, sanders, chisels, steel wool, pumice, and sandpaper are used for finishing, and materials used can include varnish, shellac, lacquer, stain, and/or paint. During the process, pieces of furniture are dried in rooms equipped with fans which blow warm air.
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Furniture finishers must evaluate furniture to appreciate the extent of any damage and then decide upon an optimal method for restoration and the equipment that is required for the job. They may have to estimate the cost of a job and they must also have a blueprint to follow.
When repairing damaged furniture, areas which are not to be finished are masked. Old finishes and damaged or deteriorated parts must be removed, possibly using hand tools, stripping tools, dip baths, solvents, abrasives, steel wool, or sandpaper. Excess solvents are also removed. Broken parts are repaired with screws, nails, glue, or putty. Cracks and depressions are filled and imperfections removed. Metal surfaces can be painted electrostatically or with a spray gun or other painting equipment. Usually, at least three coats are required.
Furniture finishers select and then mix ingredients to produce the required finish colors. The ingredients required depend on such factors as the surface type and hardness of the wood. Possible ingredients include wax, stain, oil, or paint. They spray, brush, or manually apply these ingredients to the wood. Items are sanded lightly between coats. Warped or stained surfaces are treated to produce the desired colors and contours. Surfaces are sometimes distressed with abrasives or woodworking tools to create an antique appearance and lacquer or other sealants are applied as well.
A high school education will probably be required. Some colleges offer courses in furniture finishing. Bachelor's degrees in woodworking technology and millwork are also available. To get started in a career as a furniture finisher, it is possible to work as a trainee, and sometimes qualifications are required. Workers can start off sanding and stripping before progressing to more responsible and rewarding tasks. Experience as a cabinet maker is useful as well, though an employer may provide training.
A person would be unsuited to work as a furniture finisher if they are allergic to dust or spirit-based products such as shellac or turpentine. To be successful, furniture finishers must know the materials, methods, and tools involved in furniture repair. Depending on their exact position and level of seniority, they may have to coordinate their actions with those of fellow workers and assess their own performance and that of subordinates. Furniture finishers must manage their time well and use critical thinking to identify and solve any problems encountered on a given job.
Good near vision, steady hands, visual color discrimination, manual dexterity, precision, and multi-limb coordination are required for this job. Furniture finishers must monitor materials, processes, and their surroundings and if a furniture finisher works with customers or as part of a team, good communication skills are necessary. They should be creative, patient, precise and skilled at using tools. They may also need to stay abreast of developments in the field.
Employers will generally be furniture manufacturers, suppliers of wood, or construction companies but self employment is an option some people proficient with furniture furnishing skill consider. Furniture finishers typically work indoors, usually in a shop where light and ventilation should be ample. The noise levels are usually high and there is likely to be airborne sawdust and chemicals. Temperatures can be very hot (more than 90°F) or very cold (less than 32°F). Working with high speed woodworking machinery carries some risk of injury.
A furniture finisher may have to lift or push weights of as much as 55lbs, so lower back and abdominal muscles should be strong. Most of the day is usually spent standing and it is often necessary to bend and twist the body frequently. Hand dexterity is also important to hold objects and tools.
In the workplace, furniture finishers deal with chemicals that might be explosive, and there may be high voltage electricity. A protective mask and clothing may be necessary on the job; some lacquers emit unpleasant fumes and toxic chemicals could present a health hazard. The work is difficult and messy. Job satisfaction can be derived from working with one's hands, working as part of a team, having a wide variety of tasks, and performing good workmanship.
Usually, payment is hourly. The average gross monthly income of furniture finishers in the United States is $1,976. French polishing is a specialization that may increase potential earnings. Jobs similar to furniture finishing are cabinet-making and upholstering.
Employement statistics for furniture finishers is available for Canada. There, 70 percent of those working in the trade are male, 10 percent are aged up to 24 years, 58 percent are aged 25 to 55 years, 31 percent are aged 45 to 64 years, and 1 percent are 65 years old or older. Eighty-eight percent of furniture finishers in Canada work full time.