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Without machinists, stores and factories would be lacking in most of their products. The machines and metal objects they make are the power force behind the bulk of the manufacturing industry. Machinists set up and operate precision metal cutting and grinding machines such as lathes, milling machines, drills, shapers, boring mills and grinders to make and repair parts and products made from metals, plastics, rubber textiles, fiberglass and space age alloys.

Machinists receive blueprints, charts or plans of a specified project and must interpret and visualize what the outcome will look like. They take a drawing and then machine a raw piece of metal to create a working part to meet precise specifications. Machinists are very knowledgeable when it comes to understanding the properties of heat treatment on metals. They are skilled to work on a variety of machines, including welding metals and other heat treatment processes.

If there are no blueprints or other specifications available for a project, they must determine dimensions by logic or by measuring samples using instruments such as micrometers and vernier calipers. Electronic instruments have digital readouts and require the operator to program them for use. The machinist will create a layout, by marking the metal on where to cut and shape it. They make calculations of the part's dimensions and operate computer-controlled tools that can perform precision machining operations like milling, drilling and grinding.

Once they complete their layout, machinists perform the necessary machining operations. They usually position the metal stock on the machine tool of choice, and make the proper cuts and moulds. During the process, they must ensure that the workpiece is being properly lubricated and cooled, as machining metal products generates a significant amount of heat. Accordingly, the temperature of each metal is a concern to the machinist since most metals expand when heated. This is one reason why they need to know the properties of various alloys. Once the part is completed, the machinist must make sure that it is the right size and fits the proper design specifications.

Work as a machinist can be quite varied as they have the opportunity to work in a variety of industries. For instance, some can work on clothing assembly lines, manufacture computer parts or work in a nuclear power plant.
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  Interests and Skills  
Machinists must have a technical mind to interpret blueprints and be able to visualize a final product from looking at plans. They need an understanding of safe work practices and the knowledge to safely operate the tools of the trade. They can work with their hands quickly, but with patience, skill and accuracy. Machinists are generally in good shape with muscular coordination, agility and balance. They must be willing to travel to various work sites, and have an inclination to work cooperatively with others. They must also like to work with tools and instruments that require precision and a steady hand.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Study specifications, charts, drawings or sample parts to determine the machining operation to be performed
  • Calculate dimensions and tolerances, and prepare working sketches if necessary
  • Measure and mark the metal
  • Set up and operate tools, which may be computer numerically controlled, to perform precision machining operations
  • Fit parts to mechanisms and verify dimensions
  • Machinists work indoors in shops or factories that may be noisy or dusty, and with materials that may be dirty. They may have to stand for long periods of time. Generally, they work a standard 40-hour week with longer hours occasionally required in emergency situations. There may be some risk of injury involved in working with sharp metals and power tools, therefore, machinists must take the proper safety precautions, including wearing proper clothing and eye goggles.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Machinists are employed wherever equipment is being manufactured or repaired, such as motor vehicle plants, automotive parts, metal manufacturing and aircraft plants. Some are employed by large organizations such as government departments, or repair and maintenance companies. Employment is reasonably steady for most machinists, but may be seasonal for machinists employed in industries such as oil field component production.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Experienced machinists may advance to positions such as inspector, foreman or superintendent. Some machinists start small job shops of their own. With additional training, they may transfer their skills to related occupations such as millwright, tool and die maker, gunsmith or locksmith. Special consideration is given to machinists who wish to become certified as millwrights or tool and die makers. They could also work as instructors at community colleges and technical institutes or take on an apprentice to teach the tools of the trade.

  Educational Paths  
Machinists receive their training either through informal, on-the-job training or through an apprenticeship program. Trade certification can be obtained either through an apprenticeship program or after several years of work experience. While trade certification is not mandatory in all areas to become a machinist, it can be a requirement for many employers and can also help secure employment.

Apprenticeship programs involve a combination of on-the-job training and classroom instruction. A pre-apprenticeship course may also be available which takes about five to six months to complete at a community college and is designed to help you get connected with a good company to apprentice with. It is important to apprentice with a reputable company as that is your education. While some apprenticeship programs may not require a high school diploma, it is important to note that employers generally prefer to hire high school graduates.

Apprenticeships can vary, however a typical apprenticeship lasts four to five years. The apprenticeship is a paid position, however wages are about 50 percent of what an employer pays the journeyperson, with yearly increases. After successfully completing the apprenticeship requirements, their industry training and apprenticeship office awards the machinist a certificate of completion.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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