How to Become a Machinist:
The Definitive Guide

If you’ve been around a car, airplane, or any other metal item in the United States, it was probably created by a Machinist.

A Machinist cuts the metal into different shapes to create many of the things that we use in our daily lives, and don’t even realize how much time goes into creating them.

In order to become a Machinist, you’ll need to obtain an apprenticeship or earn a degree, but experience is the most valuable asset in this career.


What is a Machinist?

A Machinist is someone with a steady hand and steady nerves because they work around large machinery every day.

As a Machinist, you will create pieces from metal, plastic, or wood, depending on the type of Machinist you become.

Some of these things can be huge, like airplane wings, or small like computer parts.

These skilled craftsmen and women are responsible for setting up machines and creating cutouts with precision.

There are many different areas that a Machinist can work in, including food processing, aerospace, maritime manufacturing, and biomedical manufacturing.


Working with machinery can be dangerous, so a Machinist must be properly trained.

Throughout the workday, you can expect to do the following as a Machinist:

  • Assemble and disassemble machinery when it needs to be repaired
  • Perform tests and operate machinery
  • Adjust and calibrate machinery 
  • Operate and monitor production equipment
  • Manage raw materials
  • Quality assurance inspection
  • Inventory materials
  • Make sure pieces are to customer standards


The salary of a Machinist can be quite lucrative, at around $46,000 a year on average.

That is typical for a Machinist who has been working a couple of years, those who are just starting in this career will make closer to $27,000 in some areas.

Having certifications, hands-on knowledge, and specializations can lead to a salary of over $66,000.

If you are looking to gain employment as a Machinist, try looking in areas like California, where the salary is close to $48,000, due to the higher population and socio-economic status.

Machinists who work in states that are smaller in size, like Kansas will make around $40,000 on average.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

Annually National Average Salary: $49,020


Average Annual Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$85,600
New Hampshire$49,820
New Jersey$57,190
New Mexico$50,360
New York$49,750
North Carolina$45,840
North Dakota$53,400
Rhode Island$51,450
South Carolina$40,480
South Dakota$44,290
West Virginia$46,420
Puerto Rico$26,360

Annual Average Salary: Top 5 States

The top earning state in the field is District of Columbia, where the average salary is $85,600.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

District of Columbia - $85,600
Alaska - $70,920
Hawaii - $70,760
Washington - $60,080
Maryland - $59,810
*Salary information based on the May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey.
Conducted by: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

How to Become a Machinist

Step 1Graduate From High School

The first thing that you are going to need to do in order to work as a Machinist is graduate from high school, either by earning a diploma or obtaining a GED.

When you are done with high school, you should have at least a 2.5 GPA before considering entering the field.

This is because many employers look at GPA in order to determine if you have the correct competency and work ethic for the job.

There are some companies that allow Machinists to start right up, but most require at least some education on how to work the machinery and stay safe.

In order to prepare yourself as early as high school, take classes that include:

  • Math like geometry
  • Metal or woodshop
  • Computer classes
  • Drafting

It’s also possible to find classes at local colleges or training schools that will provide knowledge on different types of blueprint reading and other Machinist duties.

Step 2Enter a Program

The next step in becoming a Machinist is to find someone with experience to mentor you.

This can be done by entering an apprenticeship program, or by asking for on the job training.

An apprenticeship program should last about four years, where you will learn a variety of information on:

  • CAD
  • CNC Programming
  • Machine Operation Basics
  • Metallurgy
  • Geometric Dimensions

Apprenticeship programs can be found at local training schools and community colleges.

These types of programs are great ways to introduce yourself to the world of a Machinist.

Often, apprenticeships provide salary, so that you can gain on the job experience and learn in a classroom at the same time.

If you would rather work toward a degree, an Associate’s degree would do just fine.

Most Associates degrees take about two years to finish, and may also require an internship or apprenticeship.

A degree in Associated Applied Science or earning a certificate through a community college is acceptable for this career.

The classes that you should expect to take in this type of degree program are:

  • Manufacturing Processes
  • Machining Basics
  • Mechanical Drafting
  • Welding Processes

There are a variety of other classes that you should take with this type of degree as well, including English and math.

Step 3Gain NIMS Certification

The National Institute of Metalworking Skills provides great credentials for Machinists to obtain promotions and raises.

This certification association has many different certifications for Machinists.

These credentials include:

  • CNC Programmer
  • CNC Lathe Operations
  • Milling
  • Turning
  • Certified Journeyworker

Each certification requires that you pay an enrollment fee and pass an exam.

Most certifications cost around $125 through the NIMS website.

Having a certification as a CNC Programmer requires that you have skills in:

  • Math
  • Machine maintenance
  • Programming
  • Process planning
  • Shop safety
  • Measurements

With the CNC Programmer certification exam, you can expect to answer about 82 questions and have 90 minutes to complete the exam.

The Milling and Turning certifications are for more senior Machinists.

These types of credentials show employers that you have expertise in that area of machinery.

Most certifications are valid for three years, after which you must retake the exam or prove further education related to the field.


With dreams of becoming a Machinist, you can rest assured that there are several options to get you where you want to be.

Many people who are interested in becoming Machinist will apply for an apprenticeship through a trade school, community college, or company in the field.

An apprenticeship program will provide future Machinists with both classroom education, and on-the-job experience, oftentimes for pay.

This can be a great alternative for those who can’t afford community college or an Associate’s degree.

Apprenticeship programs can last anywhere from 2-4 years, where you will learn trade knowledge.

Most apprentices spend their days working in the field, and their nights studying or taking courses.

Along with on the job training, an apprenticeship requires classroom time.

Most of the classes that you will take in this type of program are:

  • Manufacturing Basics
  • Production Processes
  • Machine Maintenance
  • Math
  • Communications
  • Law and Ethics

If you are the type of person who wants to earn a formal education, like an Associate’s degree, that’s possible for this career as well.

An Associate’s degree can be earned at community colleges and universities across the United States.

These programs provide classroom time to aspiring Machinists, and will often require an internship or other hands-on experience.

Classes that you should expect to take in this type of program include:

  • Technical Physics
  • Mechanical Drafting
  • Geometry
  • Manufacturing
  • CAD

Having a degree makes a difference in this career, as Machinists who have an Associates degree or higher can find careers with titles such as:

  • Engineering Technician
  • Automation and Control Analyst
  • CNC Programmer
  • CNC Technician
  • Process Planner Lab Technician

You can earn a Bachelor’s degree in this field as well, which will provide more senior roles, like Project Manager.

Oftentimes, Machinists who earn a degree move on to start their own companies.

Video About The Career

Certification and Licensing

Working as a Machinist can be hard work, and experience is key to success in this career.

With experience comes credentials and specializations, which can be achieved by becoming certified.

It’s important to find out if your state requires certification to work as a Machinist.

While most states don’t require a Machinist to be certified in order to obtain employment, many employers like to see these credentials.

Licensing is also something that should be looked into before becoming a Machinist as well.

Most states don’t require licensing for individuals or small projects.

However, with large projects or big companies, a license may be necessary.

Having a certification can prove to employers and customers that you have the proper knowledge to do a good job.

Through the National Institute of Metalworking Skills offers many certifications for Machinists.

They provide specialized certifications in things like:

  • Lathing
  • Milling
  • Turning

And they also provide entry-level certifications in areas that include:

  • CNC Mill Programming Setup
  • Measurement, Materials, and Safety
  • Lathe Operations

Each of these certifications will require different specifics and information.

For example, the CNC Mill Programming Setup credential requires that interested candidates have proficiency in areas such as:

  • Math
  • Machine maintenance
  • Process planning
  • Programming
  • Shop safety
  • Setup

To gain certification as a Measurement, Materials, and Safety expert, you will need to be skilled in:

  • Geometric dimensions and coding
  • Machine safety and applications
  • Print reading
  • Measurements

With the Lathe Operations certification, you will need to have experience in all of the above-mentioned areas, as well as lathing and turning.

Most of the exams given through NIMS have anywhere from 80-100 questions and should take about 90 minutes to complete.

Some states, like California, provide their own certification and licensing associations.

Check your local board of associations to find out more about certification as a Machinist.

Average Training Program Duration: 1-2 Years

Don’t worry about having to take long classes while working as a Machinist.

Most certification classes only take about 6-7 weeks to finish, and some only require that you take an exam to show your competency.

Managing your time as a Machinist is important so that you can obtain the proper number of hours required to earn certification.

Most certifications require at least 600 hours of work with heavy machinery, which can take about 6 months to obtain.

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Job Outlook

Having a career as a Machinist can be a great step into the world of tool die casting, with the job outlook growing about 4 percent over the next decade.

There have been many improvements in technology and the way things are done over the years, which has made the work of a Machinist just a bit easier.

Even though a Machinist must control, repair, and survey the machines they will use, there are new types of machinery that make a Machinist’s job quicker, such as autoloaders, high-speed machining, and computer-controlled machine tools.

The necessity to replace retired workers and those who have quit the field will be the main reason for the growth in this career.

People who have specializations and experience as a Machinist will likely find the most job prospects.

Employment Growth Projection: 8%


That's a higher than average projected growth of 28,800 jobs.

Machinist: Interest Over Time

Should You Become a Machinist?

Overall Satisfaction: High

Overall Satisfaction

There isn’t much mental stimulation in this career, which can create a boring atmosphere for those not interested in repetitive jobs.

Those who have experience and understanding of CNC programming likely find more satisfaction in their career.

This is because they can make more money, and have more job opportunities.

There is also a lot of standing in one spot in this job, which can lead to back and knee issues for some.

Taking care of yourself in this career is the number one priority.

Average Salary: Medium

Average Salary

Expect to make close to $46,000 a year as a Machinist with a few years of experience.

With no experience, it’s likely that you could make close to $27,000 as a Machinist.

However, most employers require at least one year of apprenticeship work or a degree in order to gain employment.

With these, you can expect to make around $66,000 a year in this career.

Working in areas with larger populations and higher socioeconomic statuses can also make for higher salaries.

Job Growth Outlook: Low

Job Growth Outlook

Machinists have an important and often stressful job, so this career sees a lot of transition.

Even though this career will only grow about 3 percent in the next ten years, that is still more than many other careers in this industry.

When looking for a career as a Machinist, the best prospects are likely in places with high populations and high construction areas.

Those who have a degree or relevant experience in the field can also expect more career opportunities than those right out of high school.

Education Duration: 1-2 Years

Education Duration

Education is important when it comes to working as a Machinist because you will need to learn CNC programming as well as all of the ins and outs of machinery.

This is why it can take several years to become a Machinist.

Many Machinists choose to enter an apprenticeship, which can take anywhere from 1-4 years, depending on how much time you want to spend.

There are others who choose to earn an Associate’s degree, which takes about two years to finish.

No matter the type of education you receive as a Machinist, it’s crucial to gain hands-on experience.

Personal Skills Needed

Personal Skills Needed

It may seem that a Machinist just fiddles around with different mechanisms all day, but in reality, this career can be quite intricate.

In order to be a success in this career, you will need to possess the following traits:

  • Reading and writing comprehension
  • Technical writing skills
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • CNC programming knowledge
  • Manual dexterity
  • Stamina
  • Math and physics skills
  • Analytical skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Comfortability with working around large machinery

If this sounds like you, then you will definitely do a great job as a Machinist.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. How much does the average Machinist make?

With a career as a Machinist, you can expect to make close to $46,000 a year on average.

That is true for Machinists who have at least two years of experience in the field.

The beginning salary for a Machinist is closer to $27,000 a year.

If you are expecting to maintain your career as a Machinist, then a few years down the line you may possibly make over $66,000 a year.

A top salary will require dedication, certifications, and proper education to achieve.

Q. How long does it take to become a Machinist?

The length of time it takes to gain employment as a Machinist really varies depending on your level of education and where you work.

Some employers don’t require any education at all, so you can step right out into the field as soon as you finish high school.

However, other employers and customers like to see a Machinist with proper education.

The average education program for a Machinist is about 4 years.

Q. What does a Machinist do?

A Machinist has a very meticulous job, which can include working with computer automated design programs.

Most Machinists work with large machinery to cut metal, plastic, or wood, to create intricate details and designs.

They are also tasked with repairing and doing any maintenance on the machines as well.

Q. What is the demand for Machinists?

Over the next decade or so, the career outlook for Machinists will grow about 3 percent.

This is due to technological advancements in the field, where many computers are able to do jobs that once required a person to fulfill.

Areas with higher populations will likely have more job opportunities for people interested in becoming a Machinist.

Having proper credentials and specializations can also open many more doors in this career.

Q. How much does it cost to become a Machinist?

It shouldn’t cost you much to become a Machinist.

Most of the time, if you enter an apprenticeship, you will be paid for your work and trained for free.

Those who want to gain certification may have to pay anywhere from $150-$300, depending on the credential.

However, if an Associate’s degree is more your style, that will run you anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000, depending on the school and the program.

Machinist Information by State

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  1. Avatar for Kevin Kevin

    I want to become a CNC machinist, thank you for an incredibly detailed guide on how to go about it. it will help me get started.

  2. Avatar for ADOMAKO Isaac ADOMAKO Isaac

    I will like to become a mechanist .
    Thanks for your guidance

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