The Jack of All Trades and Master of Many

Many of the trades require a certain set of skills to enter the profession. Of all the trades, it is perhaps the Millwright that offers the opportunity to practice the most diverse set of skills.
The “mill” in the word millwright comes from the early days when specialized carpenters built and maintained workings in flour mills, sawmills or paper mills powered by water or wind. The millwrights of the 17th and 18th centuries were quite different from millwrights today. Back then, they were master craftsmen who completely designed and constructed mills.
James Watt had only just perfected the steam engine by the mid-18th century, and up until then of course, water was the only reliable natural power source. Water was directed over hand-constructed wooden mill wheels to generate power.
Millwrights executed every type of engineering operation in the construction of these mills. They designed the patterns of the water wheel systems, carved their gear mechanisms, and finally erected the mill machines.
Their skill sets included working knowledge of drive shafts, bearings, gearing and mechanical belts. Back in the day, the majority of the workings in a mill were built out of wood, however, as technology progressed, stronger and more durable materials were developed, so metals such as iron and steel replaced the use of wood.
A millwright today installs; builds and maintains; and repairs and troubleshoots stationary industrial machinery and mechanical equipment in sites such as factories, production plants and recreational facilities. Millwrights play an essential role in fertilizer plants, steel mills, oil refineries, pumping stations, gas, hydro, steam, or nuclear power plants, as well as other industries worldwide in which heavy machinery is involved.
Millwrights primarily do construction work, plant maintenance work or a combination of both. They often work in close association with other tradespeople such as machinists, instrument mechanics, welders, electricians and pipefitters.
Millrights are responsible for the assembly of the equipment when it arrives at the job site. Using hoisting and moving equipment, they position the pieces which need to be assembled. Their job requires a thorough knowledge of the load-bearing capabilities of the equipment they use.
They must be able to read blueprints and schematic drawings to determine work procedures, to construct foundations, and to assemble, dismantle and overhaul machinery and equipment using hand and power tools. They must also be able to direct workers engaged in such endeavours.
The use of lathes, milling machines and grinders may be required to make customized parts or repairs. In the course of work, millwrights are required to move, assemble, and install machinery and equipment such as shafting, precision bearings, gear boxes, motors, mechanical clutches, conveyors and tram rails using hoists, pulleys, dollies, rollers, and trucks.
Millwrights are also involved in routine tasks, such as lubrication of machinery, bearing replacement, seal replacement, cleaning of parts during an overhaul, and preventative maintenance. They must also have a good understanding of fluid mechanics (hydraulics and pneumatics), and all of the components involved in these processes, such as valves, cylinders, pumps and compressors.
The current standards of practice for millwrights also requires working within precise limits or standards of accuracy (without a fear of heights); the use of logical step-by-step procedures; and planning, problem-solving and decision-making based on quantifiable information.

How to get there

To become a Millwright in Manitoba, you can enter the apprenticeship program which is a four-year program; each year is considered a level. Practical and technical training is a minimum of 1,600 hours per level.
Approximately 80 per cent of the time is spent learning practical, on-the-job skills under the supervision of a certified journeyperson, and 20 per cent consists of learning the theoretical and technical aspects of the trade through in-school training.
Millwrights must take technical training during each level of their apprenticeship.
Besides the training that Millwright Apprentices take in their Provincial Apprenticeship, UBC Millwright Apprentices have a standalone training facility in Winnipeg that is Canadian Welding Bureau (CWB) certified.
Here, all the necessary safety training including Fall Protection, Confined Space work and the use of Aerial Lift Equipment like Zoom Boom trucks and Class 1-7 Fork Lifts is taught.
Skill enhancement training also takes place in areas such as Optical Alignment and Dial Alignment leveling, aligning Prime Mover (large Motors or Turbine) equipment, and Drive Trains to tolerances one-third the  thickness of human hair.
The successful Millwright graduate has the opportunity to find excellent employment opportunities, as well as be a sought-after tradesperson related to a variety of industries.
On a historical point, it is interesting to note that back in 1882, it was Peter J. McGuire who, in his role as a co-founder of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, is credited with founding the national September holiday, Labour Day.
In Manitoba, Union Millwrights are members of the Prairie Arctic Regional Council which includes Carpenters, Drywallers, Millwrights and Allied Workers. For more information about becoming a Millwright, please contact Alan Szmerski at 204-771-8669 or

One thought on “The Jack of All Trades and Master of Many”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s