How Do I Become an Auto Machinist?

Bobby R. Goldsmith

There are a couple of paths to take to become an auto machinist. Depending on where you wish to work, you may need to acquire state certification for automotive repair work. In many states, you do not need formal certification to become an auto machinist. This is especially true if you plan to work on automotive components that are not installed in a vehicle. Working under the mentorship of an experienced machinist is a possible option, and generally this is the best way to become an auto machinist yourself.

Machinists work on engine blocks and other auto parts.
Machinists work on engine blocks and other auto parts.

Some states require that an individual wishing to become an auto machinist establish a formal apprenticeship with an experienced auto machinist. Some municipalities require, in conjunction with an apprenticeship, that you also have formal instruction form an accredited auto machining or millwork program from a trade school, vocational institute, or community college. Check the labor regulations and automotive machining technician requirements in your state, county, and city.

Establishing an apprenticeship may be the most difficult part of the process. You may have to cold call all of the machine shops in your area to inquire about intern or apprentice opportunities. Often, to get your foot in the door, you will need to take a job in a shop that does not immediately put you in the machinist's seat. You may initially be required to clean the shop regularly, organize tools and equipment, write up customer orders, and file paperwork. Many shops do not offer formal apprenticeships because of the cost of employing additional help that cannot immediately contribute to machining parts.

Once you find an internship, if you need to take formal coursework, make sure that the school's curriculum matches the requirements of your jurisdiction to become an auto machinist. For example, the state of Washington requires prospective auto machinists to complete at least two years of training in an accredited machinist's program to acquire certification. This education must be performed at the same time as a formal apprenticeship with an experienced machinist.

There are several areas of specialization that you might focus your training on. You can concentrate either on machining engine blocks, cylinder heads, pistons, and crankshafts or on computer numerical control (CNC) machining for general fabrication. During an internship or apprenticeship, you will likely start your machinist training by milling cylinder heads and by port-matching inflow ports on the heads to outflow ports on intake manifolds. You will learn which materials require which tools. For example, you must use particular bits to machine aluminum components. Those bits are not suitable to machine cast iron components, however.

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