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Machine Tools/Manual Machining: Getting into the trade

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Question
Hello,

    I am currently in the process of applying for the manual machining foundation program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology here in Canada, and there are some things that I would like to know from someone in the profession before I proceed. I have read a lot of comments online from many people in the trade, and they basically summarize that layoffs are a part of the profession, that the pay is very low, that it takes many years to acquire the skills needed to make a decent living (if you're lucky), and that the trade requires so much more creativity, mathematical aptitude, precision, skill and practice than that required of the average tradesman, and yet the average tradesman makes a much better living with a trade requiring much less. Yet I have looked at many of the listings for the manual machinist on Craigslist, and many state their compensation at $32.00+, where they require three years of experience, or simply state that you are of Journeyman status to apply. Many of these ads do not mention CNC, which I do not want to do.

     This is my dilemma, because I don't know whether to listen to the commenters and take their advice, or discard their advise entirely based on the promising ads I see. This looks like a trade that I would really enjoy doing (provided that I don't do CNC, because I am terrible with computers), and making a good living while I do it, but at the same time I don't want to make a big mistake and spend so much money and time just to end up making peanuts in the end. Another thing that I would like to point out is that the commenters are US residents, and I'm in Canada, so I don't know whether or not the manual machining trade is far more lucrative here in Canada than in the US. What are your thoughts?

There is one more thing...there are some links that I looked at regarding the use of milling machines and lathes:

Milling machines:

http://www.americanmachinetools.com/how_to_use_a_milling_machine.htm

Lathes (three pages):

http://www.americanmachinetools.com/how_to_use_a_lathe.htm

What I would like to know is if this is pretty much everything there is to know about operating these machines? Is this mainly all of the math involved, or are there far more complex mathematical concepts in the manual machining trade? If so, would you be able to direct me to some sites that would give me a great insight as to what math I could expect to see if I decide to pursue this path, so that I have some idea of what I am up against?

Thanks for your time.

Answer
Hello,
This is going to be a long answer. Lets start off with you can earn a decent living. If you are good at what you do. Layoffs can and will happen, but I think that happens in any trade. Do not expect to take a course and walk into a 32.00 dollar an hour job. Especially as a manual machinist. I have been in this trade for 38 years and have trouble making that much. I live near Boston. Maybe that's why, but the great paying jobs are hard to find.
Do learn CNC. If you don't you are stuck doing manual work and unless you find a company willing to teach you CNC you will be stuck. Never limit yourself.
Even for 1 or 2 pcs. CNC is being used now. Designers and engineers you CAD systems to design their parts. Most everything they do has curves, tapers, angles and 3D contours that cannot be done on a manual machine tool.   

The links you have listed are great. Is that everything you need to know? Absolutely not. It gives you a basic understanding of the machines and some of their tools. It tells you nothing about the thousands of different material you will need to know how to machine. What tools do you use when cutting polycarbonate ? Can you use that same tool to cut hastelloy ? I know the answer. Do you ? Work holding is a big part of the job. Is every part the same size and shape ? A vise will not hold everything. Speaking of vises. Do you know how to indicate a vice on a mill ? How do you tram a milling head ? Know how to read a blueprint ? How much do you need to allow when a part is going to be nickel plated ?

You cannot read a book or webpage and think you can be a machinist. I was in trade school for 3 years. And I still learn stuff today. I probably forgot more than most machinist know.

I see trade schools students getting out of school with no experience in the trade expecting to get their hands on a 200,000.00 machine tool. Not going to happen. Tools and materials change all the time. New technologies, new coatings, new materials all the time. You will need to know how to cut all of them.
Sorry if I went off on a rant, but its not a simple as you think. In general the trade is overrated, underpaid, overworked, and unappreciated.

I probably made things worse for you, but you asked.


Dave  

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Dave

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machine tool setup and operation,selection and use of cutting tools, welding and metalfabrication methods, machining of plastics and metals,cad/cam,cnc,workholding and all related questions regarding metalworking and finishing

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over 25 years experience as a class a machinist in both job shop and r&d
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