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4 Main Types of Precision Machining

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Precision machining produces many of the large and small instruments that are used in everyday life. Machinists create the building blocks of objects and tools; each intricate component of any object is created by a machinist's various skills. Depending on the type and size of the project, various materials and precision machining tools are put to use. The better the machinist, the greater his range of skills and options when working on his projects. Because machining is such a broad career, here are a few of the main types of work that machinists specialize in.

Tool and Die Production

A tool and die maker is a type of machinist who has gone through the training for blueprint reading, general machining practices, measurement techniques, math, and assembly. Tool and Die making can fall into one of four categories: fixture making, die making, mold making, and specialty machine building.

Of these four, mold making is arguably the most difficult. Molds are constructed with angled walls to make sure that the parts can come out when the molds are opened. Because of this, a mold maker must think in 3-D, as he must be able to visualize a mold that properly fits over the object and how two halves of it can fit together. Generally, the Tool and Die maker is the machinist who specializes in objects that need to be fitted over, and must have the ability to visualize how to cover those components before fitting them.


A maintenance machinist career entails performing repairs and fixtures on factory machines and replacing essential metal parts. These are the machinists who usually work on staff in large businesses or factories. Many of their duties involve repair and preventative upkeep on existing equipment. These machinists also occasionally engage with customer service and must be able to build a new part for clients who are looking for replacements.


A lathe machinist works on several types of lathe machines, which he uses to cut materials, mostly metals. Lathe machines can be set into one of four broader classifications—engine, turret, speed, and turning, all of which can change the way the material will be cut. Knowing the desired settings for the cut is the lathe machinist's job and takes years of experience to train perfectly.

But a lathe machinist doesn't work on lathes alone—his responsibilities can also include setting up and operating a wide range of machine-operated tools, which are used to fabricate, modify, or repair various mechanical instruments. The lathe machinist must have working knowledge of engineering to understand how to repair the various machines he works with. He must also have an adept skill in mathematics, as during his work, the lathe machinist will have to calculate dimensions that can be in minuscule increments, such as micrometers. Knowing the properties of a variety of metals, heavy plastics, and other materials is also extremely beneficial to a lathe machinist's skillset.

Computer Numeric Controlled (CNC) Machines

CNC machinists specialize in computer numeric controlled (CNC) machinery to create tools and parts from plastics, metals, and other materials. CNC machines are precision machinery that directly drills, cuts, and grinds into material, according to specifications programmed by the CNC machinist. By inputting a code into the software, the machinist instructs the CNC machines to make precise adjustments to the material feed, path, and control speed of the cut, ensuring the production of a quality product.

The CNC machinist is different from other types of machinists because they do not do the cutting themselves—they instead must be proficient in the programming language of their machine's software, possessing a fluent ability to program whatever specifications of cutting and shaping their project requires. After setting and positioning the object, they input the variables to assure the perfect cut.

Though there are various specializations when it comes to precision machining, any competent machinist must be somewhat proficient in every field, because many times, several types of equipment will be used for a single project. But more importantly, this also allows them to possess a flexible and holistic skillset.