The process to become a toolmaker includes classroom education and hands-on apprenticeship, which might take four years or more before an apprentice is fully qualified for work. At the end of this training, a toolmaker can produce a variety of precision-machined parts and components for use in manufacturing and other tasks. Toolmakers also can develop professional skills relevant to specific industries to better serve their employers and clients, and they might belong to professional organizations that help them keep up with events in the industry.
A high school student who wants to become a toolmaker might want to consider opportunities such as working in a shop, taking extra math classes and even taking courses in computer-assisted design. After graduation, the student can attend courses at a community college or technical school to learn more about machining and toolmaking. These classes might also provide training in engineering software and the electronics relied on in toolmaking, such as computer numerical control (CNC).
With some basic education, it is possible to apply for an apprenticeship to become a toolmaker. Some companies accept applicants out of high school with no extra training and might help pay for further classroom education. While an apprentice, a toolmaker will work with a number of supervisors to learn the tricks of the trade. The apprentice also receives pay, at a reduced rate, in exchange for his or her services.
The time spent in apprenticeship to become a toolmaker can depend on the pace of the apprentice and the company. A part-time apprentice will take longer, because he or she will need more time to build up an appropriate number of hours. Apprentices who want to seek extra training in specialized fields might also need more time in training because they need to complete the basic apprenticeship before they develop unique skills. These skills can include activities such as tooling and machining for scientific research or developing large-scale equipment for mass production.
While in the shop, an apprentice can learn about making dies and molds, fabricating tools and using software to plan and execute tool designs. As the apprentice becomes more skilled, a supervisor can give him or her more independence. The apprentice might start to design his or her own tools with less supervision until he or she is capable of assessing a problem, developing a solution and successfully making a tool on his or her own. After the apprentice has become a toolmaker, the employer might offer a position and can provide references if he or she wants to seek further training or take his or her skills to another company.