Machinist training.

Ok, I’ve been asked many times about ‘how does one learn to become a machinist’?

The answer is simple… start at the beginning. Once you’ve decided that being a machinist is what you want to become, you must seek out a local trade school that can teach the necessary skills to enable you to become a machinist.

Here, in the greater San Diego area, one program stands out. It’s at San Diego City College. The instructor of the Machine Technology program at City College is John Bollinger (619-388-3373). I would recommend that any prospective student personally meet with Mr. Bollinger and discuss their educational possibilities. Make a determination as to what type of degree you want to pursue and enroll in the Machine Technology program.

Below is a link to their website:

Trade school

I belong to a variety of forums online, to include political, machining, and general news... to name a few. On the machining forum, I run across a lot of people who typically ask the same questions concerning trade schools and help with programming problems. I'd like to address the topic of trade schools... what to expect, what's required, and tools needed for the machine shop courses.

Granted, when I went through trade school, things have changed. But fundamentally, all machinist students must start at the bottom and work themselves up to the level and ability to warrant the title 'Machinist'. Its a long process that really never ends. There's always something new or outside every machinist's experience range throughout their careers. I've never met a machinist that 'knew it all', just a lot of machinists who just didn't know the limits of their own knowledge.

During my two and a half years of trade school, our course load consisted of classroom days and lab days. Mondays and Wednesdays were in the classroom and Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays were lab days. Class days involved learning basic machine shop terminologies, principles of machining, the proper use of dividing heads, figuring correct speeds and feeds for specific materials on mills and lathes, safety rules of the shop, blueprint reading, trigonometry, algebra, and programming. Lab days concentrated on the application of the lessons learned on class days.

Some of what was expected of students during the first few quarters of school included the correct grinding of drills and tool bits, learning to 'sweep in' manual mills, the squaring of materials with a mill or a shaper, religiously keeping a journal of all our daily shop activities, and attendance was strictly enforced. It was a requirement to be able to flip to any page of your journal the instructor asked for and be able to show him your notes for the day. If you couldn't do this, you had a zero entered for that day's grade. That was how important keeping a journal was for class.

I maintained a journal for years after school but dropped the habit over time. I recently recommitted to keeping a journal again. A journal is important for many reasons. It allows you to refresh your memory of what was done on any given day, it comes in handy as a reference to what changes you made to a program, setup notes for tricky jobs, work order information, heat codes for jobs when the certs are misplaced (thus saving a job that would otherwise have to be scrapped out due to traceability issues), or which machines you ran each day you worked. It also carries a lot of weight come your annual review time. A well maintained journal is indispensable.

I believe any person who takes pride in what they do, pays attention to details, and is eager to learn, can become a great machinist. Its the person who refuses to do more than what is expected of them, unwilling to absorb new machinist skills, or who does just enough to 'get by', that has no place in the modern machine shop environment. Let me tell you, there are more than enough of those clowns out there in the workforce. I run into them all the time. On the one hand, they make me angry because of their poor work ethic, but on the other I see them as 'stepping stones' to moving up the ladder within a company. Its easier to shine when you're surrounded by incompetence. That's a universal truth.

Machinists should own a basic assortment of tools of the trade. Below is a partial list of basic tools every machinist should own:

Combination square
Calipers 6 inch
Micrometer 0-1 inch
6 inch 4R scale
Compass and scribe
Box of 3/8 cobalt lathe tool blanks
Bastard & fine file
6 inch machinist square
Name brand 0.0005 and 0.0001 indicator
Quality edge finder
1 inch dial indicator
Magnetic indicator base
Rubber mallet
Metric and standard hex key sets
Standard and Phillips screwdrivers
Set of metric and standard wrenches
1-2-3 blocks
Set of parallels
and the all important small notebook to log all your daily shop activities.

I hope this has been an informative article and wish you well should you decide to travel the road of becoming a machinist.