Tool and die makers 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. Manufacturing engineers and tool and die makers often work in close consultation as part of a manufacturing engineering team. 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 regulated 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 developed by engineers and technologists, tool makers lay out (mark out) the design on the raw material (usually metal), then cut it to size and shape using manually controlled machine tools (such as lathes, milling machines, grinding machines, and jig grinders), power tools (such as die grinders and rotary tools), and hand tools (such as files and honing stones).
Since the advent of computing in the manufacturing fields (including CNC, CAD, CAM, and other computer-aided technologies), tool and die makers have increasingly added IT skills to their daily work. Today's tool and die makers are generally required to have all of the traditional skills plus substantial digital skills; these formidable requirements make the field challenging to master.
Tool making typically means making tooling used to produce products. Common tooling includes metal forming rolls, cutting tools (such as tool bits and milling cutters), fixtures, or even whole 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.
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 essential in die making; punches and die steels must maintain proper clearance to produce parts accurately, and it is often necessary to have components machined with tolerances of less than one thousandth of an inch.