How to Become a Tool and Die Maker

Tool and die makers are at the top of the ladder in the metalworking trades. They are very versatile in using their hands for creating parts as well as machines to produce high precision parts. Their abilities go beyond that of the typical machinist. They are capable of designing and fabricating tools with no supervision. With these skills, tool and die makers are a tremendous asset in any manufacturing facility.


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    Master basic math. Understand addition, subtraction, and division. A little shop trigonometry is good for calculating bolt circles and finding the length of triangles. Some basic algebra can also be handy for applying handbook formulas.
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    Learn computer drafting. Suitable skills are included in vocational and technical schools' machining programs. Learn to create and interpret mechanical drawings.
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    Enter an apprenticeship program at a tool and die shop while in high school if possible. As an apprentice, you will do simple tasks like drilling, deburring, and sweeping in the beginning. The tasks will become more challenging as time goes on. You will learn the lathe, mill and surface grinder. Apprenticeships typically last 2 to 4 years.
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    Study machine tool technology at a good vocational trade school. Programs vary from school to school. Make sure you are studying at one that has various machines to learn from. A wire EDM (electrostatic discharge machining) tool would be nice. Also, make sure they have good CNC (computer numerically controlled) programming courses. Try to get hands-on experience in a shop rather than studying only in a classroom. The heart of your education will be in the types of projects you will be making in the course. A typical machine tool technology program will last two years.
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    Get a copy of the Machinery Handbook and refer to it often. This is an excellent reference for answering any machining problem.
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    Buy a set of good high quality precision tools like 1-2-3 inch micrometers, and a square set, along with a 7- or 11-drawer machinists toolbox. An electronic caliper is a plus also.
    • Try to stay away from generic tools because these seem to be less durable. Instead, invest in high quality tools like Starrett and Mitutoyo, top names in the trade.
    • If money is tight, obtain tools gradually, as you need them, over time, until you have your own set. Get the ones you need most first.
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    Once you land a job, focus on gaining experience. Learn from veteran tool and die makers. They can and often do share many tips they have learned over the years.
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    Talk with other tool and die makers on the internet in various discussion forums especially concerning CNC programming.
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    Read metalworking trade publications in your spare time.
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    If you want to further your career in the tool and die trade, you may want to move into supervision or teaching. A Bachelor's degree in almost any field along with tool and die experience would be very beneficial in obtaining a supervisor's job in manufacturing and/or teaching.


  • Learn all you can about various machines and manufacturing processes work.
  • Learn a good CAD program that you can use for designing. While AutoCAD is still useful, versatility is greater in 3d modeling software such as Autodesk Inventor, Pro/Engineer, and Solidworks.
  • While knowing how to use the lathe, milling machine, and surface grinder is a must, also learn other types of machinery to make tools such as wire and carbon EDM, OD/ID grinders, TIG and MIG welding, and CNC lathes and mills.
  • Tool and Die Making is a lifelong learning process. You will continue learning throughout your years in this trade. It's virtually impossible to know everything. How far you go is up to you.


  • Be extremely careful in this trade. Proper safety glasses are a must to prevent eye injury. Always wear safety glasses when entering a Tool and Die Shop.
  • Always think of safety first in a machine shop.
  • Know proper safety precautions and use good common sense when using a machine. It can maim if used carelessly.

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Categories: Tradesman Occupations