A machinist is a tradesperson or trained professional who not only operates machine tools, but also has the knowledge of tooling and materials required to create set ups on machine tools such as milling machines, grinders, lathes, and drilling machines.

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Machinist, operating a metal lathe
Occupation type
Activity sectors
Industrial manufacturing
CompetenciesPatience, steady hand, ability to read plans, attention to detail, physically strong
Education required
Industrial Training Institute, Apprenticeship
Fields of
Industrial manufacturing
Related jobs
Machinery repairman creates helicopter part aboard an aircraft carrier

A competent machinist should have a well-developed mechanical aptitude, the ability to correctly use precision measuring instruments, and a working knowledge of the proper speeds and feeds required for successfully utilizing the various work and tool materials commonly used in most machining operations.

Nature of workEdit

Mass-produced parts of machines are more common today, but still require machinists and millwrights to calibrate and install machine parts to manufacture other parts. In many parts of the economy, however, custom-made parts are required for various uses. A machinist may work on manufacturing something simple like a motorcycle frame part, a piece of an internal combustion motor, or something extraordinarily complex, such as pieces of submarine engines accurate to 2 micrometers.

Good machinists are highly sought after and respected skilled trades persons and are generally well-paid. In utility and military use companies, experienced machinists can earn over $100,000 per year.

Related occupational titlesEdit

Some titles reflect further development of machinist skills such as tool and die maker, patternmaker, mold maker, programmer, and operator. A machinist is one who is called on to fix a problem with a part or to create a new one using metal working, plastic, or in some cases, wood. Depending on the company, a machinist can be any or all of the titles listed above.

In Australia, the title of the profession is a fitter and turner. A fitter and turner is the tradesperson who fits, assembles, grinds and shapes metal parts and subassemblies to fabricate production machines and other equipment.[1]

Under the machinist title are other specialty titles that refer to specific skills that may be more highly developed to meet the needs of a particular job position, such as fitter (assembles parts), turning hand, mill hand, and grinder.

Role in manufacturingEdit

A machinist is usually called upon when a part needs to be produced from a material by cutting. Such a part may be unique or may be needed in the thousands. This could include a machinery part for a production line or anything that can be made from metal or plastic. Producing a part will often require several steps and more than one machine tool. Each machine tool plays a specific role in cutting away excess material. When large numbers of parts are needed, production planning is required to plan the most logical workflow through a series of machines. Computer numerical controlled (CNC) machines are a special computer-driven tool that can machine a large variety of shapes, and whose use in the workflow depends on the part to be machined.[2]

CNC machines are becoming the standard due to their speed, precision, flexibility, and reduced downtime while changing jobs. Production runs consisting of large numbers of parts are more cost effective and commonly referred to as production work in the trade. Conversely, small production runs are sometimes referred to as prototype or jobbing work.

Production engineers use blueprints and engineering drawings to produce detailed specifications of the part, especially its geometry (shape), then decide on a strategy to make it. Machine tools are then configured by the machinist or toolset and production commences. The machinist works with the quality department to ensure the specifications are maintained in the finished product.[2]

Machinist inspecting a CNC lathe

Large commercial organizations often staff machinists on site in a maintenance mode to ensure continuing operations of the production machinery. The labor cost for this role is significantly lower than costs involved with production shutdowns.

Additive machiningEdit

Additive machining means 3D printing to create industrial components, prototypes, tooling, and end-use production parts. Additive machining comes into its own in the manufacturing of very small intricate parts, which could not be produced through any other manufacturing process. There are several processes in additive manufacturing which include direct metal deposition: electron beam melting, fused filament fabrication, select laser sintering, and variations of them.

Materials commonly encountered by machinistsEdit

A machinist is to metal as a woodcarver is to wood. The most common materials that machinists make parts from are steel, aluminium, brass, copper, and various alloys of these materials. Other less common materials such as vanadium, zinc, lead, or manganese are often used as alloying elements for the most common materials. Materials that machinists work with occasionally are plastics, rubber, glass, and wood products. Rarely, machinists also work with exotic and refractory metals. The term exotic metals is a general term describing out of the ordinary, rare or special purpose metals. A synonym might be space-age. A list of exotic metals might include, but is not limited to, titanium, beryllium, vanadium, chromium, molybdenum and tungsten, as well as special high-temperature metal alloys like Inconel or Hastelloy (superalloys). Very often the meaning of the term suggests the need for specialized handling and/or tooling to machine them effectively.[3]

While the foregoing were primarily the materials that a machinist would be cutting, the cutters that the machinist uses must be harder and tougher than the materials to be cut. The materials in the cutters a machinist uses are most commonly high-speed steel, tungsten carbide, ceramics, Borazon, and diamond.[3]

Machinists usually work to very small tolerances, usually within 0.010" or 0.25 mm (more commonly expressed as ±0.005" (Plus or minus five thousandths of an inch) or ±0.13 mm), and sometimes at tolerances as low as 0.0001" (plus or minus one tenth of a thousandth of an inch – or 0.0025 mm) for specialty operations. A machinist deals with all facets of shaping, cutting and some aspects of forming metal, although forming is typically a separate trade. The operations most commonly performed by machinists are milling, drilling, turning, and grinding. There are other more specialized operations that a machinist will less frequently be called upon to perform such as honing, keyseating, lapping, and polishing, to name a few.

Tools of the machinistEdit

The tools that a machinist is expected to be proficient with fall into 6 broad categories:

  • Measuring tools: The measuring tools come in several basic varieties:
  • Hand tools: The hand tools are the usual complement of tools found in a complete auto mechanic's set except that auto specialty tools would be absent and some outsized tools would likely be present, such as 1 1/2" (38 mm) open end wrench.
  • Machine tools: The machine tools have undergone a dramatic shift in the last 20 years. Manual machines have given way to computer numerically controlled machines (CNCs). For clarity's sake a categorization based on the historical groupings will be offered. Each of these groupings has been altered by the advent of CNCs and the CNCs meld some groups and blur the lines between others. In the past, the most common machine tools fall into 4 categories:
    • Drilling machines, bench, floor, radial, and horizontal
    • Milling machines, horizontal, vertical, and boring mills
    • Turning machines, engine lathe, turret lathe, vertical turret lathe, vertical boring mill
    • Grinding machines, surface, cylindrical, centerless, universal
  • Work holders: The work holders may include vises, chucks, indexing accessories, pallets, specialty jigs or fixtures, and faceplates
  • Tool holders: The tool holders may include chucks, cutter adapters, cutter extension, tool posts, indexable turrets, box tools, quick change adapters, arbors, and collets.
  • Cutting tools: Cutting tools include various milling cutters such as face mills, shell mills, endmills, and form cutters; various drills, reamers, taps, countersinks, counterbores, and core drills; various turning tools, form tools, and threading tools; various grinding wheels[5] distinguished by their geometry, bond, grit size, and compound.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Fitter and Turners – JobOutlook". Retrieved 12 February 2022.
  2. ^ a b "Tool & Die Makers - Tooling Engineers | ESI Engineering Specialties Inc". ESI Engineering Specialties Inc. Retrieved 2016-02-04.
  3. ^ a b Fagerlund, Jaakko (2010-12-08). "Home Shop Machinist: Materials and their properties". Home Shop Machinist. Retrieved 2016-02-04.
  4. ^ "CNCCookbook: Useful Tools". Retrieved 2016-02-04.
  5. ^ "10 Must-See Ideas for Cutting, Tooling, Programming, Machining, and Shop Management". Retrieved 2016-02-04.

External linksEdit

  • The Machinists Union: IAMAW
  • Machine Tool Hall of Fame: The American Precision Museum