Lancaster County employs furniture finishers at more than seven times the national rate | Local company

At George’s Furniture, two worn yellow lines snake through the carpentry shop where a group saw snores and groans. The path keeps buses full of visitors a safe distance from the benches where craftsmen make bespoke furniture.

Furniture making is so central to the character and economy of Lancaster County that it is marketed to tourists. The concentration of furniture finishers, a key part of the furniture and cabinet making process, in the county is among the highest in the United States. And of all the high-concentration occupations here, furniture finishing is the highest, according to an annual survey by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Lancaster County employs furniture finishers at seven times the national rate. These are people who shape, finish, and refinish damaged, worn, or used furniture or new, high-quality furniture to a specified color or finish, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said.

“The county’s reputation for quality handcrafted furniture has been part of our tourism message for many years, as it meshes well with some of our general points of interest such as craftsmanship, products and experiences of unique retail and Amish heritage,” said Joe Cliff. , director of communications and advocacy for Discover Lancaster, the county’s tourism agency. Cliff noted that the Amish are only part of the furniture-making community.

An industry is growing

According to Lancaster County Amish community expert Stephen Nolt, a 2015 occupational analysis showed that 10.7 percent of Amish men under the age of 65 work in woodworking and cabinetmaking.

Woodworking as an occupation among the Amish began to gain popularity in the 1980s, as the Plain community grew and moved away from agriculture, said Nolt, senior fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College. Families did not give up farming, Nolt said, but available land could not support the growing Amish population, leading some to turn to non-farm work, such as woodworking.

“It’s the kind of thing that fits into a flexible small business environment at home,” Nolt said. “With furniture you can start slow and grow.”

Amish children complete their formal education in eighth grade and may attend school one day a week as they enter something akin to an apprenticeship, Nolt said. Teenagers either begin working for the family business, which may be a farm, or work for the small business of an Amish neighbor or relative. Woodworking could be a first job for an Amish teenager, he said.

Jay Wagner uses a table saw to cut hardwood to make furniture at George’s Furniture in East Donegal Township on Friday October 7, 2022.

Finished as part of the woodworking process.

New recruits at George’s, 9 Reichs Church Road in East Donegal Township, start with an apprenticeship. They learn about their strengths and interests throughout their first year. Do they want to focus on a few room types or will they go for complex projects like hutches? A craftsman in the workshop, often a younger one, does most of the staining and spraying of a finish in an area next to the carpentry workshop. Longtime furniture maker Anthony Heisey used to do just that.

The finish really starts with the selection of the wood. Heisey said the hardest part of building furniture is selecting the pieces that go with the right grain. The craftsman must imagine what they will look like in the end.

“Anyone can throw boards together,” Heisey said.

Fresh out of Donegal High School, Heisey decided to work not far from home in the workshop of George’s Furniture, where a handful of craftsmen make bespoke furniture, each piece signed by its creator. He was 18 years old.

“I was going to stay here (for) a year until I figured out what I was going to do with my life,” Heisey said.

Thirty-four years later, at 53, he’s still around, one of five artisans who build chairs, hutches, tables, cabinets, beds and more, from the design they sketch on paper to selecting wood pieces, spraying a finish and staining the floor. furniture.

In May 2021, there were just 210 people in Lancaster County whose job was described as furniture finisher, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This data is released annually, so the most recent for May 2021 was released in June.

The concentration of furniture finishers is calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is measured by a location quotient of 7.87. The Location Quotient (LQ) reveals industries or occupations that are truly unique and specialized in a regional economy relative to the national average. Figures do not include the self-employed.

“There’s such a community of builders and finishers here,” said Easton Braun, owner of E. Braun Farm Tables & Furniture, 3172 Old Philadelphia Pike, in Leacock Township between Bird-in-Hand and Intercourse. Braun, 42, moved to Lancaster from Wayne County and started his business turning old barn wood into tables about 20 years ago. At first it was a side hobby, but it has grown to include other live edge furniture and tables as well. Today, he employs around fifteen people, including a few finishers like Thirgam Al-Hussaini, 33, also a warehouse manager.

Finishing is a type of foot-in-the-door position that can launch you into a career with the company, said Al-Hussaini, who has worked for Braun for about a year. In Lancaster, finishers earn between $30,000 and $40,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Al-Hussaini, a graduate of Lampeter-Strasburg High School, said he learned a lot from Braun and experienced on his own. The goal is to achieve the look the client wants. He considers his work to preserve a bit of history in the form of old barn wood, some of which is 200 years old.

“I think it’s absolutely beautiful and making it look like the client is satisfying,” Al-Hussaini said.

About Oscar L. Smith

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