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What are Woodworking Machine Setters?

Mattison Model 69 Automatic LatheWoodworking machine setters are responsible for maintaining and operating several types of woodworking machinery. Also known as machinists and machine operators, the machinery they work with includes: boring machines, calipers, lathes, sanding machines, and cutting machinery. For operating and maintaining machinery, a machine setter’s tasks include:

Starting machines, adjusting their controls, and performing trial cuts to ensure their correct operation.

Using blueprints, oral/written instructions, or work orders to assess correct machine setup, work practices, and product/material specifications.

Feeding wood stock through sanders and cutting and shaping machines.

Monitoring machine operation and restoring correct operation as necessary.

Installing, adjusting, and sharpening blades for cutting and shaping machines.

Inspecting completed pieces for quality and preparing them for delivery on pallets, boxes, or conveyors.

Required knowledge

Because machinists operate and service complex machinery—some of which is controlled by software—they usually require the following types of operational and maintenance knowledge:

Mathematical knowledge, including knowledge of statistics, algebra, geometry, calculus, and arithmetic;

Mechanical knowledge, including design, repair, and maintenance knowledge for new and used woodworking machines; and

Production/processing knowledge, including knowledge of cost control, quality control, and production processes.

Required abilities

Machinists need abilities that meet the demands of their work environment, such as:

Good reaction time to visual and auditory signals;

Near vision for seeing details, such as fine wording or wood surfaces at close distance;

Manual dexterity for operating machinery and handling wood stock;

Listening skills for carrying out oral instructions of a technical nature;

Critical thinking for addressing technical problems in an efficient manner; and

Reading comprehension for manuals and texts that contain technical content.

Job statistics

As of 2008, there were 86,000 machinists working in the U.S., with 23,000 projected job openings between 2008 and 2018 (a growth rate of 7%—13%). The 2008 median annual income for machinists was $25,470 (roughly $12.25 hourly). While the occupational median salary isn’t attractive, it’s important to remember that experienced machine setters often earn over $20 hourly, and that specialized setters, such as those that operate large CNC routers, can earn even more.

Of those who pursue a career in machine setting, 71% have a high school diploma or the equivalent; 9% have less than a high school diploma; and 8% have an associate’s degree. To learn more about becoming a machine setter, contacting a trade school that offers machinist training or contacting a woodworking company about shadowing a machine setter are good options. In 2008, the manufacturing industry employed the most machine setters, followed by the wholesale trade and waste management industries.

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