Frequently Asked Questions

Listed below are some of the more common questions about the field of architectural woodworking, our career training program and our community projects. If you are interested in woodworking workshops, please see our sister school, The Workbench.

You’re also welcome to call us at 413-527-6103 or send us an email.

What is architectural woodworking?

It is technically defined as all the wood exposed to view when the building is completed. This includes residential and commercial cabinetry (kitchens, baths, storage, office, closets), doors, windows, stairs, paneling, trim, and shelving. Almost everything made of wood – built into, or attached to – the interior of a building, is considered architectural millwork. Walk into any house, library, school, bank, boardroom, yacht, or office and you will probably see something built by a member of the architectural millwork field, commonly called a cabinetmaker.

How does architectural woodworking differ from carpentry or furniture-making?

Carpentry covers a wide range of skills in the building trades and generally refers to someone who participates in all aspects of constructing a building or structure. This includes such things as framing, roofing, siding, stair-building, and trim carpentry. Carpenters also typically install much of the millwork that a cabinetmaker produces, such as cabinets, trim, paneling, doors, and windows.
Furniture makers typically build free-standing, custom pieces and tend to utilize much more solid wood, with a smaller amount of plywood. While cabinetmakers do make some free standing cabinets, most of what we consider architectural woodworking is attached to a larger structure. If you are interested in building furniture, taking a cabinetmaking course is a good way to start, since it teaches you about wood properties, milling, and joinery techniques that are common to both cabinetmaking and furniture making.

How is the job market?

This is a good time to enter the field. Cabinet shops across the country are losing long-time employees to retirement and are looking for new skilled workers. Pay and benefits are increasing, and many of the mid-size and larger shops offer medical benefits, 401K, and/or profit sharing. Most graduates will begin their career working on the shop floor, but there is considerable room for advancement, particularly at larger shops. For example, there are positions in drafting/design, estimating, project management, supervision and installation. In fact, employers like NESAW graduates because they are exposed to many of these areas of expertise during our program.

What will I learn in your program?

The short answer: the essential skills needed to begin a career in architectural woodworking, with a special emphasis on safety and learning the entire project lifecycle. The long answer: see our Program Overview and our Step by Step description.

What is the class like? What is the student-teacher ratio?

Class runs Monday thru Friday from 8 am – 4:30 pm, with two short breaks plus a half hour for lunch.

We have two instructors, and will accept no more than 11 students. We also invite experts in the field to spend time with our students, demonstrating specific techniques.

What tools do I need?

Although our shop is equipped with a wide variety of portable power and hand tools, there are not enough for simultaneous use by all students. To promote maximum efficiency and encourage personal responsibility, we require each student to obtain and maintain a set of basic tools. We also recommend the purchase of a portable tool box or bag to transport these tools to and from class each day or to store them in our locked tool closet. We typically work with our local Woodcraft store for special bundled pricing on most, if not all, of the required tools. See our most recent Tool Requirements (subject to change) for details on required and optional tools and contact us for information on any special pricing that may be available.

Are there tests and homework?

Yes. There are reading assignments and practice worksheets, particularly at the beginning of the course and during the home cabinet phase. The more practice you have with skills like reading shop drawings and creating cutlists, the more confident and efficient you’ll be on the job.

We also evaluate our students regularly, not only on their competence with the tools, but also on their attendance, teamwork, problem-solving, and communication skills. There are written tests in the classroom and skills tests in the shop, where instructors watch students complete certain operations and grade them accordingly. The tool skills evaluation is based on the national skills standards effort.

What is the application process?

Simply complete the online application or download an application PDF and mail or fax it to us. You can provide transcripts, etc. upon acceptance, but we do need complete contact information for your references, including email addresses.

We will then call you for an interview. If possible, we prefer to have you visit the school for your interview, so that you can see the shop and our current students in action. The more you know about our program, the better prepared you will be on the first day of class! If you are accepted into the school, you will receive a letter in the mail. Your $1,000 deposit and completed enrollment agreement is due within 30 days of the date of your acceptance letter.

How much does the training program cost?

Current tuition and books/materials fees are located on our Tuition page. The materials fee covers all wood and associated hardware needed for in-class projects. If time allows and you choose to build your own project at the end of the program, you may purchase additional materials from us at our company rate. Please note that you should also expect to spend $400 – $600 in tools, depending on what you already own.

Do you have financing programs?

Because we are state-licensed but not nationally-accredited, our students do not qualify for Federal Financial Aid.
Some students may qualify for state unemployment or Trade Adjustment Act funds. Please check with your HR representative or local Career Center for more details.

Can veterans attend your program on the GI Bill?

Yes. However, we recommend that you first talk with your VA contact. This applies only to our five-month career training program; the individual workshops offered by the Workbench do not qualify for VA funds because they do not represent a continuous course of study that earns a certificate. The GI Bill does cover our CAD and Sketchup courses if you are also taking the career training program.

What types of students are you looking for?

We accept students from a variety of backgrounds (high school graduates to college graduates to career changers) and with a variety of previous woodworking experience. Your background is of less importance than your willingness to work hard and stay focused on the task at hand.

We specifically look for self-starters who are curious and highly motivated to learn the trade. You should be able to think quickly on your feet, demonstrate good spatial skills and be an excellent team player. Good problem-solving skills are a must.

NESAW does not discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. Due to the nature of shop operations and machinery, however, we may not be able to accept students with some physical disabilities.

What are the application deadlines?

We accept students on a rolling admissions basis until the course is full. In years past, we have been full by early September, so we suggest you don’t wait too long to apply.

Please note that you are not officially enrolled until we receive your enrollment agreement and $1,000 deposit, no more than 30 days after the date of your acceptance letter.

Once the class is full, we do maintain a waiting list in case of withdrawals.

What is your refund policy?

Tuition deposits are refundable according to Mass General Laws, Chapter 255 Section 13K enrollment agreement. Your deposit, minus a $50 administration fee, may be refunded any time prior to the first day of school. This school is licensed by the Massachusetts Division of Professional Licensure’s Office of Private Occupational School Education. Any comments, questions, or concerns should be directed to 617-727-5811 or occupationalschools@state.mass.us. The New England School of Architectural Woodworking reserves the right to cancel the program if enrollment is not adequate. In this case, all deposits would be returned in full.

Do you offer any internships?

Unfortunately, because our program runs all day, there are no internship opportunities. Externships may be available at the end of the program, but we expect most graduates to obtain regular employment.

Will I get to build projects for my own personal use?

If time allows during the last few weeks of the program, you may choose to build your own project during school hours. You will also be expected to pay for the materials used. You are also free to purchase Open Shop hours at a greatly reduced rate or stay after school to work on your own, assuming you have already proven yourself to be safe on the tools and in the shop.

How will you help me get a job at the end of the program?

Toward the end of the program, we provide assistance as you develop your resume and portfolio. We notify employers in our database that our students are graduating, write letters of recommendation upon request, and talk to potential employers as needed. Historically, over 90% of our job-seeking students find jobs within a few months of graduation.

We also encourage you to visit cabinet shops in your desired location, even prior to graduation. They are usually happy to give you a tour if you tell them that you are attending NESAW and also to keep you in mind if they have openings at a later date.

What if I want to be a furniture maker?

We do not specifically train our students to be furniture makers, but we provide a solid woodworking foundation that has helped some of our graduates design and build furniture professionally. Custom furniture making can be a difficult way to make a living, and many furniture makers find it helpful to have the ability to produce architectural millwork if needed. Because we do have students who want to design and build furniture for themselves, we visit local craftsmen to see their completed pieces and discuss the techniques used to build those pieces.

Please contact us if you would like the names of furniture-making schools in New England.

Why do students build projects for members of the community?

NESAW is certainly unique in offering this feature as part of our five-month training program. In fact, we’re the only cabinetmaking school in the nation that does so. Our primary reason is to give students an opportunity to experience the entire project lifecycle from design and estimating to building and installation. It gives them the chance to work on real projects with real challenges, and it allows our instructors to demonstrate new techniques as the opportunity arises.

Employers value this experience because our graduates come to them with better design skills, better problem-solving skills, and better perspective on the industry. You can look at previous projects here.

Why do you mostly build kitchens?

We used to build a variety of projects, including custom desks and bookcases. However, we felt that kitchens provide more real-world experience because 1) they require a team of students working together on a common goal; 2) they are commonly built in cabinet shops; and 3) they come with a host of construction and installation challenges that provide excellent teaching opportunities. Plus, the look on the homeowners’ faces when they see their new kitchen for the first time is something every student remembers.

That said, we do occasionally still build built-in office millwork and other projects. Sometimes, we accept these as an extra project that students can work on for additional experience.

What does the average kitchen cost?

We charge a multiple of materials, which includes all solid wood, plywood, veneers, fasteners, and hardware (with the exception of decorative knobs or hinges). This helps cover our costs if students need to use extra materials over the course of the project.

The final cost depends entirely on the scope of the project. What’s important to remember is that these are custom projects, built to the specifications of the client. Although our kitchens will cost more than an off-the-shelf product, they will be significantly less expensive than those built by full-service cabinetmaking shops.

How can I be sure I’m getting quality work?

Our reputation depends on how well we teach our students and how well they build your project. We take every job very seriously and will work closely with you to make sure that you are satisfied with the end product. Our instructors monitor each project during construction and installation, offering advice and demonstrating techniques to ensure the highest quality.

You might also like to know that shop owners and other tradespeople go out of their way to comment on the quality and consistency of our students’ work. Most find it difficult to believe that students can produce such a high quality end product, particularly since many of them are new to the craft.

What types and styles of kitchen projects will you accept?

We prefer to work on kitchens that will utilize the existing footprint; although we do occasionally work on kitchens that are part of a major remodel, we find that it adds complexity to the project and the price necessarily increases.

Take a look at our projects page to see the style of kitchen we build. Since our goal is to teach cabinetmaking techniques, we have a prescribed system and style in place; we only build shaker-style cabinets with flat panel face frames on inset doors. Most of the kitchens we build are maple and cherry.

We apply a clear finish (a coat of shellac plus two coats of water-based lacquer) and do not stain or paint the cabinets. Part of our process is to teach students how to select solid wood and veneer and how to match the grain, so we want those selections to be visible.

Okay, I’m sold. How do I get on your project list?

We generally like to finalize projects in November, so it’s ideal if you contact us by late August. Please be aware that we only do two kitchens a year, so you may have to wait until next year.

If you’re reading this too late for the upcoming year or you have a smaller project, we may be able to fit you in during the summer, when students sometimes stay to apprentice with us. Take a look at our previous projects and call or email us with questions or ideas.

What is the process like?

Here’s how it works:

1) You contact us with your ideas for your new kitchen.
2) We take a look at the space and see if it fits in the upcoming year’s schedule (based on number of students and size of the other kitchen)
3) If it’s a go, we get down & dirty with the exact specifications.
4) Our director draws the design via AutoCAD and you make changes as needed. An estimate is provided.
5) By mid December, the final design is approved and the final price established. Changes after this point are subject to a change fee.
6) A deposit of half the total amount is due by the first week in January so that we can order materials in bulk.
7) In February, you’ll meet the students working on your project and they will begin construction.
8) You’re welcome to visit the school at any time to see the work in progress.
9) You are responsible for removing the old cabinets and working with an electrician/plumber to make any needed changes.
10) Installation generally happens during the first and second weeks of May.

Do you offer student housing?

No, we’re sorry to say that there is no on-site student housing. However, because this area is home to quite a few four-year and two-year colleges, there are a number of affordable short-term housing options.