Machining Tool Operators - What They Do

Machining tool operators set up and operate or tend metal-cutting machines designed for repetitive machining work. They are employed by metal products and other manufacturing companies and in machine shops. This unit group also includes workers who etch or chemically mill metal pieces.

Job duties

This group performs some or all of the following duties:

  • Study job orders and interpret blueprints to determine machining operations to be performed
  • Set up and operate machine tools to perform repetitive machining operations, such as turning, milling, drilling, boring, planing, honing, broaching, grinding or other machining operations
  • Verify dimensions of parts machined using micrometers, callipers and other precision measuring instruments
  • Prepare etching solution and immerse metal parts or workpiece in etching solution to remove unwanted portions
  • Perform routine maintenance on equipment and machinery
  • May enter codes specifying speed, feed and cut of the toolpath for computer numerical controlled (CNC) machine tools.

Job titles

  • aircraft parts etcher
  • boring mill operator - metal machining
  • lathe machining operator
  • machining tool operator
  • production gear cutter
  • production grinder operator - metal machining
  • radial drill operator - metal machining
  • CNC machining tool operator
  • milling machine set-up operator
Employment Requirements

This is what you typically need for the job:

  • Some secondary school education is required.
  • College or other courses in machining may be required.
  • Several months of on-the-job training are provided.
  • Senior positions in this unit group, such as set-up operator, require experience as a machine operator.


Essential Skills


  • Read short notes on drawings and labels, e.g. read comments on drawings to learn about design changes to products. (1)
  • Read short notes in logbooks and forms, e.g. read work orders to learn about delivery deadlines and special instructions. (1)
  • Read notices and bulletins, e.g. read notices from employers to learn about upcoming meetings and changes to operating procedures. (2)
  • Read a variety of instructions and procedures, e.g. read step-by-step instructions for the operation of equipment, such as drill presses. (2)
  • Read workplace safety materials, e.g. read Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to understand the chemical composition of solvents and their possible hazards. (2)
  • Read trade magazines, brochures and website articles to learn about new products and stay up-to-date on new technology. (3)
  • Read a variety of manuals, e.g. read manuals to learn how to set-up, operate and maintain equipment, such as computer numerically controlled lathes. (3)

Document use

  • Observe symbols, icons and signs, e.g. scan symbols on equipment to identify safety concerns, such as noise and electrical hazards. (1)
  • View meters and digital readouts, e.g. scan digital readouts on numerically controlled equipment to determine settings. (1)
  • May locate data in lists and schedules, e.g. scan lists to locate part numbers, sizes and quantities in suppliers’ product lists. (2)
  • Locate the grade of metals and their alloys using colour code charts. (2)
  • Complete a variety of forms, e.g. enter data, such as dates, times, quantities and identification numbers, in job cards, work orders and defect reports. (2)
  • Locate data, such as specifications, speeds, feed rates, metal classifications, identification numbers, times and material coefficients, in complex tables, e.g. scan specification tables to determine the material requirements for projects. (3)
  • Study assembly drawings, e.g. scan assembly drawings to learn how to disassemble and assemble equipment. (3)
  • Interpret and locate data in complex drawings, such as blueprints, e.g. scan complex scale drawings to determine the angle and position of boreholes. (4)


  • Write reminders and short notes, e.g. write short notes to co-workers to inform them about the status of projects. (1)
  • Write comments in forms, e.g. write comments in defect and non-conformity reports to describe defects and corrective actions taken. (2)
  • Write text entries in forms to describe events leading up to incidents or accidents, e.g. write about injuries and events when completing workers' compensation board forms. (2)


  • Measure distances, angles and volumes using basic measuring tools, such as tape measures, digital protractors and calibrated beakers. (1)
  • Compare measurements of angles, dimensions and clearances to specifications. (1)
  • Estimate metal shrinkage rates when cooled. (1)
  • Calculate material requirements by totaling material requirements and making allowances for wastage, take-off and make-up measurements. (2)
  • Calculate summary measures, e.g. calculate the average number of products produced per hour and shift. (2)
  • Estimate the time needed to carry out the machining operations described in customers' specification sheets, e.g. use estimates to project the time needed to complete batch lots. (2)
  • May use formulae to calculate cutting speeds, taking into account cutting diameter, material being machined and type of tool being used. (3)
  • Use precise measuring tools, e.g. use dial calipers and micrometers to measure dimensions, such as inside and outside diameters to 1/10,000 of an inch. (3)
  • Lay out materials using geometric construction methods, e.g. use concepts, such as symmetry and parallelism, to layout machining projects. (4)
  • May transpose measurements from scale drawings into machine operating code, e.g. program computer numerically controlled machine tools, specifying movement along three axes to create the specified shape. (4)
  • May use trigonometry and triangle relationships to calculate angles, tapers and faces when machining complex parts. (5)

Oral communication

  • Speak to suppliers to learn about products, prices and delivery schedules. (1)
  • Exchange information with co-workers, e.g. talk with co-workers about project requirements and with quality control personnel about the quality of parts completed. (2)
  • May talk to customers, e.g. may talk to customers to clarify specifications and discuss project outcomes. (2)
  • May explain the use of equipment, such as computer numerically controlled drill presses and lathes, to new employees. (3)


  • Encounter technical drawings with missing specifications and errors. They report the missing specifications and errors to supervisors and complete other tasks until the missing information is acquired and errors are corrected. (1)
  • Decide the order of tasks and their priorities. They decide which procedure to follow when completing projects. (1)
  • Encounter delays due to equipment breakdowns and material shortages. They inform supervisors of the issue, assist with repairs if possible and perform other work until repairs are completed and the necessary materials arrive. (2)
  • Experience product defects. They consult with supervisors to determine next steps, adjust equipment settings and complete product defect reports. (2)
  • Choose methods and materials for projects. They consider project specifications and the availability of parts and supplies. (2)
  • Decide the most efficient use of materials during construction to minimize waste. (2)
  • Evaluate the feasibility of proposed projects. They consider project specifications, the availability of equipment and their ability to perform the work. (2)
  • Evaluate the safety of workplaces and work procedures. They consider hazards, such as slippery work surfaces. (2)
  • Judge the performance of equipment, such as computer numerically controlled lathes. (2)
  • Plan the order of tasks to complete the jobs assigned. Much of the planning is short range, focusing on organizing the workstation, doing set-up, programming the machine and verifying hole placement. They may interrupt their schedule to help others or complete rush jobs. (2)
  • Locate project specifications by referring to technical drawings and by speaking with customers and co-workers, such as supervisors. (2)
  • Learn about new products by reading brochures and information on websites and speaking with suppliers. (2)
  • Find information on cutting speeds and feed rates by speaking with suppliers and co-workers and by scanning reference and specification tables. (2)
  • Evaluate the quality of completed projects. They consider factors, such as the conformity of dimensions to project specifications. (3)

Digital technology

  • May input data to operate numerically controlled equipment, such as lathes and cutting machines. (1)
  • May use calculators and personal digital assistant (PDA) devices to complete numeracy-related tasks, such as calculating material requirements. (1)
  • Use computer-assisted design (CAD) software to access, modify and print technical drawings. (2)
  • May use databases to query inventories and locate parts specifications and details of previously completed projects. (2)
  • May use the Internet to access training courses and seminars offered by training institutions, unions, suppliers and employers. (2)
  • May use Internet browsers and search engines to locate information, such as equipment and supply specifications. (2)

Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Machining tool operators work independently. They are part of a team that includes mechanics, welders, machinists, fellow operators and management. Team members co-ordinate their efforts to ensure machines are used efficiently and work priorities are well managed.

Continuous Learning

Machining tool operators continue to learn new specifications and procedures through on-the-job training and experience. They receive training in first aid and the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS).