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My father was a machinist, but he never got the chance to teach me much of the art before he died in 2003. I couldn’t keep his Bridgeport mill or metal lathes since they were just way too big for the space I had available at the time. Later, though, I did manage to buy a Smithy from a friend of a friend. Since then I’ve been too wrapped up in Toolmonger and other endeavors to really dive in. But recently I realized that I might not always have the nice big garage I have now, so I’d like to get out and put some hours on it before I have to let it go, too.

I’ve got the standard school text Machine Tools and Machining Practices, and I’ve got the Smithy manual. That’s it. I really need something more basic to hold my hand (so to speak) through the process of making my first few cuts and turns. Might any of you have suggestions as to where I could start in terms of books, videos, or online resources to get me going?


20 Responses to Reader Question: Best Book For A N00b Machinist?

  1. Tim Burton says:

    MIT has a fantastic series on machine shop practices. The ones on milling are particularly good. Start here:


  2. Mac says:

    Tubalcain’s videos are very informative, and often entertaining. I don’t always agree with what he says, but he’s extremely knowledgeable, and is often entertaining to boot. Good call Ben.

  3. Noblehops says:

    Ha, this could have been me writing this. I did the same as you, bought a couple of textbooks, but even better, I signed up for a class at my regional vocational tech school’s nighttime adult education, which was surprisingly reasonable. Tonight is my third class! Is there a vo tech school near you?

  4. cheerIO says:

    Man, you guys nailed it. Tubalcain and the MIT videos are the best and practically only beginner machinist stuff that I have found so far. I am very interested if someone has found something else, as I too am trying to teach myself machining.

    You should also get a small handbook with charts for for feeds and speeds and read this article:


  5. Brian says:

    I did a certification class at my local community college that gave me an excellent grounding in machine shop practices. That was an extensive full-time, 3 month program, but I’m sure there’s shorter and/or evening classes out there if you’ve got a good CC nearby.

  6. James says:

    I have not signed up, but smartflix maybe something I do.

  7. mlocer says:

    I’ve got a set of the MIT vids and they put me to sleep, But that was after a hard days work, they are a real gold mine of information and well worth a look

  8. bigalexe says:

    No machinist, manufacturer, engineer, or hobbyist should be without the Machinery’s Handbook. There are no excuses to not own this book, except being a poor college student. Machinery’s handbook will not teach you how to mill but it is a shop reference that includes pretty much everything you would ever need to lookup like fasteners, alloys, or tool speeds.


    In my manual machine class we used a book called Machine Tool Practices which can be found here:


    Another good reference if you want to get into more than the occasianal project albeit this text goes beyond the machine shop is what we used in my classes for Tool & Die Design and also Jig & Fixture Design which is called simply Fundamentals of Tool Design.


    Although I have just recommended about $200 worth of books I would really recommend taking that $200 and spending it on a class at your local community college or vocational school. No text can beat a good instructor, and if he is a nice guy then you have a go-to reference in the future for those questions you just can’t find an answer to in a book. Heck over 4 years after high school I still call up my auto mechanics instructor when my car breaks.

  9. Joe says:

    Linday Publications sells reprints of machinist manuals from the 1940’s and 50’s. Their site is at: http://www.lindsaybks.com

  10. george says:

    might wanna join this group for way to much info. great bunch.

  11. Kurt says:

    I taught myself how to run a lathe and mill using this book:


    I was using the tools from this company, but the instructions apply to larger equipment. Not a bad idea to start with smaller equipment, however,as it is less intimidating and safer to learn on. I moved on to bigger stuff after a few years, but kept the sherline lathe and mill and still use them for smaller parts.

  12. Steve says:

    I really like the MIT videos already posted.

    Here is the Army’s manual…


  13. I have found any United States Navy Training manual to be the most thorough from beginner to advanced in most fields ie; Woodframe Construction, Masonry, Electrical, etc. Look for “Machinist Mate” through the Government Printing Office in Pueblo, Colorado.

  14. Sylvester says:

    I second Kurt’s suggestion. The Home Machinist’s Handbook is good.

    Neither of my next suggestions are straight procedural textbooks, but would make a nice supplement to one.

    I highly recommend “The Machinist’s Bedside Reader” books (currently a trilogy) by Guy Lautard. They’re a wonderful collection of tips, tricks, projects, and anecdotes. The first one’s probably the most useful to a beginner.

    I also found “The Shop Wisdom of Frank McLean” quite useful.
    It seems to be more beginner-oriented than a lot of the other Shop Wisdom books.

  15. JS says:

    Guy Lautard’s Machinist’s Bedside Reader is right up your alley.

  16. Rob says:

    You may find http://www.MachinistBlog.com/ interesting and useful.

  17. DocN says:

    As mentioned, [i]Machinerys Handbook[/i]. It’s a reference tome, not a how-to, and you’ll spend the first few years all but ignoring it. But the more you learn, the more valuable it is.

    Then get the Lindsay reprint of South bend’s “How to Run a Lathe”. It’s a 40’s era book, and tends to lean SB-specific on a few things, but apart from that, it’s an excellent book for the beginner on the lathe.

    Unfortunately, there’s not much of an equivalent for a vertical mill. The aforementioned Navy book isn’t bad, and the college textbooks [i]Machine Tool Operations[/i] and [i]Machine Tool Practices[/i] give some pretty decent information.

    I’ll repeat the suggestion of finding a local class to take. The best instruction is hands-on.


  18. Sylvester says:

    Also, the Workshop Practice Series are good, but particularly the titles by Tubal Cain and Martin Cleeve.

  19. Justin says:

    I am currently enrolled in a voc tech cnc program. We, as well as the conventional class use http://www.toolingu.com
    You should be able to set up a trial account or pay the $180 for a year access. You can pick and choose the lessons you want to see. It has proven to be a valuable resource. I can’t wait to get my first mill!

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