What might I expect as a Junior Metal Millwright?

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  • #1
DaveC426913
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Canada here. I've been in software dev for 20 years (and have been doing data entry in healthcare for the last four years, but it's only temporary.)

Every time I consider a new career, I end up in software dev. I'm considering going against the grain of what I know and pushing my envelope. I'm 58 and have at least 10 years ahead of me, but could be more if I like it. I am at a fork in the road, Also I'm moving, so a logical and opportune time to consider a new career.

I have always been interested on millwork, especially metalwork, though I don't have direct experience with it. I enjoy the precision of it. I might even like tapping my experience and programming milling machines.

Later, I plan to Youtube "Junior Metal Millwrights - Their Care and Feeding"

I realize this is a very broad industry and I have not specified a field, but I'm curious what I might expect in the first couple of years. Might I get on a machine mill ten thousand identical brass cylinders in my first year, or will I have to "pay my dues" by spending that year just "doing the dishes" for the big guys (like maybe cleaning and lubing machines)?


I guess the zeroeth question should be: is this a wise plan for my future in terms of schooling/training skill leveling up and my timeline?
 

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  • #2
Frabjous
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As a customer of machine shops, my general observation is that good machinists clean up after themselves. There’s probably more cleaning up as a novice, but it is in the shop’s interest for your skills to improve. Where I live (not Canada), there is a shortage of machinists.
 
  • #3
DaveC426913
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...good machinists clean up after themselves....
Yeah, the question is more generalized as "is it reasonable to expect that I'll be getting into the production side - even if it's basic work - in a reasonable time frame - or will I be doing stuff that doesn't involve actually milling - whatever those tasks might be".

Not that I don't want to pay my dues, but I have to consider that my journey is not as open-ended as that of someone with their whole life ahead of them. (The upside to being fold, of course, is that I am also not at the start of my financial journey, which grants me some freedoms too.)
 
  • #4
Frabjous
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I have a couple of people I can ask. There are a variety of machines in a shop. When you say milling, do you mean a mill or the variety of machines.
 
  • #5
DaveC426913
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When you say milling, do you mean a mill or the variety of machines.
I ... er ... isn't a mill where they have milling machines?
 
  • #6
berkeman
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I ... er ... isn't a mill where they have milling machines?

A millwright is a craftsperson or skilled tradesperson who installs, dismantles, maintains, repairs, reassembles, and moves machinery in factories, power plants, and construction sites.[1]

The term millwright (also known as industrial mechanic[2]) is mainly used in the United States, Canada and South Africa to describe members belonging to a particular trade. Other countries use different terms to describe tradesmen engaging in similar activities. Related but distinct crafts include machinists, mechanics and mechanical fitters .
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millwright
 
  • #7
Frabjous
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I ... er ... isn't a mill where they have milling machines?
A machine shop can have mills, lathes, presses, saws, grinders, cutting tools, hand tools …
 
  • #8
berkeman
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A machine shop can have mills, lathes, presses, saws, grinders, cutting tools, hand tools …
...And breaks, which don't actually break anything. Go figure... :wink:
 
  • #9
DaveC426913
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A machine shop can have mills, lathes, presses, saws, grinders, cutting tools, hand tools …
Right ,right. See? I'm already learning.
I am interested mostly in milling machines and lathes and the like.
 
  • #10
gleem
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You want to be a machinist! They make things.
 
  • #11
jrmichler
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I might even like tapping my experience and programming milling machines.
I have been around machinists ever since junior high school, both at work and personal friends. I have heard complaints of shortages of machinists that entire time. I have never heard of a good machinist involuntarily unemployed.

Most machining these days is done on computer controlled (CNC) machines. The work flow is generally as follows:
The engineer or designer designs the part.
The programmer uses standard software to program tool changes and machining paths.
The machinist sets up the machine tool, sets speeds and feeds, picks the cutting tools, tests the program, and makes the part.
If the part is made in large quantity, the machinist turns over the job to a parts loader.

The programmer needs machining knowledge, and the machinist needs to know how to program. In the US, that knowledge is best gained from a tech school education. Machine shops are reluctant to take on new employees that they have to train. But they will do just that when the need is large, they are unable to hire enough machinists, and somebody comes along with a good technical background. A machine shop foreman told me that his minimum requirement to hire somebody for training was a solid high school background in math, chemistry, and physics. An unstated, but very real, requirement is the willingness to keep your eyes and ears open to learn as much as possible as soon as possible.

When I got out of high school, I applied at a local large machine shop. They were not interested in the other guy, who had five years experience on Model XYZ turret lathe because he was only a parts loader who never learned more than he was initially taught. I listed my experience as self taught on a 6" Atlas lathe.

The interview went something like this:
Them: Can you read a print?
Me: Do you mean can I look at a drawing of a part, take a piece of metal, and make that part?
Them: Yes, that's what we mean.
Me: Well, yes. I'm applying for a job as a machinist.

They got all excited at that point, then lost interest when I admitted I only wanted a summer job.
 
  • #12
DaveC426913
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Most machining these days is done on computer controlled (CNC) machines. The work flow is generally as follows:
The engineer or designer designs the part.
The programmer uses standard software to program tool changes and machining paths.
The machinist sets up the machine tool, sets speeds and feeds, picks the cutting tools, tests the program, and makes the part.
Yeah, I would enjoy all of that.

I've been a programmer for 20 years and using programming to make real things do real stuff would be a dream. (When I chose the career path to software dev, my very close second was pneumatic and hydraulic robotics).

Also, I got 100% (i.e. perfect grade) in Mechanical Drafting in High School. Graphic Design is my thang (The thang I never had the courage to actually hang my livelihood on).

CNC operation would be cool. Designing Graphics for CNC would also be cool.

I have a little practice in Blender and other 3D modeling s/w.

You've got me thinking about more options now...

Of course everyone and their dog wants a job in 3D graphics. Whereas, it does not escape me that there is probably a dearth of applicants in machine shop jobs and other trades.
 
  • #13
gmax137
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if you are interested in the programming aspect: they use "g-code"
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G-code
I'm sure you can find a recent book such as "g-code for dummies" and take a look, see if that's really something you would find interesting.

Note, please don't be offended by the "for dummies" thing. I had a friend who told me once, he would NEVER buy a "for dummies" book.
 
  • #14
DaveC426913
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if you are interested in the programming aspect: they use "g-code"
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G-code
I'm sure you can find a recent book such as "g-code for dummies" and take a look, see if that's really something you would find interesting.
Do they actually program in G-code? Or is that more the output format from a design application?

As a dev, I was acutely aware of the difference between someone who knows how to code HTML in a webpage and someone who only knows how to design a webpage in DreamWeaver, which would output (crappy) HTML.
 
  • #15
gmax137
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I am not a machinist, and I have never used a CNC machine; all I know about it is what I have read.

Do they actually program in G-code?

I don't know. They call it "programming." Is it "actual" programming? I'm not sure what that means. Per the linked Wiki, the trend seems to be software that takes a CAD drawing as input, and outputs the G-Code instructions for the machine tool. Maybe writing that software is "actual programming?"

Take a look at this forum:
https://www.practicalmachinist.com/forum/
Caution, its denizens are quirky and the moderation is not exactly PF-like.
 
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  • #17
Frabjous
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I talked to a machinist today. He said 2-4 years to become a journeyman. The experience depends on whether one goes to a trade school, state sponsored program or corporate program. There are a bunch of machine shop environments depending on their business model. One can rather quickly become an operator of advanced machines, but that does not imply being a fully functional machinist.
 
  • #18
DaveC426913
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Yah. I've got to be careful to set realistic expectations (mine and a potential employer's) in terms of my career arc and lifetime. Am I planning to become A Machinist? I don't think that's the goal.
 
  • #19
jrmichler
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The best way to get into CNC machine tool programming is to take a CNC course at your local tech school, and see to it that you are one of the top students. That will introduce you to the subject. More importantly, an unadvertised benefit of a tech school education is that the instructors are regularly asked for the names of their top students. These requests typically come from the best places to work.

I know this because my father used to teach evening classes at the local tech school. He liked teaching the evening classes because those students had full time day jobs, and were paying for the school out of their own money. Highly motivated students made the teaching enjoyable.
 
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  • #20
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I ... er ... isn't a mill where they have milling machines?
A mill is a place where some material (lumber, steel, etc.) is milled; i.e., cut or shaped into some kind of product that can be sold or used to make something else.
And breaks
Those are called brakes. They are used to bend, typically, sheet metal along a straight line.

I have always been interested on millwork, especially metalwork, though I don't have direct experience with it. I enjoy the precision of it. I might even like tapping my experience and programming milling machines.
The fact that you don't have "direct experience" suggests to me that you're not likely to be hired. To my knowledge, the usual route to a machinist-type job is through some sort of training program and/or apprenticeship.

There's a lot of background information that one needs to know before attempting to cut or shape steel or cast iron or other metals: understanding the differences in hardness of various metals; knowing which tooling must be used (high-speed steel vs. carbide steel); knowing how to set up the mill or lathe with the piece you're working on; knowing how to make very precise measurements, down to 1/10,000 of an inch or the corresponding amounts in metric units; knowing how much the machine can take off in one pass so that the bit doesn't break; etc., etc.
 
  • #21
berkeman
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Those are called brakes. They are used to bend, typically, sheet metal along a straight line.
Thanks for the correction. I've never seen the word written down, just always spoken. I should have checked the spelling. :smile:

EDIT/ADD -- Especially since I always wondered why they were called "breaks" when they didn't break anything, just bent stuff. Doh!
 
  • #22
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Especially since I always wondered why they were called "breaks" when they didn't break anything, just bent stuff.
And "brake" doesn't make much sense, either. People also get confused with the term "muzzle brake" on a rifle, miswriting it as "muzzle break." A muzzle brake is a part at the end of a rifle barrel that redirects some of the gas that propels the bullet.
 
  • #23
berkeman
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And "brake" doesn't make much sense, either. People also get confused with the term "muzzle brake" on a rifle, miswriting it as "muzzle break." A muzzle brake is a part at the end of a rifle barrel that redirects some of the gas that propels the bullet.
Muzzle brake makes sense to me, since it helps to lower barrel rise (brakes the rise). But sheet metal brake... not so much. LOL :smile:

I guess I should be off to Google to try to figure this out...
 
  • #24
DaveC426913
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The fact that you don't have "direct experience" suggests to me that you're not likely to be hired. To my knowledge, the usual route to a machinist-type job is through some sort of training program and/or apprenticeship.
Yes, this should not have gone without saying. I would certainly avail myself of the appropriate training first.

knowing how to set up the mill or lathe with the piece you're working on; knowing how to make very precise measurements, down to 1/10,000 of an inch or the corresponding amounts in metric units; knowing how much the machine can take off in one pass so that the bit doesn't break; etc.,
Yeah. That. All stuff I'd want to get proficient at.

Up my game from a dremel strapped to a butcher block, with a scrap wood jig, cutting .5mm medallions of brass hobby tubing.
 
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  • #27
DaveC426913
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The term “brake,” as used in modern sheet metal fabrication, comes from the Middle English verb breken, or break, which meant to bend, change direction, or deflect.
 
  • #28
berkeman
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I'm not sure I'd trust and old English guy in a machine shop... :wink:
 
  • #29
MidgetDwarf
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Have you considered being a nibmeister?
 
  • #31
yucheng
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