Machinists and tool and die makers set up and operate a variety of computer-controlled and mechanically controlled machine tools to produce precision metal parts, instruments, and tools.

Duties

Machinists typically do the following:

  • Read blueprints, sketches, or computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) files
  • Set up, operate, and disassemble manual, automatic, and computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine tools
  • Align, secure, and adjust cutting tools and workpieces
  • Monitor the feed and speed of machines
  • Turn, mill, drill, shape, and grind machine parts to specifications
  • Measure, examine, and test completed products for defects
  • Smooth the surfaces of parts or products
  • Present finished workpieces to customers and make modifications if needed

Tool and die makers typically do the following:

  • Read blueprints, sketches, specifications, or CAD and CAM files for making tools and dies
  • Compute and verify dimensions, sizes, shapes, and tolerances of workpieces
  • Set up, operate, and disassemble conventional, manual, and CNC machine tools
  • File, grind, and adjust parts so that they fit together properly
  • Test completed tools and dies to ensure that they meet specifications
  • Smooth and polish the surfaces of tools and dies

Machinists use machine tools, such as lathes, milling machines, and grinders, to produce precision metal parts. Many machinists must be able to use both manual and CNC machinery. CNC machines control the cutting tool speed and do all necessary cuts to create a part. The machinist determines the cutting path, the speed of the cut, and the feed rate by programming instructions into the CNC machine.

Although workers may produce large quantities of one part, precision machinists often produce small batches or one-of-a-kind items. The parts that machinists make range from simple steel bolts to titanium bone screws for orthopedic implants. Hydraulic parts, antilock brakes, and automobile pistons are other widely known products that machinists make.

Some machinists repair or make new parts for existing machinery. After an industrial machinery mechanic discovers a broken part in a machine, a machinist remanufactures the part. The machinist refers to blueprints and performs the same machining operations that were used to create the original part in order to create the replacement.

Some manufacturing processes use lasers, water jets, and electrified wires to cut the workpiece. As engineers design and build new types of machine tools, machinists must learn new machining properties and techniques.

Tool and die makers construct  precision tools or metal forms, called dies, that are used to cut, shape, and form metal and other materials. They produce jigs and fixtures—devices that hold metal while it is bored, stamped, or drilled—and gauges and other measuring devices.

Dies are used to shape metal in stamping and forging operations. They also make metal molds for die casting and for molding plastics, ceramics, and composite materials.

Tool and die makers use CAD to develop products and parts. They enter designs into computer programs that produce blueprints for the required tools and dies. Computer numeric control programmers, described in the metal and plastic machine workers profile, convert CAD designs into CAM programs that contain instructions for a sequence of cutting-tool operations. Once these programs are developed, CNC machines follow the set of instructions contained in the program to produce the part. Machinists normally operate CNC machines, but tool and die makers often are trained to both operate CNC machines and write CNC programs and thus may do either task.

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Work Environment

Machinists held about 395,200 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of machinists were as follows:

Machine shops 22%
Machinery manufacturing 20
Transportation equipment manufacturing                                 12
Employment services 5

Tool and die makers held about 74,300 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of tool and die makers were as follows:

Metalworking machinery manufacturing 23%
Motor vehicle parts manufacturing 16
Aerospace product and parts manufacturing 5
Plastics product manufacturing 4
Machine shops; turned product; and screw, nut, and bolt manufacturing                                4

Injuries and Illnesses

Because machinists and tool and die makers work around machine tools that may present hazards, these workers must follow precautions to avoid injuries. For example, workers must wear protective equipment, such as safety glasses, to shield against bits of flying metal, earplugs to dampen the noise produced by machinery, and masks to limit their exposure to fumes.

Work Schedules

Although many machinists and tool and die makers work full time during regular business hours, some work evenings and weekends because facilities may operate around the clock. Some work more than 40 hours a week.

Education and Training

Machinists and tool and die makers typically are trained on the job. Some learn through training or apprenticeship programs, vocational schools, or community and technical colleges. Although machinists typically need just a high school diploma, tool and die makers may need to complete courses beyond high school.

Education

Machinists typically have a high school diploma or equivalent, whereas tool and die makers may need to complete courses beyond high school. High school courses in math, blueprint reading, metalworking, and drafting are considered useful.

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, the use of a variety of welding and cutting tools, and the programming and function of computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines.

Training

There are multiple ways for workers to gain competency in the job as a machinist or tool or die maker. One common way is through long-term on-the-job training, which lasts 1 year or longer.

Trainees usually work 40 hours per week and take additional 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.

Some new workers may enter apprenticeship programs, which are typically sponsored by a manufacturer. Apprenticeship programs often consist of paid shop training and related technical instruction lasting several years. The technical instruction usually is provided in cooperation with local community colleges and vocational–technical schools. Workers typically enter into apprenticeships with a high school diploma or equivalent.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

A number of organizations 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 the completion of an apprenticeship.

Completing a certification program provides machinists and tool and die makers with better job opportunities and helps employers judge the abilities of new hires.

Personality and Interests

Machinists and tool and die makers typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a machinist and tool and die maker, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Machinists and tool and die makers should also possess the following specific qualities:

Analytical skills. Machinists and tool and die makers must understand highly technical electronic and written blueprints, models, and specifications, so 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 of .0001 inch, which requires workers’ precision, concentration, and dexterity.

Math and computer skills. Workers must have good math and computer skills to work with CAD/CAM technology, CNC machine tools, and computerized measuring machines.

Mechanical skills. Machinists and tool and die makers must be mechanically inclined. They operate milling machines, lathes, grinders, laser and water cutting machines, wire electrical discharge machines, and other machine tools. They also may use a variety of hand tools and power tools.

Physical stamina. The ability to endure long 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.

Pay

The median annual wage for machinists was $44,420 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $27,940, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $66,610.

The median annual wage for tool and die makers was $53,920 in May 2019. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $33,820, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $77,940.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for machinists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Transportation equipment manufacturing                                   $47,470
Machinery manufacturing 44,970
Machine shops 43,300
Employment services 33,550

In May 2019, the median annual wages for tool and die makers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Aerospace product and parts manufacturing $77,390
Motor vehicle parts manufacturing 57,780
Machine shops; turned product; and screw, nut, and bolt manufacturing                                     54,210
Metalworking machinery manufacturing 51,360
Plastics product manufacturing 51,350

The pay of apprentices is tied to their skill level. As they reach specific levels of performance and experience, their pay increases.

Although many machinists and tool and die makers work full time during regular business hours, some work evenings and weekends because facilities may operate around the clock. Some work more than 40 hours a week.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of machinists and tool and die makers is projected to show little or no change from 2018 to 2028. Employment growth will vary by specialty.

Employment of machinists is projected to grow 3 percent from 2018 to 2028, slower than the average for all occupations. With improvements in technologies, such as computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine tools, autoloaders, high-speed machining, and lights-out manufacturing, machinists will still be required to set up, monitor, and maintain these systems.

Employment of tool and die makers is projected to decline 6 percent from 2018 to 2028. Advances in automation, including CNC machine tools, should reduce demand for tool and die makers to perform tasks, such as programming how parts fit together, that computer software can perform.

Job Prospects

Job openings for machinists and tool and die makers are expected to arise from the need to replace workers who retire or leave the occupation each year.

For More Information

 

About this section

For more information about machinists and tool and die makers, including training and certification, visit 

Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International (FMA)

Manufacturing Institute (MI)

National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS)

For information about manufacturing careers, including machinery and tool and die makers, visit 

American Mold Builders Association (AMBA)

Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT)

National Tooling and Machining Association (NTMA)

Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA)

Precision Metalforming Association (PMA)

FAQ

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The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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I am not sure if this career is right for me. How can I decide?

There are many excellent tools available that will allow you to measure your interests, profile your personality, and match these traits with appropriate careers. On this site, you can take the Career Personality Profiler assessment, the Holland Code assessment, or the Photo Career Quiz.

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