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Upholsterer

Kaiwhakapaipai Uhinga Waka

Alternative titles for this job

Upholsterers make, install and attach the springs, padding, linings and covers of furniture.

Pay

Trainee upholsterers usually earn

$37K-$42K per year

Qualified upholsterers usually earn

$52K-$62K per year

Source: Competenz, 2017.

Job opportunities

Chances of getting a job as an upholsterer are average due to stable numbers of people in the role.

Pay

Pay for upholsterers varies depending on experience.

  • Trainee upholsterers usually earn between the minimum wage and $42,000 a year.
  • Qualified upholsterers usually earn between $52,000 and $62,000.

Source: Competenz, 2017. 

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)

What you will do

Upholsterers may do some or all of the following:

  • discuss requirements with customers
  • remove, repair or replace damaged or worn furniture parts
  • draw up patterns or cutting plans
  • cut and sew fabrics to the right size and shape
  • attach springs, padding and covers to furniture frames.

Skills and knowledge

Upholsterers need to have:

  • knowledge of upholstery methods and materials
  • knowledge of furniture styles
  • knowledge of fabrics, threads and colours
  • sewing and pattern-making skills.

Working conditions

Upholsterers:

  • usually work regular business hours
  • work in workshops, factories, furniture shops and homes.

What's the job really like?

Upholsterer video

Joel checks out two furniture manufacturing companies - 5.56 mins. (Video courtesy of Competenz)

Joel: Kia ora, my name is Joel. I’m 16 and I go to Manurewa High School. I’m looking into a career in furniture making.

Clinton: Joel’s first stop is Danske Mobler. They are a large-scale modern furniture design & manufacturing company.
They produce for both outside clients and to supply their own retail showroom.

Richard: You do get a lot of satisfaction from making a piece or an item, and that’s what a lot of people who work with timber do, because it’s actually something you can visibly see. I think you’ve got to be a very practical person, good with your hands, and an ability to put that into practice.

Joel: Hi there, I’m Joel.

Richard: Gidday Joel, I’m Richard. Would you like to come and see what we do?

Joel: Yes please.

Clinton: As a top-end manufacturer, the majority of Danske Mobler’s products are made from solid wood, so finish is everything.

Richard: Just slide your hand across the top and pull it out with that hand.

Richard: You’ve got a finished surface which is clean and straight, ready for the next operation.

Clinton: Because Danske Mobler deal in large volume production, many operations are computer-controlled.

Richard: OK Joel, this is what we call a C&C machine, so we’ve got a lot of facility on here, it’s a multiple boring machine as well as routering, and we can do a whole lot of horizontal boring as well. We’ve got 33 drills, we’ve got three large routers and for the object we’re going to do today, we’re going to be boring a whole series of screw holes for a table.

Richard: OK Joel, this is an edge-bander for putting veneer tape on. Basically what happens with this machine is that you have your veneer tape here, it runs through on a conveyor belt – your work piece. We have a glue tank in here. The veneer tape gets put on, the saw cuts off the excess off one end and the excess off another end. Two little knives trim the top and bottom and take the veneer off flush.

Richard: OK, now just turn it around and have a look at it. We check to make sure that it’s clean, check to make sure that there’s no damage and that it’s stuck on. It’s all good.

Richard: You’re always screaming out for people – young guys that are coming through, and girls that want to do a trade in furniture making and machinery cabinet making.

Clinton: Within the furniture industry there are other disciplines that apprentices may wish to specialise in – such as finishing and upholstery.

Mike: Well Joel, what we’re going to do today is we’re going to actually convert one of these, into one of these.

Joel: That sounds cool.

Mike: Yeah.

Mike: I’m passionate about what I do, I enjoy what I do, the work is rewarding. It has... as I say, it’s colourful, you pick up different chair in a different colour and you feel as though you’re doing a new thing every time.

Joel: It’s nice and comfortable!

Clinton: Next, Joel is off to try his hand at more traditional furniture making. Molloy specialise in making one-off pieces of furniture – from rough-sawn wood through to the finished item.

Chris: Wood is just a natural product, it’s warm, it’s giving. I just like the fact that you can make something tangible, and at the end of the day you can see what you’ve done. It’s rewarding to think that what you do for a job is good enough for people to pay for and put it in their house and you meet the people and you deal with them. And most people come back time and time again, and you sort of build up a relationship with them and it’s really nice.

Chris: All right, so what we mostly do is just one-offs – make orders for customers to their own specs, and they have rough sketches of what they want. So I thought we’d make a DVD rack or a CD rack or something. Have you got any ideas of what you want to do?

Joel: Yep, I’ve got a few ideas!

Chris: Cool, just sketch something up.

Joel: And there we have it.

Chris: All right, so the next step is timber.

Joel: Cool.

Chris: Our apprenticeships tend to go faster, because the guys are doing more work on a daily basis, like different machines on a daily basis. We generally are able to knock at least a year off an apprenticeship. We have a different mindset that we’d rather everyone can do everything, so you understand all the facets of the job, so you make it easier for the next person, if there is a next person.

Chris: I guess that if you enjoy your job and you enjoy the materials you’re working with, you’re going to have much nicer day at work and it makes coming to work every day more enjoyable. In saying that, for lots of people, it grows on them a bit – the smell of it, the feel of it. To some people it’s just a block of wood, just a piece of dead tree, but I just enjoy making things, and I like training people. I just really enjoy it – I wouldn’t do anything else!

Chris: All right Joel, that’s how you turn a piece of raw wood into a piece of finished furniture.

Joel: Cheers!

Chris: And it will look even better when it’s got DVDs in it!

Joel: Cool!

Chris: Yeah, we’d definitely look at Joel for an apprenticeship. He’s keen on woodworking, he listens – we’d give him a crack.

Richard: Joel did well, he hopefully picked up a few ideas about the trade, what we do and what it’s all about.

Joel: I enjoyed getting in there, putting my hands into it and getting into it and getting dirty.

Clinton: Apprenticeships range from two-and-a-half to four years. This is a great career for people who have a passion for wood and like working with their hands. There are no specific education requirements but NCEA Level 1 English and maths are preferred. Other useful subjects include woodwork, technical drawing and workshop technology. Qualifications within the industry include Level 4 National Certificates in Furniture Making, Upholstery or Furniture Finishing.

Entry requirements

There are no specific entry requirements to become an upholsterer.

However, to become a qualified upholsterer you need to complete a traineeship and gain a National Certificate in Furniture (Level 4) specialising in Advanced Upholstery, through Competenz.

Secondary education

A minimum of three years of secondary education is recommended. Useful subjects include English, maths and technology. 

Personal requirements

Upholsterers need to be neat and accurate in their work, with an eye for detail.

Useful experience

Useful experience for upholsterers includes:

  • work in the furniture industry
  • sales work
  • factory work
  • sewing work.

Physical requirements

Upholsterers need to have steady hands and good hand-eye co-ordination.

Find out more about training

Competenz
0800 526 1800 - info@competenz.org.nz - www.competenz.org.nz
Check out related courses

What are the chances of getting a job?

Opportunities best in the larger centres

Job opportunities for upholsterers are steady, with most new traineeship positions available in the main cities where people are investing in better furniture and coverings.

Better opportunities if you have exceptional attention to detail  

Although there are limited new positions for trainees, if you have design flair and are detail focused there is a good chance of getting a traineeship with an upholstery business.

Upholstery businesses expanding into furniture making and repair work

Some upholstery businesses are expanding into making their own furniture, building frames and doing frame repairs. Carpentry experience is an advantage for getting traineeships with these businesses.

Upholsterers commonly self-employed

Upholsterers may work for:

  • large furniture manufacturing plants
  • small specialist furniture restoration businesses.

Many upholsterers run their own business and some work as sole traders or contractors for interior design firms. They may also do furniture restoration and repair work.

Sources

  • Lyne, A, training manager, Competenz, Careers New Zealand interview, April 2017.
  • Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2006-2014 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2015.

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)

Progression and specialisations

Upholsterers may progress to set up their own business.

Nikki Burnet attaching new padding to a chair

Upholsterers revive old furniture by attaching new coverings

Last updated 30 March 2019