The Modern Day Toolmaker Apprentice

How the Toolmaker Apprentice Program has Changed in 50 Years

This article is the second installment of three articles about Toolmaker Apprenticeships. In the first article, we discussed the basic structure, time, requirements, and expected outcome from an individual’s journey through an apprenticeship. In this post, we’re taking a deeper look at how a Toolmaker Apprenticeship has changed since the 1970s.

What has changed?

To learn what has changed since Apprenticeship programs in the 1970s, we talked with Ronald Joseph and Robert Tiller, both long time journeymen in the Tool & Die trade. Though we spoke with each of them at separate times, they agreed on what has changed and what has stayed the same.

  • The training – When Ronald Joseph began his apprenticeship program, he went to school one day each week. Every Monday, he and his fellow apprentices would get two hours of class time and then three hours of shop time, learning the very basics of the machines and tools. Today, when the “kids” start right out of high school, it’s all OTJ – on the job training.
  • The tools – When Ronald Joseph started, they made their tools by hand using a file. “They sure don’t do that anymore!”, said Ronald.
  • The maintenance – One of the first thing that both Ronald and Robert Tiller learned when they started was how to sharpen – by hand using a pedestal grinder – the tool bit. Today’s tools are coated, and are designed to last longer.
  • The technology – Back in the 1970s and 1980s, when a customer would provide a drawing, a toolmaker had to make the decision, based on experience only, the best way to make a part. Today, the drawings are all electronic, and computer software can quickly determine the best methods and materials to use.
  • The machines – From CNC machines to Electric Wire Cutting Machines, the speed and accuracy of how things get built on the shop room floor are very different today than they were 30, 40, or 50 years ago.

What’s still the same?

Despite all the advances in technology that allow experienced toolmakers to do things better and faster, some things haven’t changed. Both Robert and Ronald believe these things won’t change.

  • Time – It still takes 4 to 5 years for an apprentice to learn all the tools, machines, safety precautions, materials, speeds & feeds before that apprentice can turn a block of steel into a die to make a part.
  • Safety first! – The machines are bigger, faster, more powerful, and therefore even more dangerous than they were 50 years ago. The first rule of being a Toolmaker Apprentice was safety first back then, and it’s safety first today.
  • Math – The fact that a toolmaker has to know trigonometry will baffle a lot of people, but the math never changes.

Much has changed, and much has stayed the same in a Toolmaker’s Apprentice world. Evan still retains more than a dozen Toolmakers and a constant flow of apprentices to learn and eventually lead the operation at Evans.

In the next and final article on Toolmaker Apprenticeships, we will meet each of the Apprentices employed at Evans Tool & Die.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.