A machinist is a skilled worker capable of operating a multitude of machine tools. They can read drawings and use precise instruments to make measurements and create engineering tools. They can fashion and carve solid metal in the same way a woodcarver alters wood, and are a valuable labor force in the machine and engineering industry.
Machinists are also commonly referred to as fitters, turners, or tool makers. Generally these monikers are reserved for machinists, who specialize in specific tasks during production. The specific roles include those who construct the tools and process workers who are responsible for the operation of the machine. As machine parts must be manufactured precisely in order to be assembled and work cohesively, a skilled machinist must be patient and meticulous in his or her craft.
Machinists and Asbestos
Working in a variety of industries including shipbuilding and construction, a machinist is truly a person of many talents. Some machinists still work with old machines, crafting and replacing parts that no longer function as they should.
Unfortunately, as the process of machining metal requires a surfeit of heat, it also requires a material suitable for insulating the machinery and shielding the machinist from the blazing fire. During the early part of the 20th century, many found that a naturally occurring mineral called asbestos served as the perfect insulator and fire retardant during machine work. As a result, for many years a machinist shop was often toxic, filled with asbestos fibers.
From pipe and boiler insulation to asbestos products and cement, many areas of the machinist shop became hazardous zones, especially for those exposed to the mineral over an extended period. Machinists were also responsible for constructing products that contained asbestos, such as asbestos and graphite gaskets. These gaskets were often used to finish a valve or pump, with the machinist responsible for cutting the asbestos-graphite into a workable shape. This released clouds of asbestos fibers into the air, creating a deleterious environment for the machinist. In fact, asbestos was so prevalent in a machinist shop that at one period in time asbestos was used to make protective gear to prevent fire burns. Asbestos aprons, gloves, and even face masks were not only common, but encouraged. However, while asbestos clothes served as a protective barrier from the immediate danger of fire, the long term damages to their health were arguably as dangerous.