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Ever wondered how to become a qualified cabinetmaker/joiner?  Read on and I’ll do my best to tell you.

If you’re lucky enough to know what you want to do when you leave school and that involves a career in ‘wood occupations’ then you have a couple of options, the first would be to enroll into a college for a full time course where they will teach you the basics of woodwork and the foundations of the skill, they’ll put you up for a diploma and then you’re released into the wild world to find a job…..  Or you apply for an apprenticeship, for me this would be the preferred option.  It’s been a few years since I did my apprenticeship but we have had a few apprentices in recent years so I can be fairly accurate in how it all works and I can explain our preferred method of training.

First of all before leaving school or before the start of the new school term in September you would enroll into the CITB (Construction Industry Training Board).  The CITB are an executive non-departmental public body who support development in training within the construction industry.  Usually you would take an aptitude test to confirm you have the knowledge and skill required to enroll, you are then advised to find a work placement.  Your work placement is ideally a construction company that do what you want to do for a career.  For the purposes of this blog, you want to make bespoke cabinets, so, you go out and find a cabinetmaker, furniture maker or specialist joiner.

You stumble upon a workshop buried deep in the Attleborough Fields Industrial Estate and find a weird guy with a beard (usually sat at a computer – “working”), you tell him “I WANNA BE A CHIPPIE”.  The weird guy with a beard says “cool!  We can help you with that”.  Then proceeds to tell tell you that you need to enroll into the local college on a joinery course using John F. White Ltd Cabinetmakers as the placement.


Your first day at college would usually consist of learning how to cut straight and square…… Sounds daft but you would be surprised how tricky it can be. Go on, give it a go, I know you wanna!  After using up 20 bits of scrap wood you finally scrape through and get it signed off.  The following few weeks you learn how to do some basic joints using hand tools, such as a Halving joint, Mortice and Tenon, Dovetail joint, Comb Joint and the list goes on, eventually you are capable of doing them all quickly and efficiently.  Then, you get a test, a frame comprising of 4 joints which you have a set time to make it in and to a standard of quality that only your lecturer knows.  You finish it just in time, your lecturer marks it and you pass!  This allows you to progress onto making miniature windows, doors, cupboards, stairs and many other typical joinery items.  Some of your college time will be spent in a classroom learning the theory side of the trade, it’s predominantly health and safety now, but “Back in my day” we were taught all about the science of the timber and sheet materials, also the specifics of hand tools. As well as this you would do an hour or two of key skills, an English and Maths lesson which is a requirement of the qualification.


Meanwhile back at the workshop the remainder of your week is spent making tea, cleaning, giving your colleagues lifts with heavy items, fetching food, receiving abuse and generally being the butt of all the jokes.  It really is the best time of your life…….  So good in fact you don’t envy your mates who are still at school getting more days holiday in one summer break than you do all year…… but your calling in life is to be a cabinetmaker, and that weird bearded guy keeps telling you (while you clean his truck with a toothbrush) “it will all be worth it!”  I have exaggerated some of that……. I promise, but it can get pretty rubbish at times, but, as Seneca famously said,

“A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials”

It’s tough starting from the bottom again especially after recently being at the top of school, but it’s so important to learn the bare bones basics of the trade before you can progress, after all you wouldn’t build a castle on sand, or fire a canon from a canoe!  You’ve got to have that foundation.


As the months go by you find yourself being trusted with more complex jobs and doing less cleaning, this is great because part of your qualification, your NVQ, an evidence based qualification which works in junction with the CITB, requires you to prove that you can competently achieve what you need to.  You prove this by taking photo’s of your work, copying drawings you work to and amongst other things, posing in front of machines while a colleague takes your photo.  This is all collated by your college assessor and sent off for review with your college work.


There are 3 levels of NVQ in Bench joinery which you can achieve at our local college, each one more advanced than the previous.  By the time you are doing level 3 you will be learning to price work and calculate and order materials whilst carrying out more complex practical assignments, such as curved doors and kite winder staircases.  You will also be trusted more in the workshop and will have passed you CSCS test which allows you to go on site to install the furniture you make in the workshop.  Depending on how hard you work, the course can take around 3 years. At the end of it all you receive your certificates and are no longer an apprentice.  It is then up to your employer to decide whether to take you on as a Cabinetmaker and Specialist Joiner………. Then the real learning starts……….. LIFE!


I hope you found this interesting.  If you would like to learn more feel free to get in touch and I would be happy to help with any questions you might have.  Also, all feedback is welcomed. –

As usual, thanks for taking the time to read my blog!

Tags: JFW Ltd HQ, JFW Process, Uncategorized