What does a wood machinist do?
"With wood machining there's three streams", says Mark. "You have the guys who do architectural stuff - skirting, architraves, doors, windows - any joinery products. Then you have the people who machine timber for furniture and then you have the ones who work out in the timber mills with big machines that do log conversions."
How did you become a wood machinist?
"Through my Dad. He was a timber rep, so he'd go to different companies and sell timber. Through his contacts he was able to get me an apprenticeship."
Mark was enticed by the security of an apprenticeship: "I wanted an apprenticeship. It was the end of 1980 and apprenticeships were big things for kids leaving school at the time," he recalls. "I started with a stair company in Mitcham," continues Mark, "As a stair building apprentice I would normally be doing carpentry and joinery, but for some reason they wanted a wood machinist apprentice."
What does a wood machinist apprenticeship involve?
"This is a really important question," says Mark, who has taught at TAFE and now teaches as part of the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL) program at Northland Secondary College. "I talk to my students and give them the spiel about the culture of the industry. It is very male dominated. It is a traditional industry and has its hierarchy." During his four-year apprenticeship, Mark completed three years of school, learning how to use machinery. His fourth year consisted of on-the-job training.
"I attended Prahran TAFE, which is now Holmesglen - they are still the only tertiary institute in Victorian that offers wood machining", says Mark.
What are some of the pros and cons of the work?
Mark acknowledges that the stigma of apprenticeships has changed over the years but he remembers his time well. "You had to respect the older tradesmen - you could be working with guys your dad's age. As the apprentice, you were the droppings at the bottom of the cockie's cage!" he says, laughing.
A downside of the trade for Mark is the noise. "I'm 40 and I've got tinnitus [a ringing] in my right ear, which is really hard to shake once you've got it." Mark has also had some near misses over the years with the machinery.
Despite this, Mark still loves what he does. "You meet some really great blokes, from a really broad cross-section of the community and depending on how good you are there's a lot of potential to rise up the rungs and start your own business."
Are there any tips for getting a job as a wood machinist or cabinet maker?
"These days it's good to try and get into a VCAL or a Vocational Education and Training (VET) program", says Mark. "I'm not sure what credence employers place on these courses but there's no harm in doing them for your own learning and understanding."
"You also have to be pedantic. Meticulous. Wood machinists and cabinet makers work in millimetres and half millimetres. All your joins have to be really accurate, you have to have pride in it".
Mark would really like to see more young women take up a furniture trade: "Girls are more fastidious. When I teach them at secondary school they are keen as mustard, then for some reason, they lose interest."
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