Frequently Asked Questions
Here 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.
If you have a question that's not answered here, please call us at 413-527-6103 or send us an email. You're also welcome to stop by the school at any time for a tour.
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.
What is the job market like?
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?
The class runs from 8 am - 4:30 pm, with two short breaks plus a half hour for lunch. We have two instructors, and will accept 8 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 recommended tool list for a detailed list of required and optional tools and contact us for information on any special pricing that may be available.
Are there tests?
We 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.
Do I earn a degree at the end of the program?
This is not a degree program. You do, however, earn a state-approved Certificate of Completion which certifies that you have learned the fundamentals of architectural woodworking from a licensed proprietary school.
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 using VA funds?
Yes. However, we recommend that you first talk with your VA contact. This applies only to our nine-month program; our individual workshops do not qualify for VA funds because they do not represent a continuous course of study that earns a certificate.
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.
Will I get to build projects for my own personal use?
Not during class time, but you may during the lab time.
Do I get to choose a community project to work on?
We assign projects to students based on the complexity of the project, the number of people needed to complete it, and the skill level of the student, as evaluated by the instructor. We encourage our students to express their preferences for a project, (e.g. one that requires veneering, installation, or a particular type of cabinet construction), but there is no guarantee.
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, particularly in a struggling economy, 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, we visit local craftsmen to see their completed pieces and discuss the techniques used to build those pieces.
Do you offer any internships?
Not during the school year; there may be a possibility of externships with employers following graduation.
What is your refund policy?
Our refund policy is in accordance with Massachusetts General Laws c. 255, Section 13K. You can read it here.
What is the application process?
Simply download an application and mail or fax it to us. 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.
What are the application deadlines?
The application deadline is June 1. Final acceptance decisions will be made by July 1, although you may request an early admissions decision. We also reserve the right to make any early admissions decisions at our own discretion. Applications received after June 1 will be reviewed for acceptance as they arrive.
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.
Why do students build projects for members of the community?
NESAW is certainly unique in offering this feature as part of our nine 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.
What do you charge to build a project?
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.
What does the average project cost?
That all depends on the size and scope of the project. What's important to remember is that these are custom projects, built to the specifications of the client. Although our projects 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 a quality end product?
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 by the end product. Our instructors monitor each project throughout the day, offering advice and demonstrating techniques to ensure the highest quality.
How long does the process take?
We place you on our project list prior to November and meet with you in February to finalize the project and obtain your approval on the design and budget. Projects are generally completed by the middle of May.
Okay, I'm sold. How do I get on your project list?
We generally start finalizing projects in November, so it's ideal if you contact us by late August. At this point, we are primarily working on kitchens. 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 stay to further apprentice with us. Take a look at our previous projects and call or email us with questions or ideas.