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.
Machinists typically do the following:
- Work from blueprints, sketches or computer-aided design (CAD), and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) files
- Set up, operate, and disassemble manual, automatic, and computer-numeric 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 computer-numeric controlled (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. These tools are either manually controlled or computer-numerically controlled (CNC). 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. Many machinists must be able to use both manual and computer-controlled machinery in their jobs.
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 bolts of steel to titanium bone screws for orthopedic implants. Hydraulic parts, anti-lock 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 would need to remanufacture the broken 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.
Because the technology of machining is changing rapidly, workers must learn to operate a wide range of machines. Some newer manufacturing processes use lasers, water jets, electrical discharge machines (EDM), and electrified wires to cut the workpiece. Although some of the computer controls are similar to those of other machine tools, machinists must understand the unique capabilities of different machines. As engineers create new types of machine tools, machinists constantly must learn new machining properties and techniques.
Toolmakers craft precision tools that are used to cut, shape, and form metal and other materials. They also produce jigs and fixtures—devices that hold metal while it is bored, stamped, or drilled—and gauges and other measuring devices.
Die makers construct metal forms, called dies, that 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.
Many tool and die makers use computer-aided design (CAD) to develop products and parts. Designs are entered into computer programs that electronically develop blueprints for the required tools and dies. Computer-numeric control programmers, found in the metal and plastic machine workers profile, convert computer-aided designs into computer-aided manufacturing (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; they may do either task.
Machinists and tool and die makers held about 476,200 jobs in 2012. The vast majority worked in manufacturing. The industries that employed the most machinists and tool and die makers in 2012 were as follows:
|Transportation equipment manufacturing||15|
Machinists and tool and die makers work in machine shops, tool rooms, and factories, where work areas are usually well ventilated.
Most machinists and tool and die makers work full time during regular business hours. However, overtime is somewhat common. Because many manufacturers run machinery for long hours, evening and weekend work is also common.
Injuries and Illnesses
Although the work of machinists and tool and die makers is not inherently dangerous, working around machine tools presents hazards, and workers must follow precautions. For example, workers must wear protective equipment, such as safety glasses, to shield against bits of flying metal, and earplugs to dampen the noise produced by machinery.
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, as well as on-the-job training. Good math, problem-solving, and computer skills are important. A high school diploma 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 basic computer skills before entering a training program.
Some community colleges and technical schools have 2-year programs that train students to become machinists. 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.
Apprenticeship programs, typically sponsored by a manufacturer, are an excellent way to become a machinist or tool and die maker, but they are often hard to get into. Apprentices usually must have a high school diploma or equivalent, and most have taken algebra and trigonometry classes.
Apprenticeship programs consist of paid shop training and related technical instruction lasting several years. Apprenticeship classes often are taught in cooperation with local community colleges and vocational–technical schools.
A growing number of machinists and tool and die makers receive their technical training from community and technical colleges. In this setting, employees learn while employed by a manufacturer that supports the employee's training goals and provides the needed on-the-job training.
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 have good computer skills to work with CAD/CAM technology, CNC machine tools, and computerized measuring machines. Some machinists become tool and die makers.
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, state apprenticeship boards, and colleges offer certification programs. The Right Skills Now initiative, for example, is an industry-driven program that aims to align education pathways with career pathways.
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.
Journey-level certification is available from state apprenticeship boards after completing an apprenticeship. Many employers recognize this certification, and it often leads to better job opportunities.
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.
The median hourly wage for machinists was $18.99 in May 2012. 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 $11.70 per hour, and the top 10 percent earned more than $28.75 per hour.
The median hourly wage for tool and die makers was $22.60 in May 2012. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $15.16 per hour, and the top 10 percent earned more than $33.44 per hour.
The pay of apprentices is tied to their skill level. As they gain more skills and reach specific levels of performance and experience, their pay increases.
Most machinists and tool and die makers work full time during regular business hours. However, overtime is somewhat common. Also, many manufacturers run the machinery for long hours, so they have shifts with evening and weekend work.
Overall employment of machinists and tool and die makers is projected to grow 7 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Employment growth will vary by specialty.
Employment of machinists is projected to grow 9 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Despite 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 automated systems.
In addition, employers will continue to need machinists, who have a wide range of skills and are capable of performing modern production techniques, in a machine shop. Manufacturers will continue to rely heavily on skilled machinists, as they invest in new equipment, modify production techniques, and implement product design changes more rapidly.
Employment of tool and die makers is projected to show little or no change from 2012 to 2022.
Although foreign competition in manufacturing and advances in automation, including CNC machine tools and computer-aided design, should improve worker productivity, tool and die makers will still be needed to program CNC machines. There also will be a need for tool and die makers to manufacture small production orders and special order parts.
Job opportunities for machinists and tool and die makers should be excellent, as employers continue to value the wide-ranging skills of these workers. Also, many young people with the right education and personal qualifications needed to become machinists and tool and die makers prefer to attend college or may not wish to enter production occupations. Therefore, the number of workers learning to be machinists and tool and die makers is expected to be smaller than the number of job openings arising each year from the need to replace experienced machinists who retire or leave the occupation for other reasons.
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