Building a carrer
October 4, 2012 8:57 PM   Subscribe

So let me explain my situation, I'm a junior in high school, almost 17, and am starting to think about the future. I have found my passion, building. I'm taking a shop class, and I freaking LOVE it. I used to be at the top of my class, and then I started doing very bad in high school, not sure what happened. It became like a confidence spiral where I wouldn't do something cause it was hard (laziness), get behind, miss more, etc etc. Fast forward 2 years. I took shop, where I became good friends with the teacher, have 100% in it, make amazing things, and absolutely love it. I only have it every other day, and its all I look forward to. I think it's what I would like to do for the rest of my life.

I took an AutoCAD class (drafting) which I was behind in, and contributed to the confidence spiral, so I'm not looking to do something too involved with drafting. I feel like it would be different if I could create what I drafted. I'm wondering what careers involve building (cutting, lathing, creating) that isn't a construction worker job, factory worker, etc. All jobs that I've seen that are building-oriented, are really low paying, and high labor, perhaps I am being naive, so please enlighten me! Thanks!
posted by sizzil34 to Human Relations (37 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Applied physicist - you build the equipment that you run experiments on.

Master machinist (union) - the physicists hire you when the fabrication is beyond their skills.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:02 PM on October 4, 2012


There are a lot of small businesses around this sort of work, for instance, people who build custom furniture or cabinets. Around here, we have a few people who build custom surfboards for a living. I bought a chicken coop from a 17-year-old kid who designs and builds chicken coops.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:07 PM on October 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


Hey sizzil, if you run into the confidence spiral when a concept or skill is hard and/or cumulative, it is going to be really difficult to access those higher-skilled and higher-paid jobs.

It sounds like you see building as an area you find really enjoyable, and where you can also avoid those confidence-spiraling situations. But you've already seen with AutoCAD that is not necessarily true in building. I think in reality, you can avoid the confidence spiral in situations where skills and abilities are picked up easily and are not cumulative. That's not "building," that's "low-skilled labor."

You can address and fix your confidence spiral. You can get to a place where you can take on difficult or cumulative topics without getting into that spiral. It is better if you do that at 17 rather than just avoiding it until your 30s or 40s, or never. You can get help from the right counselor for it.
posted by cairdeas at 9:10 PM on October 4, 2012 [19 favorites]


Custom woodworking for homes, especially if you get good at recreating historical styles for restoration work (cabinetry, doors, wainscoting, mantles, crown moulding).

Working with landscaping architects to create custom decking, pergolas, planters, etc for high-end residential or commercial clients.

These can both be extremely lucrative, creative fields, but you'll probably have to put in a few years of higher-labor, lower-paying work as a junior craftsman before you get really, really good and well-known enough to command higher prices for your work. However, if you really love the work, you'll probably excel.
posted by erst at 9:14 PM on October 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


Maybe not as a career but as a way to explore designing and building take a look at theatre. Skilled carpenters are always in demand for building sets and furniture/props. Check with your local community theatre and I would bet they would be happy to have you building things for them. It's satisfiying to see a project go from drawings to compleation in a short time and to always have a new project in the future. I've also found most theatres to be loving supporting places which may help you with your confidence spiral.
posted by Uncle at 9:15 PM on October 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Maybe this? http://www.yestermorrow.org/ They take apprentices too... and the apprentices get to take classes for free.

You might want to work your way into custom building, custom finishings and cabinetry, etc... (what tylerkaraszewski said!) that way you can build (but not do construction for a huge company). I know Sterling College in VT has an established hands-on sustainable ag program... anyone know of anything similar for building the poster could look into???

(BTW - I LOVED drafting and hate actually building things!)

Get into a groove, and yes - tackle those confidence things too. Don't wait 'till you're 30. What worked for me was to take a break (a semester or two) to focus on what I liked and was good at - get the base confidence up, get excited. Then start adding in the other stuff... the drafting, AutoCAd, business planning, whatever. Pace yourself, and give yourself a clean start from a place where you feel good: you'll be fine! (School counselors can help with this stuff, and maybe your Shop teacher, too!)
posted by jrobin276 at 9:20 PM on October 4, 2012


You might look into pattern making. I have a good friend who's set up his life so he can design and build custom stuff for people, but it's tough to make a consistent living at it -- it's often feast or famine. But he fills in with pattern making work: molds, forms, one-off structures, and so on, for other companies, and it helps smooth out the business.
posted by spacewrench at 9:24 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


To expand on what others are saying a bit, generally speaking at the entry-level of the trades, it is a lot of work and relatively low-paying. Where you get out of that is into what I'd call the "skilled craftsmanship" where you learn/gain/work in a relatively rare field. For example, being a general carpenter only pays so much. Being a skilled custom cabinetmaker pays a lot more and will be far more satisfying work.

See if your local community college offers classes in whatever sort of crafty-shoppy thing might interest you. And I explicitly say to take the non-credit version of the course (at least initially!). That way, you don't have to worry about passing and if you don't like it, so what, you don't like it, it's not going to tank your academic future. It's a good and relatively cheap way to explore the space, as it were.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:26 PM on October 4, 2012


As many others have said here, what springs to mind is cabinetmaker. This isn't just making cabinets, it's also making custom furniture and other high-quality projects.

If I recall correctly from my ex who was a cabinet maker, the #1 guy in the US is Thos. Moser of Maine. Check out his website to see what they do.
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:36 PM on October 4, 2012


Life can be seen as a sort of a game in which you try to balance immediate pleasure and hard work in order to get as much satisfaction as you can. You shouldn't always do things that are really hard and make you lose confidence, but on the other hand, if you never do hard, uncomfortable things, you will never build the skills that can make you happy.

Like cairdeas said, you are bound to hit difficult stuff that makes you uncomfortable at some point in pretty much any field, like AutoCAD in building. Facing difficulty and getting good at things you aren't immediately good at is a sort of meta-skill itself that's going to help with pretty much everything, so it's worth working on fairly early in life so that you get to use it on a lot of situations.

I feel like it would be different if I could create what I drafted.

You actually can build what you draft. Maybe in addition to the assignments you get in AutoCAD, you should hang out with it a bit and draft things in it that are slightly more complex than what you usually build, but less complex than the kind of things your assignments make you draw. Then, try to build that, maybe with help from your teacher if it ends up being a bit out of your reach. I think this could help you see the connection between planning out lines on a computer and getting on the lathe, et al.
posted by ignignokt at 9:46 PM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you like building/designing things but you don't want to be blue collar, engineering might be right for you. A lot of friends I knew in high school that enjoyed AutoCAD ended up going to engineering school. Make sure you like math, though, you'll be doing plenty of it.
posted by deathpanels at 9:56 PM on October 4, 2012


I don't know much about it, but maybe industrial design? The one industrial design guy I know seems to build lots of stuff... he turned his closet into a mini shop..
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 9:59 PM on October 4, 2012


Have you seen Make magazine and the Maker Faires?
With computer controlled machines like Makerbot and Shopbot those CAD skills are vital. Also your shop teacher may want to check out Makerspace as there is some DARPA funding available.
posted by anon4now at 10:01 PM on October 4, 2012


I'm wondering what careers involve building (cutting, lathing, creating) that isn't a construction worker job, factory worker, etc.

I would have loved to have become a machinist in a machine shop at my university. Building custom machinery for bench-top experiments? Yeah, that's a pretty cool job.

It became like a confidence spiral where I wouldn't do something cause it was hard (laziness), get behind, miss more, etc

No matter what your dream job is, this is something you're going to have to deal with before you achieve it. Luckily, it's something you can overcome. Talk to a teacher your guidance counsellor (I know...) or a teacher you like about it.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 10:02 PM on October 4, 2012


All jobs that I've seen that are building-oriented, are really low paying, and high labor, perhaps I am being naive, so please enlighten me!

It depends on where you are in the US. Union finish carpenters in NYC make $46 an hour + benefits, pension contributions, et cetera. I have heard in Massachusetts the pay is similar but in parts of the South $20 an hour would be a good salary.

Fine Woodworking (not the magazine, though it is excellent and worth reading) is the category that cabinetmaking falls under. You work in a shop doing woodturning, using planers, jointers, et cetera.

Learn as much as you can about species of wood, e.g., what does Mahogany look like, Black Walnut, Maple, Rosewood, et cetera. Learn some woodcarving.

Would it be possible for you to get a part-time job in a woodworking shop? That could be a valuable experience.

My only advice concerning that would be to find the right situation -- you would want to work somewhere where the owner is going to be more of a mentor, teaching you things, rather than just using you as labor.

At your age I was working as a carpenters' helper during the Summer and on weekends but because I was always big for my age I was used more as a laborer. I made more money than all of my friends who had typical teenager retail jobs but I did not learn as much as I could have.
posted by mlis at 10:12 PM on October 4, 2012


I don't know...I represent a lot of construction workers and some of them are really well paid. The sheet metal worker package right now is $80 an hour, but the carpenters do pretty well too. I'd google and see if there's an apprenticeship program near you and find out what the wage package looks like. You might be surprised.
posted by bananafish at 10:30 PM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Cabinet maker or furniture maker for sure.
posted by fshgrl at 10:43 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hand crafting musical instruments is another branch you could explore, although it's rarely very lucrative unless you're at the very top of your field.
posted by platinum at 12:43 AM on October 5, 2012


Definitely look into theatre design/carpentry. I used to help design and build sets in NYC for off-off Broadway and I got paid for it, much to my amazement, despite the fact that I can barely hold a drill without drawing blood. I often imagined how great it would be to do this fun & creative work while having the foggiest idea what I was doing! My carpenter/electrician friends found good theater (union) work much easier than my actor friends.
posted by mochapickle at 12:46 AM on October 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Agree that 'confidence spiral' is the main issue to address; you need to find a way to identify when that it happening and break out of it. Unfortunately you are going to be repeatedly faced with difficult situations which you need to resolve, not avoid. However, once you solve the problem, it'll never be a problem again.

Possibly you need to consider your motivation; if the connection between resolving the difficulties you face and progressing to where you want to be is not clear then it's very hard to see the necessity for solving the immediate issue. Dont focus on your vicious circle, try to identify your virtuous skills circle; enjoy something, willingly work hard at it, get better at it; repeat.

Practically; try looking further ahead than your immediate future. Where do you want your skills & abilities to take you in 4 or 10 years? Carpentry is very practical but if you want to develop more intellectually then working more with metal will open the way to studying engineering; this can be a good way to get value from the practical skills you may develop. It will illuminate the physics / mathematics which underlie your practical skills and experience, ideas can be developed and explored using 3D models. (Drafting is the very final part of the process: learning to draft first is like learning to write before you can speak.)
posted by BadMiker at 2:44 AM on October 5, 2012


Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineer (or whatever the equivalent is called in your country) is a pretty cool hands on career.

Lots of really specialised skills, especially if you are a structures team member.

You get to play with amazing tools, on on various different types of equipment.

Usually people get their start as an apprentice, and it usually involves some technical qualifications (in Australia this is at TAFE, not sure what the equivalents are) that you get in parallel.
posted by trialex at 2:51 AM on October 5, 2012


Like others have stated in college atleast join the theater group and build the sets. I did this in high school and college and it rocked. We build 3 story sets that had to be as strong as a house because actors had to run across them and then had to be torn down after the show ended.

This sounds off but how about computer repair? I am an IT guy and it requires a lot of hands on work. Replacing the insides of the computers.

Anyway For know I say set building and backstage is what you should look into. Its something you can do right now in high school and outside school with theater companies. Its really fun . Plus you can do things like props , lighting or , backstage during the actual show . My problem is that I live on long island and because we are pretty much NYC and broadway is right here there aren't too many non paying non union theaters around.
posted by majortom1981 at 4:47 AM on October 5, 2012


Arizona State University has a Construction Management Degree.

You can take your passion for small projects and go to college for 4 years and see how it applies to entire buildings.

The good thing about ASU is that it's a large state school with a decent football team. No snow. Lots of dorms and PARTY!

The entrance standards are....shit who am I kidding, "blinking and breathing" will do it, so any past grades from high school can be overcome. The site says you'll need a 3.0, but you've got two years to bring your G.P.A. up. Another option would be to go to a Community College for two years, then transfer. Also, a bit less expensive.

I went to a very small high school in Phoenix and attended ASU for 3 years. It was a bit of a culture shock for me. I dropped out with a 2.0 G.P.A and finished up my degree elsewhere.

BUT, I think that if you're interested in higher education, and you want to combine that with your love of building, you should at least check this out.

If you're not interested in higher education, then start checking out apprenticeships with master crafts-people.

The problem with getting good at something, and earning a good living at it, is that EVERYTHING has something hard, or boring, or dumb that has to be done. As you mature, you realize this and knuckle down and do it. If you can get a handle on this now, then you are VERY far ahead of the curve.

Good Luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:07 AM on October 5, 2012


First off, try talking to your other teachers about help. Most teachers are more than willing to help students with problems if they ask. Nothing will come naturally, there is a learning curve with anything. If you start to give up at this age because something is hard it does not bode well for the future. Keep trying and don't be afraid to ask for help.

Drawing, whether it is CAD or by hand is a very important skill for any craftsman. CAD uses a different skill set so you may want to take just plain drawing or illustration classes.

Lastly, carpentry laborer jobs aren't something you should aim for. Aim higher. I am not talking about rocket science but being a craftsman, whether it is a master carver, master craftsman, metal artist, or metal casting technician is a better and higher paying goal than working on a carpentry crew building houses. Find the high end craftsmen in your city and see what they do. Your shop teacher may be able to set up some tours or introductions. There are plenty of independent craftsmen that are highly sought after doing high quality work that is rarely found any more. These people don't start at minimum wage.
posted by JJ86 at 6:11 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Talk to your shop teacher. Chances are good that he can introduce you to some cabinetmakers, house carpeters, machinists of various types, pattern-making, maybe even some of the more obscure things mentioned like theater tech, luthier/instrument-making, furniture repair/antique restoration/upholstry etc. If not introduce you to someone, at least talk about what different jobs are like. Ideally, though, you might get to go spend a couple hours in a guy's shop, see what it's like as a job, what kinds of skill they use, see if you can imagine yourself doing that, maybe even find a weekend job.

But remember, no matter how awesome any mentor is, they're still just one person, so keep an eye out for other people who can also give you advice. If he says "eh, you know, house carpentry, that's okay for some people, but man, what an awful job!" remember to tack "in my opinion" onto the end of statements like that. Everybody has something that's right for themselves, and your bestest friend, or the awesomest mentor, will not have the exact same preferences as you do.

In terms of skills you should consider keeping on your list: (1) drawing/drafting, consider also computer drafting/CAD; (2) basic arithmetic skills, personal finance, accounting, and/or "microeconomics" - a lot of craftsmen run their own business; a lot of others do a variety of contract work for different employers. It would help future-you a lot to have a good handle on money, how to pay your taxes, how to monitor how much is coming in and how much is getting spent, the idea of how much to charge somebody for a job and whether that changes with how busy you are, etc.
posted by aimedwander at 6:31 AM on October 5, 2012


Aside from cabinet making, "finish carpentry" is house-related, but they are the ones who install bannisters, doors, mantles, and other woodworking installation that sounds like the stuff you enjoy. As somebody mentioned above, finish carpenters are on the high-end skilled-pay end of things. The building-oriented, low-pay, high-labor are likely to be unskilled labor level things -- go to a tech college, build your skills and you'll be more likely to get the $40/hr job.
posted by AzraelBrown at 7:03 AM on October 5, 2012


Totally agree with JJ86 on CAD and aiming higher than carpentry laborer.

I can see a couple of routes for you to take here: Drawing and drafting is extremely important for communicating your ideas to customers, and it'd be cool if you can learn how to do drafting for communicating your ideas to other people who might build your designs, and so that you can save yourself pain as you build your own designs. Don't know how your family is on the whole college thing, but a path there through college might include an art school; I love the suggestions for mechanical engineering up above, but not everyone is destined to be an engineer, and art school could both have resources to continue your desire to build stuff and develop the skills to better communicate it to potential customers.

Unless you go the union carpenter route, you will be a small businessperson: Learn how to sell, and learn how to run a business. I believe that both of those things are best done via mentors, and along with aimedwander's other excellent suggestions I'd reiterate "they're still just one person". Learn from a bunch of people. Go to local professional organization meetings: In my area there

On that front, when I was a high school junior mumbledly-mumble decades ago, I looked at all those "interview someone about..." assignments and thought "this is dorky". It isn't. People love to be asked for advice, and they love to help teenagers (even as you experience a lot to the contrary). Find a couple of contractors and say "I want to follow your career path, what do I need to know?". Take notes. Compare between people. Note that for some people it's a job, and others it's a passion, and happiness isn't completely correlated to income.

Note that your shop teacher is someone who's managed to find a way to get paid for having access to cool tools and neat wood.

Finally, as others have suggested, your shop teacher is probably tuned in to other people who have similar interests. One of our local high school shop teachers is a part of our local woodworking association, and there are a couple of furniture makers who ask him "soooo, got any exceptional students?". One of those furniture makers is also an organizer of a wooden boat building competition that I and another furniture maker have worked to help high school students compete in, and I've been asked "so you think I should ask any of those guys if they want a job?"

The world wants you to succeed, and especially at your age all of us adults are for ways to help. Most of us are full of crap or have advice that applies only to us, but if you start knocking on doors or calling people up and saying "I really want to do this, I noticed you because of X, and think you might have advice for me", you're probably going to get some good advice. You may even get offered a job.

Oh, and: Sand more. I've seen some really cool work come out of our local high school wood shops, but it all needed more attention paid to finishing. Sand more.
posted by straw at 7:25 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of my friends designs and build adaptive devices for people with disabilities. A lot of people have a specific need that there's no off-the-shelf solution for, and her job is come up with a solution and build it. She's not building in wood, but she's using those building skills and also using her creative mind to plan things. I think you have a lot of options that aren't construction or even woodworking, and I thought I'd throw this in there to give you a sense of what is out there. I'm sorry I can't remember her job title off the top of my head.
posted by not that girl at 7:53 AM on October 5, 2012


Check with your local community theatre and I would bet they would be happy to have you building things for them.

I know someone who started out doing this in his small Kansas hometown and ended up as an art director designing sets for theatre, film and TV. So it's definitely something that could lead to a career if it really interests you.

That said, what others have said about high level skills and your "confidence spiral" is true. Yes, you can work your way into a great career designing and building sets for Broadway shows. But you're going to have to take calculus, and physics, and learn to draft. Also, the best way to break into this kind of work, if you live in the middle of nowhere and don't know someone who already does it, is to go to college for it (and possibly also grad school). In order to study scenic design, you have to have decent enough math and science grades. You might not already need to know drafting to start out, but if not, you will be expected to learn.

That said, my college intro to stagecraft was all practical and hands on in the shop, learning to build. So while you will need to acquire some more cerebral skills, you'll be doing the practical side at the same time. Which might inspire you to get over that confidence hump -- it's hard, in high school, to see that passing X or Y class is about building towards something you really love. College makes that a little easier, since for the most part you're taking classes that are relevant to your major, which is theoretically relevant to your future career.
posted by Sara C. at 8:05 AM on October 5, 2012


Addendum, because apparently I'm unable to actually finish a paragraph and left one hanging up there:

In my area there are: A woodworker's association, with many professional furniture and cabinet makers; a green building association; and a luthier's/guitar builder's association. All of them would be overjoyed to have a teenage member/attendee, all of them have people who have experiences of value to share and, yes, all of them have people who think they know everything and want to pontificate. Sorting through those is a life skill, you may as well start now.
posted by straw at 8:18 AM on October 5, 2012


Hey, you might try checking out a local "Hackerspace" or "Makerspace" — basically community workshops where all kinds of people — engineers, computer scientists, makers, fabricators, experimenters, teachers, kids and all kind of people get together to build cool stuff and learn from each other. Check out Hackerspaces.org to find one near you.

There's also a new book coming out in a week or so called "Makers: The New Industrial Revolution" that should give you some exciting ideas about what's possible in America today if you want to innovate, make, build and invent.
posted by amoeba at 8:29 AM on October 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here's a list of hackerspaces, and note that the one in Austria is called metalab!
posted by mareli at 8:41 AM on October 5, 2012


Just throwing this out there -- I've always found computer programming a lot like building. You're building abstractions instead of real-life things, so there are a lot of differences, obviously, but there is that same sense of satisfaction of building.

As with engineering, make sure you like math first.
posted by callmejay at 9:55 AM on October 5, 2012


A lot of good advice here, including that much depends on where you are in the world. And maybe you should be looking out of state for the best education.
It seems you have found your vocation, and things will work out eventually. Learning CAD programs without knowing the basics of drafting is unnecessarily tough. Don't give up on it entirely, but give yourself the time to learn the beginners skills.
Find an apprenticeship or go to art-school, the latter not because I imagine you want to be an artist, but because most art-programmes respect that some students learn more by making than by reading.
posted by mumimor at 11:17 AM on October 5, 2012


Shop Class as Soulcraft "brings alive an experience that was once quite common, but now seems to be receding from society-the experience of making and fixing things with our hands. Those of us who sit in an office often feel a lack of connection to the material world, a sense of loss, and find it difficult to say exactly what we do all day. For anyone who felt hustled off to college, then to the cubicle, against their own inclinations and natural bents, Shop Class as Soulcraft seeks to restore the honor of the manual trades as a life worth choosing.

On both economic and psychological grounds, Crawford questions the educational imperative of turning everyone into a "knowledge worker," based on a misguided separation of thinking from doing, the work of the hand from that of the mind. Crawford shows us how such a partition, which began a century ago with the assembly line, degrades work for those on both sides of the divide.

But Crawford offers good news as well: the manual trades are very different from the assembly line, and from dumbed-down white collar work as well. They require careful thinking and are punctuated by moments of genuine pleasure. Based on his own experience as an electrician and mechanic, Crawford makes a case for the intrinsic satisfactions and cognitive challenges of manual work. The work of builders and mechanics is secure; it cannot be outsourced, and it cannot be made obsolete. Such work ties us to the local communities in which we live, and instills the pride that comes from doing work that is genuinely useful. A wholly original debut, Shop Class as Soulcraft offers a passionate call for self-reliance and a moving reflection on how we can live concretely in an ever more abstract world."

It sounds like some keys for you are mentoring, and (the very tough work of) reorienting your way-points in what will define meaningful success for you. Many, many people go for white-collar professions, based on assumptions that more $ will make them happier- often accumulating debt and many unsatisfying years until (and if) they finally follow their heart. Based on the passion you've identified early- you can develop an art/a trade/a craft- and be your own boss, and be well respected and paid for it. You mentioned "high labor"- it sounds like that differs to you in important ways from "working hard"- therefore possible keys to understanding what feeds quality of life. Wrestle with it. The questions you're asking will pay off for you.
posted by iiniisfree at 8:36 PM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hooray for finding your passion! A lot of people above have recommended cabinetmaking, I Nth the idea of getting a mentor or going after an apprenticeship in cabinetry/furniture making, and getting involved with set building/design, although theatre building isn't going to satisfy a desire for perfection until you're waaay up there.

Another idea that came to mind is museum exhibit fabricator. I have a friend who used to do this at the Field Museum in Chicago, and apparently part of the job interview was to actually frame out a small exhibit case. Bonus points for remaining in the high-cultural-capital end of the workforce, if that's important to you.
posted by katya.lysander at 2:27 PM on October 6, 2012


The word you're looking for is "millworker" - and if you're really good with shop class, DO IT! They are professional cabinet makers and they can make a LOT of money if they are good at what they do. I'm working on a project right now in Los Angeles (so, huge market) and there's only one millwork shop that can do what we need done, and we are paying them a heck of a lot of money to do it. You do need to know how to draw well, both freehand and in CAD, to communicate with your clients. But you can learn that, and perhaps knowing it's a critical part of the building you love will help you feel more motivated to learn it.

Also, FYI in Los Angeles there are tons of carpenters for the movie studio set work, plus all the regular construction. It's a good place to be a carpenter.
posted by annie o at 10:11 AM on October 13, 2012


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