10 Essential Machinist Tools

This is a slightly different post than my usual how to… What follows are my recommendations for the 10 essential machinist tools to get started in DIY Machining. I have each of these tools and use them regularly. In fact, they are a staple of my toolbox and get used in many of my non-machining projects as well.

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Let’s dive right into the list of Essential Machinist Tools…

1 – Calipers

These are perhaps the most critical of all essential machinist tools. Without these, I would be completely lost. I use an eight inch dial caliper that I has served me well since college. It was a gift from my parents when I started studying mechanical engineering. Years later, this pair of calipers is still used on a regular basis. The advantage of the dial calipers over the digital type is the simple fact that the batteries never go dead. Now with that said, my next pair will likely be a digital type. The advantaged of the digital version over the dial version has to do with fewer mechanical parts. Specifically, there is no long rack gear running the length of the calipers. Over time the gear will collect dust and dirt which can damage the small gears and impact the accuracy of the device. Links for both types are included below.

6” Dial Caliper

6″ Digital Caliper with Extra Large LCD Screen


2 – Set of Starter End Mills

There is not much you can do in the world of machining without a few end mills. I have two of these sets. Ok, well I had two full sets. I am missing an end mill from one of the sets due to, as Tom Lipton calls it, an appearance by Mr. Bozo. One set I have reserved for roughing and testing new gcode while the other is reserved for finishing operations and proven gcode. These are nothing fancy, just high speed steel (HSS). You can spend a ton of money on fancy solid carbide end mills but for me right now this is good enough. I accepted the fact that as part of my learning process I will break a few end mills.

6 Piece End Mill Set

3 – Edge Finder

This is one of the more underrated essential machinist tools. Edge finders are used to, well, find the edge of a part. I use mine to set the X & Y zero on my Harbor Freight CNC Mini Mill. This tells the machine where it is in 3 dimensional space relative to the material clamped in the vise. This version is pretty simple to use. Start by gently pushing the end off center using your finger. Then turn on the spindle at low RPM and move the edge finder toward the part. Once the edge finder locates the edge of the part, the bottom portion will move off to the side. This edge finder has a tip diameter of .200″ Therefore once I find the edge of a part, I know the center line of my spindle is .100″ from the edge I just referenced. It sounds more complicated than it really is but once you use one a few times it will become second nature.

Edge Finder

4 – Dial Indicator

These have a multitude of uses. I most recently used this to fine tune the steps/mm setting in GRBL for my machine. This tool allows you to get a reliable measurement distance over ~ 1.0″ This can also be used to square your vice with the machine axis. While I don’t use this tool everyday, its one that when I need it, there usually is not a work around.

Dial Indicator with Magnetic Base

5 – Deburring Set

Some may balk at the cost of this set. At over $40 (US) this is the most expensive item on the list. However, I think it is worth the price. I use the hole chamfer attachment all the time.

NOGA Deburring Set

6 – Anti-Fatigue Mat

In my younger days I would have thought this recommendation was ridiculous. If that’s you, I get it. As I spend more and more time on my feet, I am always look for ways to be more comfortable. This inexpensive anti-fatigue mat works really well. The part I like is how easy it is to clean and the metal chips don’t get ground into the surface.

Durable Anti-Fatigue Mat (2′ x 3′)

7 – 6″ Scale (Ruler)

It’s a great ruler. What more can I say. I have used the traditional metal version with the stamped lettering and tick marks. For me, the high visibility version is the way to go. I am partial to the 3/4″ wide version linked below. I should probably get an extra one as I seem to always be looking for it and instead of trying to move it around my shop, I could store one next to the mill and one in my tool box.

6″ Scale (Ruler) – High Contrast

8 – Permanent Marker – Extra Fine

I know, insert eye roll from the reader here. Yes, I am recommending a good extra fine permanent marker. They just work. I do a lot of projects where I use the center of the stock as my X & Y zero points. The quickest way to find the center of a square or rectangle is to draw an X on it with a line from each corner.

Sharpie Permanent Markers – Ultra Fine

9 – Machinist Square

I find this small 6″ machinist square to be one of the most essential machinist tools I own. It goes where I go. I have even been know to use this in my wood working projects when setting up my joiner to get a really good 90° angle between the bed and fence.

Precision Square

10 – Set of Files

There are times when a burr is just to large for the deburring tool. That is where the trusty file does a great job. I use mine most often when I am removing burs from rough cut stock prior to installing it in the mill vice.

5 Piece File Set



While not a complete list, it’s a good place to start. This is one of those topics if you ask 5 people you will get 5 different answers. Like I said earlier, I use each of these essential machinist tools and I am very happy with them.

Would you like to add an item to the list? Leave your suggestion in the comments below.

Are you ready to get started building your own DIY CNC Machine, click for a How To Guide to setup your Arduino CNC controller.

Thanks for reading. Until next time…


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