10 Tips To Go From Machinist to Toolmaker - Career goals

Jon Baklund

For those working as machinists, the prospect of transitioning to become a toolmaker is a significant opportunity for growth and advancement.

Jon Baklund, the owner of M5 Micro Molding, emphasizes to his employees that he wants them to aim higher than being just a machinist. Working at M5 and becoming a toolmaker is a reputable and fulfilling career path, offering numerous tangible and intangible benefits.Observing the progress of individuals at M5, I've always helped them to develop the skills that propelled them forward in their journey from machinist to toolmaker.

In this article, I will outline ten practical goals for machinist that want to become apprentice toolmakers to help them excel in the industry. These goals are derived from the insights of an ambitious business owner who is dedicated to fostering the growth and progress of manufacturing in the United States.

Tip 1: Foster a Strong Desire to Improve and Cultivate Natural Curiosity
To embark on the path from machinist to toolmaker successfully, it is imperative to possess a genuine desire to improve and a natural curiosity. These qualities will fuel your motivation to acquire new knowledge, seek opportunities for growth, and explore innovative techniques within the field. By nurturing your innate curiosity, you will continuously expand your skill set and remain open to learning from experienced professionals in the industry.

Tip 2: Ask Questions and Seek Clarity
Never hesitate to ask questions about the jobs you are working on. Inquire about the materials, procedures, and specific requirements for each project. Gain a comprehensive understanding of which parts or surfaces need to be surface-ground, milled, or subject to other machining processes. Clarify whether you need to achieve extreme squareness, perpendicularity, parallelism, or flatness through surface grinding, jig grinding or Wire EDM. By seeking clarity, you will ensure that you deliver precise and accurate results.

Tip 3: Develop Machine Proficiency
A profound understanding of the machines you work with is essential for a toolmaker. Familiarize yourself with the capabilities and limitations of each machine, including the tolerances they can achieve. Determine whether you need to interpolate, ream, or bore a hole of a particular size on a specific machine. Mastery of your tools will enable you to select the most suitable equipment for each task and optimize your efficiency.

Tip 4: Emphasize Project Work
While focusing on individual parts is necessary, it is equally crucial to work on projects as a whole. You will gain a comprehensive understanding of the functions of assembly and how tolerance stacking can affect the final assembly, and the function of a tool. This knowledge will enable you to anticipate potential challenges and ensure that each component fits together seamlessly, contributing to the overall functionality and life of the assembly.

Tip 5: Strive for Quality Workmanship
As a toolmaker, quality workmanship is of utmost importance. Set high standards for yourself and strive to deliver work of the highest caliber. Each piece you create should exhibit immaculate workmanship, impeccable surface finish, and a perfect fit. By prioritizing quality, you will build a reputation for excellence and gain the trust and respect of your colleagues and superiors.

Tip 6: Learn Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerance (GD&T)
As a machinist and ultimately as toolmaker you will  use GD&T extensively in your day-to-day work, acquiring a solid understanding of it is invaluable. GD&T provides a standardized language for communicating design and manufacturing requirements, ensuring precision and accuracy in the production process.  Understanding its principles will enhance your comprehension of the overall manufacturing landscape.

Tip 7: Master Time Management and Estimation
Accurate time estimation is crucial for effective project management. Strive to be precise in estimating the time required for each task or job. This skill will not only enhance your timeliness but also contribute to better customer quoting and more efficient personal time management. Additionally, accurate time estimation showcases your professionalism and earns the respect and trust of both colleagues and management. Also, if you ever start your own company, it will be essential, including projects for yourself.

Tip 8: Take Full Responsibility for Your Work
As a toolmaker, it is vital to take ownership of the jobs and parts you build. There is no room for a "good enough" mentality. Strive for perfection in every aspect, from workmanship to surface finish and fit. By assuming total responsibility for your creations, you establish yourself as a meticulous and reliable professional who consistently delivers exceptional results.

Tip 9: Seek Continuous Learning
The manufacturing industry is ever-evolving, with new technologies and techniques constantly emerging. Embrace a mindset of continuous learning and seek opportunities to expand your knowledge and skills. Choose two or three areas to focus on throughout the year and delve deeper into those subjects. Working on a variety of projects in a company will naturally expose you to different facets of the trade, but concentrating your efforts will facilitate measurable progress.

Goal 10: Enjoy the Process
Above all, remember to enjoy the process of growth and development. Embrace the challenges and triumphs that come with honing your craft. Each milestone achieved and every new skill acquired will bring you one step closer to your goal of becoming a successful toolmaker. Celebrate your progress along the way and maintain a positive attitude that will sustain your motivation and dedication.

By embracing these ten practical goals, you can lay a solid foundation for your journey from machinist to toolmaker. Remember that growth is a continuous process, and with each passing day, you have the opportunity to enhance your skills and expand your expertise within the industry. As you embark on this path, remain committed to your goals and relish the satisfaction that comes from achieving them.

Embrace a strong desire to improve, cultivate natural curiosity, ask questions, develop machine proficiency, prioritize project work, strive for quality workmanship, learn GD&T, master time management and estimation, take full responsibility for your work, and seek continuous learning. By following these ten tips and enjoying the process of growth, you can chart a successful path in the manufacturing industry.

Good luck in your career!!