It usually takes four or five years of classroom and paid on-the-job training to become a fully trained tool and die maker. Good math, problem-solving and computer skills are important requirements for these workers.
Most tool and die makers learn their trade through four or five years of education and training in formal apprenticeships or in other postsecondary programs offered at local community colleges or technical schools. These programs often include a mix of classroom instruction and paid hands-on experience. According to most employers, apprenticeship programs are the best way to learn all aspects of tool and die making. Most apprentices must have a high school diploma, GED or equivalent. In high school, students should take courses in physics and mathematics, including trigonometry and geometry.
Traditional apprenticeships usually require that the apprentice complete a specific number of work and classroom hours to complete the program, which typically takes four or five years. Some companies and state apprenticeship programs, however, are now shifting from time-based programs to competency-based programs. Under competency-based programs, apprentices can move ahead more quickly by passing a series of exams and demonstrating competency in a particular job skill.
While formal apprenticeship programs may be the best way to learn the job, many tool and die makers receive most of their formal classroom training from community and technical colleges, while working for a company that often supports the employee's training goals and provides the needed on-the-job training less formally. Apprentices usually work 40 hours per week and attend technical college courses at night. These trainees often begin as machine operators and gradually take on more difficult assignments. Many machinists become tool and die makers.
During their training, tool and die maker trainees learn to operate milling machines, lathes, grinders, laser and water cutting machines, wire electrical discharge machines and other machine tools. They also learn to use hand tools for fitting and assembling gauges and other mechanical and metal-forming equipment. In addition, they study metalworking processes, such as heat treating and plating. Classroom training usually consists of tool designing, tool programming, blueprint reading and mathematics courses, including algebra, geometry, calculus, trigonometry and statistics. Tool and die makers must have good computer skills to work with CAD/CAM technology, CNC machine tools and computerized measuring machines.
Even after completing a formal training program, tool and die makers still need years of experience to become highly skilled. Most specialize in making certain types of tools, molds or dies.