What Does a Machinist Do? (And How To Become One)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 14 July 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Machinists are an essential role within engineering, responsible for making the individual components required for producing all manner of machines and technologies. They are highly skilled at following precise blueprints and instructions to create items that meet precise requirements. Understanding the role and duties for a machinist can help you take steps to pursue this career. In this article, we discuss what machinists do, the training required to become a machinist, and the salary and career prospects for machinists.

What does a machinist do?

A machinist works in the engineering industry and utilises their knowledge of machinery to execute precise specifications set by engineers. This can include the examination of technical drawing and blueprints produced by engineers. In addition, a machinist must collaborate and communicate with the engineers to ensure that specific guidelines and drawings have been executed to plan.

Machinists carry out their work using a multitude of different tools depending on the job that is required. These tools can help the machinist measure, calculate, modify and cut materials to fit the technical brief. Some examples of their tools are as follows:

  • Machine tools

  • Hand tools

  • Cutting tools

  • Drills and drilling machines

  • Lasers

  • Grinders

  • Water Jets

  • Calipers

  • Calculators

  • Rulers

  • Edge Finders

Machinists work with a variety of different materials, including but not limited to metal, wood, glass, ceramics, plastics and composites.

The machinists core role is to implement a solution from a drawing. The process begins by examining a blueprint drawing to understand and identify the specification of the project. Once this has been established, the machinist might start planning how he is going to execute the project by measuring, calculating, and cut the core materials. The final stage for the machinist is to work the necessary machinery to achieve the specific requirements on the original blueprint documentation.

What is a machinist?

Machinists are trained professionals who are highly skilled at using specialist equipment and machinery to shape materials (usually metal) into other items. They may repair existing machinery parts or craft entirely new parts. Machinists work on a wide variety of items, from small components like nuts, bolts and screws to larger components like pistons for hydraulic systems.

Machinists may specialise in creating unique, custom-built components or small batches of items to a precise specification, or repeatedly creating large numbers of the same item repeatedly. They usually work with metal, but can also create items using wood, glass, ceramics, rubber, plastics or a combination of different materials. They may work in factories, tool rooms, industrial facilities, research facilities, or even on military bases or ships. These work environments place a heavy emphasis on safety measures due to the hazards posed by heavy machinery and equipment.

What are the duties of a machinist?

The work of a machinist revolves around manufacturing items to specific requirements. To create small batches of items, machinists usually manufacture them manually using specialist machinery. For large-scale production, machinists may use computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines, which is automated, computer-guided machinery that shapes materials according to programmed settings. Using CNC machining tools also requires a great deal of expertise. The machinery needs to be set up properly, using the right settings and precautions, and then programmed to the exact specifications required for the items to be created.

Machinists may need to perform preliminary test runs with the machinery to ensure that the products are made to the correct standards. When manually creating items, machinists begin by studying the blueprints and specifications for the item to determine how to make it. They then measure the required materials using precision instruments, determine how to cut or shape them, and then use the necessary machining operations to create the item. This may involve using lathes, mills, drills and other equipment to turn, grind, drill or mill the item to the required specification.

What does a machinist do on a daily basis?

The manufacturing process used by machinists varies depending on the exact industry or facility that they work within. However, common machining tasks include:

  • Examining blueprints, technical drawings and specifications to understand the requirements for items

  • Configuring machinery as specified for parts

  • Using specialist tools to measure materials

  • Determining what speed to run materials through machines to obtain desired specs

  • Crafting items manually by using specialist machinery and equipment, usually involving milling, drilling, grinding and turning materials until they meet the required shape and dimensions

  • Using computer numerically controlled (CNC) machinery for automated large-scale production, ensuring the machinery is set to the correct specifications and overseeing its operation to make sure no errors occur

  • Coordinating with engineers, quality assurance or senior machinists to ensure the specifications for items are met and that the resulting parts are high enough quality

  • Working with others to maintain workplace safety

  • Performing necessary machine and equipment maintenance

How do you become a machinist?

If you're interested in a career as a machinist, these are the steps you can follow:

1. Pursue an education

To become a machinist, you can pursue an education to a minimum of junior secondary school level or equivalent for most positions. Working as a machinist does not usually require university study, though degrees in engineering or similar subjects may help you stand out from other aspiring machinists when applying for positions.

2. Gain work experience and apprenticeships

To train as a machinist, you can gain experience working in a manufacturing or engineering environment. Many machinists first gain experience in tender, machine setter or operator roles, either as part of an apprenticeship or as an entry-level position.

3. Earn relevant qualifications

Aspiring machinists must complete a relevant VET qualification such as the MEM20105 Certificate II in Engineering, MEM31519Certificate III in Engineering - Toolmaking Trade, or MEM30219 Certificate III in Engineering - Mechanical Trade. These qualifications can help you develop the necessary skills in engineering and manufacturing to work as a machinist.

Related: Vocational Training: Definition and Different Types

4. Find a job as a machinist

Once you've completed a relevant VET qualification, you can begin applying to machinist roles. Entry-level positions usually provide on-the-job training to ensure that you can use the required equipment and machinery safely and effectively.

5. Continue development and specialisation

Machinists can continue to train as they work in order to keep up with new industry trends and developments, and also to master new equipment and techniques. Experienced machinists can also begin to specialise in distinct areas of machining, becoming fitters, grinders, millhands, tool and die makers and programmers. Machinists can also choose to specialise in particular sectors, such as research, automotive, military or aircraft machining.

What skills does a machinist need?

Machinists need a variety of skills in order to successfully produce high-quality items, such as:

  • Technical skills within manufacturing or engineering

  • Understanding of mechanics

  • Knowledge of the properties of different materials, especially metals

  • Focus, attention to detail and ability to work to high standards

  • Physical stamina to remain standing for long periods, operate heavy machinery and lift heavy materials

  • Dexterity and skill operating specialist machinery

  • Mathematical and IT/computer science skills to work with CAM programming and CNC machining

  • Ability to work effectively both on your own and as part of a team

Related: 12 Key Engineer Skills For Your Resume

Machinist FAQs

Here are some of the most common machinist questions and their answers.

Do machinists make good money?

The national average base salary for a machinist is $72,645 per year, with an average hourly wage of $30.46. Your earnings as a machinist may vary depending on where you work. For instance, South Australia's machinists earn an annual average of $68,332 per year compared to $92,218 per year in Western Australia.

Related: 10 Highest Paying Engineering Jobs

Is being a machinist a good career?

A career in machining offers a rewarding salary and many opportunities to specialise in particular areas of machining that appeal most to you. It also places a heavy emphasis on continued training and development, helping you to learn new skills and develop existing ones over time.

Working as a machinist often requires long or irregular hours. Machinists can often end up working 40 or more hours per week, including evenings and weekends, in order to meet manufacturing schedules and deadlines. It can also be a physically demanding job, requiring you to stand for long periods of time, lift heavy materials and operate heavy machinery and equipment. If you're up to the challenge of machining's physical demands, though, then it can be a highly rewarding career, especially if you enjoy highly skilled manual work and take pride in producing items to specific requirements and high standards.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing.

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