Tool and die makers are workers in the manufacturing industry who make jigs, fixtures, dies, molds, machine tools, cutting tools (such as milling cutters and form tools), gauges, and other tools used in manufacturing processes. Depending on which area of concentration a particular person works in, he or she may be called by variations on the name, including tool maker (toolmaker), die maker (diemaker), mold maker (moldmaker), tool fitter (toolfitter), etc.
Tool and die makers are a class of machinists who work primarily in toolroom environments—sometimes literally in one room but more often in an environment with flexible, semipermeable boundaries from production work. They are skilled artisans (craftspeople) who typically learn their trade through a combination of academic coursework and hands-on instruction, with a substantial period of on-the-job training that is functionally an apprenticeship (although usually not nominally today). Art and science (specifically, applied science) are thoroughly intermixed in their work, as they also are in engineering. Mechanical engineers and tool and die makers often work in close consultation. There is often turnover between the careers, as one person may end up working in both at different times of their life, depending on the turns of their particular educational and career path. (In fact, there was no codified difference between them during the 19th century; it was only after World War II that engineering became a profession exclusively defined by a university or college engineering degree.) Both careers require some level of talent in both artistic/artisanal/creative areas and math-and-science areas. Job-shop machinists can be any combination of toolmaker and production machinist. Some work only as machine operators, whereas others switch fluidly between toolroom tasks and production tasks.
Traditionally, working from engineering drawings, tool makers marked out the design on the raw material (usually metal or wood), then cut it to size and shape using manually controlled machine tools (such as lathes, milling machines, grinding machines, jig borers, and jig grinders) and hand tools (such as files). Many tool makers now use computer-aided design , computer-aided manufacturing and CNC machine tools to perform these tasks.
Tool making typically means making tooling used to produce products. Common tools include metal forming rolls, lathe bits, milling cutters, and form tools. Tool making may also include precision fixturing or machine tools used to manufacture, hold, or test products during their fabrication. Due to the unique nature of a tool maker's work, it is often necessary to fabricate custom tools or modify standard tools.
Main article: die (manufacturing)
Die making is a subgenre of tool making that focuses on making and maintaining dies. This often includes making punches, dies, steel rule dies, and die sets. Precision is key in die making; punches and dies must maintain proper clearance to produce parts accurately, and it is often necessary to have die sets machined with tolerances of less than one thousandth of an inch.
One person may be called upon for all of the above activities, and the skills and concepts involved overlap, which is why "tool and die making" is often viewed as one field.
Although the details of training programs vary, many tool and die makers begin an apprenticeship with an employer, possibly including a mix of classroom training and hands-on experience. Some prior qualifications in mathematics, science, engineering or design and technology can be valuable. Many tool and die makers attend a 4- to 5-year apprenticeship program to achieve the status of a journeyman tool and die maker. Today's employment relationships often differ in name and detail from the traditional arrangement of an apprenticeship, and the terms "apprentice" and "journeyman" are not always used, but the idea of a period of years of on-the-job training leading to mastery of the field still applies.
Employment of tool and die makers is expected to decline in some countries due to offshoring and to increased use of automation, including CNC machine tools and computer-aided technologies such as CAD/CAM. On the other hand, tool and die makers play a key role in building and maintaining advanced automated manufacturing equipment. The job market for tool and die workers today tends to look like several other modern job markets, which is part intense competition based on talent and experience and part fateful musical chairs. There is a degree of structural unemployment involved, as employers can't find instantiations of their ideal candidates at the same time that most workers can't find jobs that they qualify for. As elsewhere in IT-rich fields of automated machinery and robotics, there are dualities—on one hand, there is the apparent promise of great need for people to design, build, repair, or maintain highly automated systems including robots; but on the other hand, there are the ideas that it only takes so many human robot builders to make an army of robots (especially as software begins helping to design and build more robots), and that most humans are nowhere close to having the formidable stack of multidisciplinary skills needed to get such jobs, anyway. The few that are will increasingly face global competition, meaning that large differences in standard of living between worker populations will probably undergo rational equilibration in coming decades, like electrical potential differences formerly insulated and now in contact.
A jig maker is another term for a tool and die maker or fixture maker, usually in woodworking or in the metal industries. Actually a jig is what mounts onto a work piece, and a fixture has the work piece placed on it, into, or next to it. The terms are used interchangeably though throughout industry. A jig maker needs to know how to use an assortment of machines to build devices used in automation, robotics, welding, tapping, and mass production operations.
They are often advised by an engineer to do the pre- planned work of building the much needed devices. In a production shop they need to know about an extensive assortment of machines, tools, and materials, and are often the most experienced toolmakers or woodworkers. They are often the ones who create from the original plans, the jigs, the fixtures and devices designed by and with the occasional assistance of the production engineer.
The reason jig makers need to be experienced is so that they can make suggestions for efficient alterations and needed repairs. They sometimes assist and monitor the progress of the jig or the fixture's gauging, locating, and innovative ability. Those who graduate to the level of jig and fixture makers often go on to gain automation skills, and the use of air, and electronic clamping procedures, and automation principles and equipment. They often need to know not only how to use basic machines to cut and machine steel and wood. For the most advanced, they need to be familiar with switches and the use of air supply equipment, various instruments, switches, hydraulic clamps, gauges, and more.
Properly built jigs and fixtures reduces waste, and produce perfect fitting parts, cutting out too much expensive hand work, mistakes and waste. Most are portable, and can be built or even moved throughout a facility. Some jigs and fixtures are as big as a car for placing a whole fender or chassis into them for assembly. It is how every volume shop works. The need for jigs and good gauging is necessary in furniture making for controlling quality and repeatability. A jig maker focuses on building tools in order to avoid placing parts incorrectly.