How to Become a Machinist or Tool and Die Maker
Machinists and tool and die makers must have a high school diploma or equivalent.
There are many different ways to become a machinist or tool and die maker. Machinists train in apprenticeship programs, vocational schools, or community or technical colleges, or on the job. To become a fully trained tool and die maker takes several years of technical instruction and on-the-job training. Good math and problem-solving skills, in addition to familiarity with computer software, are important. A high school diploma or equivalent is necessary.
Machinists and tool and die makers must have a high school diploma or equivalent. In high school, students should take math courses, especially trigonometry and geometry. They also should take courses in blueprint reading, metalworking, and drafting, if available.
Some advanced positions, such as those in the aircraft manufacturing industry, require the use of advanced applied calculus and physics. The increasing use of computer-controlled machinery requires machinists and tool and die makers to have experience using computers before entering a training program.
Some community colleges and technical schools have 2-year programs that train students to become machinists or tool and die makers. These programs usually teach design and blueprint reading, how to use a variety of welding and cutting tools, and the programming and function of computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines.
There are multiple ways for workers to gain competency in the job as a tool or die maker. One common way is through long-term on-the-job training, which lasts 1 year or longer.
Apprenticeship programs, typically sponsored by a manufacturer, provide another way to become a machinist or tool and die maker, but they are often hard to get into. Apprentices usually have a high school diploma or equivalent, and most have taken algebra and trigonometry classes.
Apprenticeship programs often consist of paid shop training and related technical instruction lasting several years. The technical instruction typically is provided in cooperation with local community colleges and vocational–technical schools.
Apprentices usually work 40 hours per week and receive technical instruction during evenings. Trainees often begin as machine operators and gradually take on more difficult assignments. Machinists and tool and die makers must be experienced in using computers to work with CAD/CAM technology, CNC machine tools, and computerized measuring machines. Some machinists become tool and die makers.
A number of machinists and tool and die makers receive their technical training from community and technical colleges. Employees may learn this way while being employed by a manufacturer that supports the employee’s training goals and provides needed on-the-job training as well.
Even after completing a formal training program, tool and die makers still need years of experience to become highly skilled.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
To boost the skill level of machinists and tool and die makers and to create a more uniform standard of competency, a number of training facilities and colleges offer certification programs. The Skills Certification System, for example, is an industry-driven program that aims to align education pathways with career pathways. In addition, journey-level certification is available from state apprenticeship boards after completing an apprenticeship.
Completing a recognized certification program provides machinists and tool and die makers with better job opportunities and helps employers judge the abilities of new hires.
Analytical skills. Machinists and tool and die makers must understand highly technical blueprints, models, and specifications so that they can craft precision tools and metal parts.
Manual dexterity. The work of machinists and tool and die makers must be highly accurate. For example, machining parts may demand accuracy to within .0001 of an inch, a level of accuracy that requires workers’ concentration and dexterity.
Math skills and computer application experience. Workers must have good math skills and be experienced using computers to work with CAD/CAM technology, CNC machine tools, and computerized measuring machines.
Mechanical skills. Machinists and tool and die makers must operate milling machines, lathes, grinders, laser and water cutting machines, wire electrical discharge machines, and other machine tools. They may also use a variety of hand tools and power tools.
Physical stamina. The ability to endure extended periods of standing and performing repetitious movements is important for machinists and tool and die makers.
Technical skills. Machinists and tool and die makers must understand computerized measuring machines and metalworking processes, such as stock removal, chip control, and heat treating and plating.