Industry Articles From Kaempf and Harris

The Great Debate: Should Apprentices Buy Their Own Tools?


A well-prepared sheet metal fabrication apprentice has all of the top tools of the trade ready to go. Their backpack should come with a 4 ½–inch angle grinder, various grinder disks, wire cutters, an auto-darkening helmet, welding glasses, a pair of combination wrenches, wire brushes, gloves, a jacket, and a chipping hammer -- or so some apprenticeships think. 

However, should the apprentice have to purchase all of their own tools, or should the apprenticeship provide the tools of the trade?

Why Apprentices Should Buy Their Own Tools:

There are a few reasons why apprentices should buy their own tools. Firstly, students in any trade have a tendency not to take care of their tools, unless they’ve paid for them. This means that a lot of apprentices won’t have state-of-the-art tools, but less expensive tools are better anyway because most apprentices are still learning how to use and maintain them after various projects.

Also, while students learn which jobs and projects they’re good at (and which they prefer doing), they’ll go through a variety of tools and manufacturers to find their favorites. As they sort through this process, it’s best that apprentices purchase their own basic tools to have as a go-to set.

Lastly, apprentices who purchase their own tools will have those basic tools to use for home projects later on in life. As their knowledge and field experience increases through their career, (former) apprentices will begin to use bigger and better tools. This gives the beginner's tools a second home, which saves a little bit of money.

Overall, it’s better for the apprentice to use a less expensive set of tools while they’re still learning. It teaches them responsibility, gives them a solid starting set, and can save them money in the long run.

Why Apprentices Shouldn’t Buy Their Own Tools:

The main reason that apprentices shouldn’t buy their own tools is because of cost. After factoring in tuition and class fees, purchasing tools can put a dent in a student’s (most likely) shallow wallet.

The big-ticket tools lead to another common complaint from apprentices. Their personal tools are stolen or misused by other students because they don’t want to commit to the hefty price tag. If apprenticeships require only proper attire, such as cotton clothing, leather shoes, and a thick pair of work gloves, and basic tools like a tape measurer and safety glasses, then students can focus more on their project instead of breaking their expensive tools.

A lot of the times, the apprenticeship’s sponsor, such as General Motors or Chrysler, will supply the student’s big-dollar tools. This means that apprentices are only responsible for using them correctly, which teaches safety and accountability above anything else. After signing the terms and conditions of a training document, if a tool is damaged, lost, or stolen by the student, they have to replace it.

Overall, having an apprenticeship supply its students’ tools can be a good move. Apprentices are more likely to focus on the quality of their projects instead of worrying about their personal tools getting stolen, misused, or broken. It will also save the student some money, which is always a good thing. They can use that money to attend industry events, or save up for the first quality tool of their career.

Whichever side of the fence you’re on, the most important thing is that the apprentice receives a proper education of the industry and quality experience in the field.

Download the Care and Maintenance Guide for Sheet Metal Tools

Topics: Education, Welding, Sheet Metal Fabrication, Apprenticeships

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