The Modern Day Toolmaker Apprenticeship

The Modern Day Toolmaker Apprentice Program

In this three part series, we examine the age old approach to job training called the apprenticeship. Through interviews with Toolmakers, Master Toolmakers, current and recent apprentices, we discover what it means to be a Toolmaker Apprentice today and what has changed in the last generation of Toolmakers.

What is an Apprenticeship?

Wikipedia provides a solid definition of “apprenticeship”: An apprenticeship is a system of training a new generation of practitioners of a trade or profession with on-the-job training and often some accompanying study (classroom work and reading). Apprenticeship also enables practitioners to gain a license to practice in a regulated profession.

This definition fits well with what we learned from our conversations with six Evans employees. As we will discuss later in this article, the requirements of an Apprentice changed significantly since the 1970s. However, the approach remains the same. An apprenticeship program trains and educates someone with little or no experience into a professional at the trade.

What qualifications are required to become a Toolmaker Apprentice?

Generally speaking, there are no strict requirements for becoming a Toolmaker Apprentice. The candidate must be old enough to work full time job in their state. Aside from that, our conversations revealed some interesting answers.

Dick Ankeny, Shop Supervisor, started in High School. Ankeny’s Junior and Senior years in High School included machine shop classes that got him interested in machining and toolmaking. Ankeny offered the following as “what it takes” to be an apprentice, as opposed to any hard requirements:

  • Solid math skills – “trigonometry plays a big role in building tools and dies”
  • A desire to do this trade – “you’ll know within about 6 months if this is for you.”
  • A desire to create new things – “you start with a block of steel.”

How long is an apprenticeship to be a Toolmaker?

A new Toolmaker Apprentice should expect to be an Apprentice for about five years. It may be more or less than that, but with that expectation in mind, the Apprentice will be in the correct mindset to learn a great deal of skills and information in the early part of their career.

What does a Toolmaker Apprentice learn?

Starting on Day One of an Apprenticeship, the new Apprentice should expect to be in 100% learning mode. The Apprentice will learn most of the following items fairly quickly.

  • How to read a blueprint – the blueprint is the engineer’s drawing of what the part should look like.
  • How to square a block – The Apprentice must put a raw piece of steel in the mill, and get it square down to the thousandths of an inch according to the dimensions on the blueprint.
  • Drilling & Tapping – generally, how to use the most basic machines.
  • Speeds & feeds” for lathe and mill – the speed at which the lathe and miller are operating and how fast one feeds in the steel into the lathe or mill. One can gain such knowledge through experience.
  • Leave .002” grind stock on the block – this requirement comes from the fact that, after the steel is heat treated, you still need some room on the block to make adjustments.
  • Heat buildup – When Start grinding, you must monitor heat buildup because the metal can warp if it gets too hot

How fast one catches on to each concept determines the Apprentice’s progress. The number one rule, lesson, and learning point for any Apprentice is safety first.

In the next installment of this series, we will compare and contrast the Apprenticeship experiences of a Toolmaker who completed his Apprenticeship 30 years ago and a Toolmaker who completed his Apprenticeship within the past 12 months.

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