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Tool and Die Maker Job Description, Career as a Tool and Die Maker, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training High school plus training

Salary Median—$20.55 per hour

Employment Outlook Excellent

Definition and Nature of the Work

Tool and die makers are highly skilled machinists. They produce tools, dies, and parts of machines used to manufacture a variety of products. Although many workers do both tool and die making, they are actually two different processes. Tool makers build and repair cutting and shaping devices for machine tools, devices that guide the cutting tools (jigs), and devices that firmly hold the metal being cut (fixtures). They also make and repair gauges and other measuring devices. Die makers construct and repair metal forms—called dies—that are used in stamping and forging metal. They also make molds for plastics, ceramics, and other composite materials. Some die makers design and repair dies, jigs, and tools.

Tool and die makers have a broad knowledge of machining operations. In addition, they have an aptitude for mathematics, read blueprints, and do precise handwork. They must be able to operate almost any machine tool, including milling machines, lathes, and grinders, as well as hand tools. They also use a wide variety of precision measuring instruments. Working from either a blueprint or designer's specifications, they perform every step in the process of making a tool, jig, fixture, or die. They select the material (metals or metal alloys), lay it out, cut it, shape it, hone it to the exact specifications, and assemble the parts if more than one is involved. Their work must be precise—sometimes to tolerances (leeway) of one-thousandth of an inch.

The nature of tool and die making is changing rapidly. Technological changes are constant and require workers to receive training to update their skills. Most tool and die makers now use computer-aided design to produce tools and dies. Tool and die makers are trained in both writing computer numerically controlled programs and operating computer numerically controlled machines, and may perform either or both tasks.

A tool and die maker is a type of skilled machinist who produces tools, dies, and special devices used on manufacturing machines to mass-produce metal parts. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.)

Most tool and die workers work in industries that manufacture metalworking machinery, motor vehicles and aerospace products, metal products, or plastics products. Some tool and die makers work for contract shops that make tools and dies for manufacturing plants.

Education and Training Requirements

Tool and die makers generally receive four to five years of education and training in either apprenticeship programs or community and technical colleges. Traditional apprenticeship programs require a combination of on-the-job training and successful completion of a variety of courses, such as tool designing, tool programming, blueprint reading, and computer and mathematics courses. Employers prefer to hire candidates with a strong educational background, because the nature of the trade is changing so quickly tool and die makers must be able to quickly learn new skills as needed. Machine shop and math courses in high school are useful preparation for an apprenticeship. Even after an apprenticeship and vocational training, a tool and die maker needs several years of experience to perform some of the most skilled tasks. Beginning workers learn by observing and helping experienced tool and die makers.

Some workers become tool and die makers without going through an apprenticeship. They become experienced by working as machine tool operators and then machinists. They then use a combination of informal on-the-job training and vocational courses to become tool and die makers.

Getting the Job

School placement offices and union offices are helpful places to begin a search for an apprenticeship program. Also check newspaper help wanted ads for listings. State employment offices may list openings. Interested parties can also apply directly to companies.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Tool and die makers are already in positions that demand a high level of skill and command excellent wages. Some tool and die makers become tool designers. Some open their own tool and die shops. Others advance to supervisory positions as the head of the tool and die making department in their plants. With a college degree, tool and die makers can become engineers or tool designers.

While the number of tool and die making jobs is projected to decline through 2014, the employment outlook for tool and die makers is excellent. Because of the extensive training needed, few people are entering the field, and employers report a lack of qualified candidates to fill vacancies caused by retirements and transfers. Well-trained and experienced workers should be able to find jobs.

Working Conditions

Tool and die making is exacting work. Workers should enjoy working with their hands and have good manual dexterity. They must have good eyesight and patience for precise work. Tool and die makers generally find their work creative and challenging. Some are responsible for training apprentices.

Tool and die makers usually work in tool rooms, which are quieter than the production floor. The rooms are kept clean and cool. Machines have shields and guards; computer-operated machines are generally fully enclosed. These safeguards limit the exposure of workers to dust, noise, moving parts, and lubricants. Tool and die makers also wear protective clothing and follow strict safety rules to prevent accidents. They usually work forty hours per week and traditionally work only on the day shift, but overtime and weekend work are often available. Tool and die makers usually have job security, and many belong to labor unions.

Where to Go for More Information

Association for Manufacturing Technology
7901 Westpark Dr.
McLean, VA 22102-4206
(703) 893-2900

International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
9000 Machinists Place
Upper Marlboro, MD 20772-2687
(301) 967-4500

National Tooling and Machining Association
9300 Livingston Rd.
Fort Washington, MD 20744
(800) 248-6862

Precision Metalforming Association Educational Foundation
6363 Oak Tree Blvd.
Independence, OH 44131-2500
(216) 901-8800

Earnings and Benefits

Tool and die makers earned a median hourly wage of $20.55 in 2004. Median hourly wages in motor vehicle parts manufacturing were by far the highest, at $26.93, followed by plastics product manufacturing, at $20.17. The lowest median wages were paid to tool and die makers in machine shops, turned products, and screw, nut, and bolt manufacturing, at $18.84 per hour. The benefits offered to workers generally include health insurance, paid holidays and vacations, and pension plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesManufacturing & Production