Toolmaker

The Job and What's Involved

Working from engineering drawings, toolmakers make precision tools, special guides and holding devices. They are used to cut, shape and form metal and other materials used in the manufacture of a range of products including furniture, heavy vehicles and parts for aircraft.

They produce:

  • Jigs and fixtures that hold metal while it is bored, stamped, drilled or assembled.
  • Gauges and other measuring devices.
  • Metal forms (dies) that are used to shape metal in stamping and forging operations.
  • Complex moulds for injection molding machines that produce plastic products.

To make these tools they mark out the design on the raw material, then cut it to size and shape using:

  • Lathes and drills.
  • Milling machines.
  • Grinding machines.
  • Precision cutting machines and welding equipment, when needed.
  • EDM (electrical discharge machining) and CNC (computer numerically controlled) machines.

They frequently work with two- and three-dimensional computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing software (CAD/CAM).

After machining the parts, toolmakers carefully check their accuracy using co-ordinate measuring machines (CMM's) which compare the dimensions of the part with electronic blueprints using software and sensor arms. They then assemble the different parts into a functioning machine and file, grind and adjust them to fit them together correctly. Finally they set up a test run using the tools or dies they have made to ensure that the manufactured parts meet specifications. If problems occur, they compensate by adjusting the tools or dies.

Toolmakers use a wide variety of common metals, alloys, plastics, ceramics and composite materials and are knowledgeable in machining operations, mathematics and blueprint reading. They are among the most highly skilled workers in manufacturing.

The working week is usually around 39 hours, from Monday to Friday. In large companies with 24-hour production, shifts, overtime and weekend working may be required.

Toolmakers usually work in tool rooms. These areas are quieter than the production floor because there are fewer machines in use at any one time. They normally stand while working. They may wear protective equipment such as overalls, boots, goggles and ear protectors when carrying out particular tasks.

Tool rooms are kept clean, with a controlled temperature to minimise contraction and expansion of metal work pieces. Most computer-controlled machines are totally enclosed, minimising the exposure of craftspeople to noise, dust and the lubricants used to cool work pieces during machining.

Starting salaries for a toolmaker may start from around £16,500 a year. The average salary for an experienced toolmaker may be around £25,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Toolmakers may be employed by manufacturing companies with their own tool making departments or by specialist workshops making components to order for other companies. Employers are located in most parts of the country, mainly in large cities and particularly in the West Midlands, the North West, London and the South East.

The number of people working in this area has fallen due to the growth of computer-controlled machining and precision casting techniques. Toolmakers need an increasing range of skills to deal with the new equipment and processes that are being introduced.

Vacancies may be advertised in local newspapers, Connexions centres, Jobcentre Plus offices and also in specialist magazines, such as Manufacturer and Engineering and Technology.

Education and Training

Most people start as an engineering apprentice. The usual way to become a toolmaker is by completing an Advanced Apprenticeship in engineering, either as an apprentice machinist or multi skilled apprentice.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

Employers generally ask for GCSE's (A*-C), particularly in English, maths, science and technology, or equivalent qualifications. Many companies also use aptitude tests when selecting apprentices. Those with higher grades may be able to do technician- level qualifications during their training.

It is also possible to study for an engineering-related NVQ or other vocational course and apply for an Advanced Apprenticeship.

The Diploma in engineering may be relevant for this area of work.

Companies may recruit from their own craft employees and provide extra training in tool making.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Apprentices normally spend a foundation period of several months away from the workplace, learning engineering workshop skills at a training centre with day or block release at a college. They then spend two or three years working on the shop floor of their company, continuing to attend college part time.

Apprentice or trainee toolmakers usually work towards qualifications such as NVQ Level 3 in mechanical manufacturing engineering.

Many companies aim to train multi skilled craftspeople rather than specialists, so apprentices may learn fabrication skills (welding and metalwork) as well as machining, fitting and CAD/CAM. Only trainees with a high level of ability are likely to be encouraged to specialise in tool making.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A toolmaker should:

  • Be able to read and understand engineering drawings.
  • Have good hand to eye co-ordination.
  • Have an eye for detail.
  • Have maths and ICT skills.
  • Be accurate in their work.
  • Be able to use precise measuring instruments.
  • Know the strengths and characteristics of metals and other materials.
  • Know what different cutting tools can do when working with a variety of materials.
  • Be able to communicate clearly.
  • Have normal unaided eyesight.
  • Be able to work on their own.

Your Long Term Prospects

An experienced toolmaker may be promoted to supervisor or inspector, overseeing a tool room or workshop. Promotion to workshop manager may also be possible.

With further qualifications, some craftspeople gain promotion to technician-level posts and can also progress to registration with the Engineering Council as an engineering technician.

It may be possible to progress to a degree course in engineering with the aim of becoming an Incorporated or Chartered Engineer.

Get Further Information

Engineering Connections,
EEF West Midlands, Reddings Lane,
Tyseley, Birmingham B11 3ET
Tel: 0800 917 1617
Website: www.apprentices.co.uk

Enginuity
Website www.tomorrowsengineers.org.uk

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET),
Michael Faraday House, Stevenage,
Hertfordshire SG1 2AY
Tel: 01483 313311
Website: www.theiet.org

SEMTA (the Sector Skills Council for Science,
Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies),
14 Upton Road, Watford WD18 0JT
Tel: 01923 238441
Learning helpline 0800 282167
Website: www.semta.org.uk

The Welding Institute (TWI),
Granta Park, Abington,
Cambridge CB21 6AL
Tel: 01223 899000
Website: www.twi.co.uk

Women into Science,
Engineering and Construction (WISE),
2nd Floor, Weston House,
246 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EX
Tel: 020 3206 0408
Website: www.wisecampaign.org.uk

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