What Is a Manual Machinist?
Manual machinists are skilled, dexterous individuals who drill, cut and shape items both manually and with machine tools. Working in industrial shops or plants with blueprints and specifications, machinists produce anything from bed springs to auto parts.
The 'manual' aspect of the career title implies the use of the hands, but ironically much of the work that manual machinists do is conducted on machines, which are often controlled by computer. The computer is loaded with technical data, such as blueprints for a device, that details the product type. This helps to diagram the work that the machinist will perform. An example might be a chart showing precisely where holes are to be drilled in sheet metal. The industry term for these machines is 'computer numerically controlled' (CNC) equipment, and some manual machinists may specialize in using this type of equipment.
While usually working in plants and machine shops, manual machinists can be employed in a variety of industries. Their services are often used in manufacturing processes for the following areas of specialty:
- Automotive parts
- Fabricated metal
- Air transportation and aerospace parts
- Machine shops for repair, service and retail
- Wood products
- Transportation equipment
Working with exacting precision is a large part of manual machinists' jobs. They are responsible for cutting, slicing, drilling and in some cases repairing the very machines that they work with. Other duties may include press-braking, roll-forming, finishing and stamping items. It is important for these technicians to follow specific protocols by reading blueprints and using computers on various types of machinery.
Machinists must operate with care at all times. Safety is important when working with steel, glass and metal. Some of their work involves heat-processed or lubricated items as well, and the machines and parts they use can be heavy and dangerous. The types of machines that a manual machinist might use include:
- Machine mills
- Drill presses
- Stamping machines
Education and Skill Development
Manual machinists usually develop skills working with specific equipment, tools and shop machinery while enhancing their manual dexterity on the job. No formal education is needed, since graduating high school or having a GED is enough. Classwork in drafting can help with reading blueprints; taking shop classes, where students might work with metal or wood, can develop manual aptitude.
There are associate degree programs in vocational schools that can serve as training for machinists, but these workers learn by doing for the most part. Additionally, some of the skills that a manual machinist develops can come from time spent working as an apprentice.
Professional Training and Membership
Manual machinists who are thoroughly experienced can attain promotion or become specialized in an area like making tools and die, mold-making, maintenance machining or CNC programming. Manual machinists can gain certification through several professional associations, including the California Tooling & Machining Apprenticeship Association and the National Institute for Metalworking Skills.
Professional organizations like the Precision Metalforming Association, the National Tooling & Machining Association, Fabricators & Manufacturers Association International and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers can help industry workers, too. They help with training, development and education, networking, job searches and more. They can assist with finding and organizing a union. In some cases, these membership organizations also help businesses connect with workers and suppliers offering discounts.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
Machinists earned an annual median salary of $39,500 in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). At that time, those working in the natural gas distribution industry earned the top wage. From 2010-2020, the BLS projected slower than average employment growth of 8% for these workers.
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