10 Essential Machinist Tools

August 14, 2019 12:30 pm

What’s the one and only tool that you could never imagine working without? Tough question, right? There’s a multitude of tools and accessories that machinists use frequently, if not daily, and having to designate one of them as the most important seems almost impossible.

Almost exactly one year ago we decided to dig deep into our forum to try to find an answer to this question. We found quite a few interesting conversations about the topic, and we put together a practical list of tools that should always be in any journeyman’s tool box.

Now, one year later, we thought it would be worth it to reinvestigate the topic to see if the preferences of our community of metalworking professionals have changed. To get a fresh perspective, we decided to ask our followers on Facebook and Instagram to answer the million-dollar question:

“What’s the most important tool that every machinist should have?”

The majority of the more than 500 respondents seems to agree on the importance of one specific “tool”: the brain. It may seem like a silly answer, but smart decision-making is an essential part of the job.

Another important “tool” that every machinist should have is protective personal equipment (PPE). No matter what type of machine tool you are using, safety should always come first. That’s why we recommend always keeping a self-inspection checklist, run frequent inspections, and follow these basic guidelines to make sure that you minimize hazards in your machine shop.

As far as the other must-have tools, here’s the final verdict.


#10. Edge Finder

HAIMER Universal 3D Sensor

HAIMER Universal 3D Sensor

Edge finders are the most commonly used device to locate Part Zero.

Often identified as wigglers or wobblers, these simple tools are necessary to locate the edges of a workpiece or the center of a hole.

There is a wide variety of edge finders available is, but this is the type we recommend.


#9. Allen Wrench

TEKTON Hex Key Wrench Set

TEKTON Hex Key Wrench Set

Allen wrenches are a universal tool that should always be part of a machinist’s toolbox. It is one of the easiest wrenches to use and is designed to help tighten or loosen screws and bolts that have a hexagonal socket in the head.

Here’s what we recommend.


#8. Calculator

Calculated Industries 4088 Machinist Calc Pro 2

Calculated Industries 4088 Machinist Calc Pro 2


Where there’s machining, there’s math. Luckily there are tools that can help make math easier and the most important one is a calculator. We recommend using a machinist calculator as it already has machining-specific keys, like surface feet per minute (SFPM), inch per tooth, inch per minute, and data about the most popular materials.

Here’s our favorite.


#7. Files

Nicholson 9 Piece Hand File Set

Nicholson 9 Piece Hand File Set

Files are probably the most used deburring tool in any machine shop. They are available in a wide variety of sizes and types depending on the material of the part and the type of edge.

This set by Nicholson contains 9 American Pattern files that will cover most of your roughing needs.


#6. Hammer

Neiko 02847A 2 LB Dead Blow Hammer

Neiko 02847A 2 LB Dead Blow Hammer


Often underestimated, hammers are one of the most used tools in any machine shop. They come in different shapes and materials to better address your needs. The two types we always recommend having are the Ball-Pein, used to deform soft materials, and the dead blow, generally used for objects which need a little more force in order to move.


#5. Machinery’s Handbook

Machinery's Handbook, Toolbox Edition

Machinery’s Handbook, Toolbox Edition


Although technically not a tool, this book is a must-read for any professional machinist. The Machinery’s Handbook has been the most popular reference work in metalworking, design, engineering and manufacturing facilities, and technical schools and colleges throughout the world.  If you don’t have a copy, we recommend getting the pocket version and keeping it nearby while working in the shop.


#4. Test Indicator

 TESA Brown & Sharpe Interapid 312 Dial Test Indicator

TESA Brown & Sharpe Interapid 312 Dial Test Indicator

Test indicators are used in a great number of applications, ranging from determining the accuracy of a lathe or mill alignment to setting parts accurately on a faceplate.

Here’s our favorite model.


#3. Micrometer

Brown & Sharpe 599-1-50 Classicmaster Micrometer

Brown & Sharpe 599-1-50 Classicmaster Micrometer

As already mentioned several times, micrometers are likely to be the most utilized precision measuring instrument in any machine shop. They come in digital or analog format and no type is really better than the other.

Here’s our favorite model.


#2. 6” Scale

Mitutoyo 182-105, Steel Rule, 6"

Mitutoyo 182-105, Steel Rule, 6″


Simple yet extremely necessary on the shop floor.  Scales are the most important multi-tool a machinist can have!

Here’s what we recommend.


#1. Caliper

Mitutoyo 500-196-30 Advanced Onsite Sensor (AOS) Absolute Scale Digital Caliper,

Mitutoyo 500-196-30 Advanced Onsite Sensor (AOS) Absolute Scale Digital Caliper


Voted by the majority of our respondents as the most important tool, calipers are definitely a machinist’s best friend. They are handy and practical tools that can help machinists take quick measurements of their parts. If you don’t own one, you should start from a 6” model. Calipers come in three different types: Vernier, dial or digital. The selection of the style is really up to the machinist.

This is what we recommend.


So, this is it. The ultimate list of tools that you should never work without.  Clearly there are several other tools that could and should be included in this list, but for the sake of this article, we decided to list only the most necessary.

Do you think there are other more important tools that we should have mentioned? Let us know in the comments below!


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    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-24973">

    I was surprised to see Machinery’s Handbook so high on the list. It would be useful to survey machinists and find out what are the top ten essential topics in Machinery’s Handbook, in order of frequency of use.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-24974">

    Up until my retirement believing that these 10 items were very important to the master tradesman.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-24976"> li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-25083">
    Dave wantz

    Pocket caliper

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