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cnc machinist

We get a lot of would-be or current cnc machinists browsing through our site a lot. Today’s article will go through what being a cnc machinist is all about, the ins and outs, salary, and general info as to what you need to do/ have to become a cnc machinist. 

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3d metal printing

3d metal printing is set to hit 2.2 billion dollars by 2020 according to the Global Metal 3D Printers Market: Analysis and Forecast 2015-2020) report put out by Research and Markets recently. The technology out there combined with the need for more complicated metal structures in cellphones, tablets, cars, airplanes.

There has been a growing advancement in the industry when it comes to 3d printing in general, and this has spilled over to 3d printing metal.

We’ll start to see large changes in massive industries, such as automotive, healthcare, defense and aerospace. As the tech in these industries evolve, the cost of 3d printers and software will come down due to cheaper computing power.

Challenges ahead

There are still challenges though however. Aurora launched a kickstarter campaign to bring in a sub $4000 3d metal printer, however once the kickstarter finished, the official final pricing went from $4000 to $24,000. Unfortunately Moore’s law just won’t work here to bring down pricing, as electrons beam technology has been in use for a long time (tech used in 3d metal printers at the moment).

Lasers may be the way forward. With advancements in laser tech. Using laser is going to be a lot better as laser stays collimated. This is likely to bring down cost.


Traditional 3d printers using .stl files and printing in plastic (ABS or SLA) have fairly small bed sizes if we are talking about home use. By this we mean that most printing sizes are around the 100 x 100 x 100mm mark, which isn’t too much of a problem as you can glue plastic together.

With metal printing, you’re going to be stuck with smaller parts, unless you can somehow put them together – welding isn’t really a welcome option if you want the ease of a home-use desktop printer – so you will be limited to your print size a lot more with metal. Also we don’t really know for sure how high the resolution can go. 3D printers can already hit 25 microns, whereas most desktop options just aren’t there quite yet.


The use of 3d printers for violent weapons such as guns involve heavy regulation/ legal conequences. Most gun designs require the use of metal parts.

However one metal 3d printers hit mainstream – its going to be difficult to regulate/ control the printing of illegal items. Only time will tell as to how this may be handled.

metal 3d printed object

Outsourcing your 3d metal prints

A cool way to get your 3d printing done without forking over thousands for a machine is to go through a company like Shapeways. There are limitations for how big a steel product can be, ut it is possible to send your file away and get a 3d printed object back – pretty neat stop-gap solution until home printing machines become more affordable.

AS it stands, it seems metal 3d printing will really only be for commercial use as pricing in the thousands and in the hundreds for a releatively small amount of metal powder is expensive. We can’t wait to see the day – just like 3d plastic printing – where metal 3d printing will come down in cost enough to be able to buy one for use at home on your desk.

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cnc router table

So you got yourself a cnc machine, now its time to look into inexpensive as well as the expensive options that you can get when it comes to cnc router tables. The line in the sand seems to be tables under the $1000 mark. It is possible to get something under $1000, but it all comes down to application.

Going the custom route

You could get a custom cnc router table made up. The cheapest diy cnc router table would probably be one that is made out of mdf or custom wood. MDF is probably the best way to go if you want something cheap and easy, as plywood can warp a bit (however treated plywood repels water a lot better without any swelling). 3/4 inch plywood cut up and screwed together would make for an extremely strong base, but wouldn’t be 100% flat, so custom wood/ particle board/ mdf wood is a good way to go, and can be bonded and clamped together to create a stable platform.

Aluminum or steel is another way to go. This is where things start to get expensive, and with aluminum you’d need a specialty welder. You could find some lengths of extrusion then weld them together to a base frame to form a solid base if you’re going the aluminum route. Steel could be done, but you may have to use fasteners to join together if you don’t have access to a welder. The fasteners may vibrate and come loose during repeated application. The good thing about steel is that you can create a lip on the edges, so you can clamp down material easy – also clamping onto steel directly will not dent, unlike a wooden cnc router table top.

Getting the kit with a table

Buying a cnc engraving/ routing machine with a table is the easiest way to go. Cost-wise it’s going to cost from a few hundred to a thousands more, but then you have the whole package ready to go. This kit by CNCEST is a solid 3 axis router that comes with a 230W DC spindle motor and a small, but solid aluminum base.

cnc router table 4x8

This table here (pictured above) is for those that want a large table (4 foot x 8 foot). However you will be paying a lot for this – in the $3000 range.

DIY router table

As mentioned above in the custom router section, diy is definitely going to be your best bet. Getting some treated plywood, or untreated and then cut to size. Home Depot typically allows 2-3 cuts per sheet for free and you can rent a truck from Home Depot for cheap (around $20) for the first 75 mins, then $5 for each 15 minutes afterwards.

We would suggest measuring up what you need, then heading down to Home Depot and picking up your wood then renting one of their vehicles if you don’t have your own. Or if you cut your table down enough you could probably put the plywood into the back of your car. For pre-made plans Build Your CNC has some good ones.

What are your plans for your cnc router table? What solutions have you found to be the best?

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autodesk autocad

There are a ton of different programs out there for setting up a file for cnc use. Our go-to would be Autocad for cnc (2d). Autocad allows you to easily export in a convinient dxf file for 2d (3 axis) cnc machining. We recommend exporting a dwg drawing first in a 1:1 scale where possible so you can see what everything is going to look like before-hand.

Sending the file to your cnc person/ if you have your own cnc software will allow you to get an estimate on the time it will take to cnc cut your cnc autocad dxf file. Typically most software programs can run the virtual path and calculate just how long your  job will take on certain materials. If we’re talking a 3 axis machine here, then the time should be somewhat short.

Autocad has some neat features that you may want to take advantage of. What you can do is keep all your ‘cnc cut’ related files on one specific layer, while other parts of your drawing can be on other layers like the dimensions and notes. That way you can easily turn off the other layers and export your file for your next cnc project.

One downside to Autocad back in the day is the lack of an integrated nesting program. Now there is a great solution called TruNest. This extra add-on integrates directly with Autocad so you can easily nest all your parts in the most efficient way without having to do this manually or export to a program like Rhino. You can set all your nesting parameters and the program will give you a report. This is great as the nesting process used to be a lot harder. You can always export if you wish and do some final touch ups before sending the TruNest final dxf files for cnc.

With more advanced 3d cnc routing or machining work with 5 axis cnc routers, you can use AutoCAD 3d or Inventor, but we also recommend programs like Solidworks for creating 3d items that you can export as an iges, igs or step file for sending off to a cnc or rapid prototyping center. The difference between Step and Iges files have often been the topic of hot debate as to which one you should export as. Honestly, it comes down to your cnc or rapid prototyping center that you are working with. You’ll always want to reopen in a different program where possible to double check the export of your 3d file for quality.

Most programs have the standard export file extensions so you should be able to get away with an Autocad substitute if thats not the way you want to go. Even with Adobe Illustrator you can do an export, however nothing really has the power for 2d like Autocad does.

Which program do you use when you do cnc work and why do you think it works well?

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Robotic arm

Robotics engineering seems like a difficult thing to learn, but at the right college, it can be made easy. A lot of the courses available today are graduate level, but you can still find some offered at an undergraduate level. Below is a list of top colleges that offer mechatronic/ robotics programs.

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cnc machining

There are a ton of types of cnc machines out there. The cnc industry has been extremely exciting over the past decade with the advent of better waterjet cutters, laser cutters and plasma cutters. It seems cnc operators are popping up everywhere as the cost of machines are coming down.

Below I’ll go over some of the different types of cnc machines and what training you made to operate each.

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cnc machines in a factory

At CNC Estab we have gone over a ton about different manufacturing methods using cnc (computer numerical control), but we still get the occasional message asking us how cnc machines work? Well I’m going to go through and hopefully by the end of this post, you should be able to answer when someone asks you “How does a cnc machine work?”

How a cnc machine works

It all starts with a CAD operator who models the product in 3d or 2d using a CAD program. The most common 2d CAD program would be AutoCAD. I used this a lot in the marine industry for making cut files and nesting parts for cnc cutting. For 3d – there is a wide selections from Pro Engineer to Solidworks to Rhino 3d.

After the file has been modeled in the CAD program it is then exported into a friendly CAM format. For 2d this is typically a .dxf file used by a cnc machine to simulate a path and then cut. For 3d a path is also simulated, but in 3d to calculate how long the machine will take – this also varies depending on the material used (wood, metal, resin etc.)

Rhino 3d to MasterCAM

The CAM program then turns the file from the CAD program into G-Code, which is what the machine will then use to cut/ rout the material to form the 3d product or the 2d cuts in the case of plasma cutting or 2d laser cutting.

So in essence the process is CAD program – CAM program – G Code – Machine does the work.

At each stage there are usually ways to test for success. CAD programs allow checks to see that the 3d object is a closed object. Most competent CAD programmers will export in multiple file formats then try and re-import using the same or different CAD program just to check if it has been exported properly.

Typically large files that do get exported as a .stp or .iges file can sometimes corrupt ot don’t turn out properly. With .iges files I have seen surfaces missing after export – so checking the file by re-importing is very important and a time-saver before handing it off to a cnc programmer or cnc operator.

With CAM programs – these typically simulate the routing cycle. This gives you an idea of how the object will be cut, what paths are used and most importantly, the finish and time something like this will take. The beauty of this is that you will never get a ’round about’ figure from a cnc operator.

The software should tell them EXACTLY how much time a job will take and counting the lead time, you should get an exact estimate on time as well as cost. Don’t be fooled if they tell you otherwise.

Types of cnc machines

There are a good variety of different cnc machines out there. Before going into different mediums, I want to talk about the axis.

3 axis cnc machine

3 axis cnc machine – This means the router only has 3 axis, typically x, y and z. This means the machine can not rout complex shapes. I worked with a cnc operator in the past that had this type of machine, but was able to rotate the work piece in between cuts to achieve close to what a 5 axis cnc machine could do.

5 axis cnc machine – I have discussed these a lot previously here on Essentially you get another 2 axis enabling the machine to rout complex shapes. You will also find 4 axis machines as well.

Mediums – laser, regular, plasma, water-jet. Each is unique and used for different purposes. Check out the respective category pages to learn more. But here’s a quick rundown anyway:

Laser cnc machines – This typically uses a  CO2 laser to cut through the material.

Regular cnc routers/ lathes – This typically uses a cutting edge very similar to a drill piece. Actually many use hardened drill pieces to mill any cnc machine work. Used a lot with foam, wood and for cnc engraving work. Most cnc engraving machines use this regular cnc method.

Plasma cnc machine – Similar to a plasma cutter – A plasma cnc machine is typically used for cutting through steel or metal with extremely high heat.

Waterjet cnc machines – Waterjet machines are awesome. They use a high pressure blast of water to cut through material. They are used a lot in 2d cutting metal/ aluminum. The benefit with waterjet cutters is that there is no heat, so the material does not loose any of its original strength and this process provides an extremely clean cut.

Now you should have an understanding on how a cnc machine works, and what the different kinds of cnc machines are. The cnc process has come a long way in the past 50 years and will only continue to get better and better.

What else do you want to know about cnc machines?

Photo credit: Image 1, Image 2, Image 3

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cnc programmer technician

So you want to be a great cnc programmer? Not sure where to get the best cnc programmer training? Well below is CNC Establishment‘s ultimate guide to becoming a great cnc programmer – what you need and what you need to do to get there. Read on to find out how to become a cnc programmer.

CNC programmer training

So where do you get great cnc training? Below I will outline some of the best courses you should definitely look into on the way to becoming a great cnc technician.

What to look for – key performance indicators: 

1.)  At least basic cnc programming skills offered

2.)  Both cnc lathe AND cnc mill programming included

3.)  A touch on good CAD/CAM/ G-Code software like MasterCAM.

USA cnc programs

University of Texas Arlington – Basic cnc programming certificate that adds up to about 200 hours of learning time from basic blueprint reading to cnc mill and cnc lathe programming.

Cuyahoga Community College – Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering department. This looks like a well-rounded program that gives the basics, as well as both mill and lathe cnc programming skills. There is also an overview of MasterCAM

CNC programmer salary in the US is $48,000 according to Indeed. That works out to roughly $24.00 an hour.

Canada cnc programs

Conestoga – These guys have a cnc programmer certificate (apprenticeship) which is a 240 hour program which provides an apprentice with a mix of theory and practical training.

Mohawk College – 232 hour course that will get you a cnc programming certificate. There is a focus on one of our favorite and top rated cnc programs MasterCAM – both 2d and 3d – on top of basic and intermediate cnc programming skills.

NAIT – This is a solid course that I’ve recommended before. They claim a 100% grad employment rate. The good thing about this course is that there is a final 8 week work experience component that allows you to gain further skills and knowledge in a cnc focused machine shop or the floor of a manufacturing plant that will have cnc mills/ lathes.

Stanford International College – CNC/ MasterCAM Diploma program. This is one of the few programs I have seen that actually offer a diploma instead of just a certificate. There is a lot of depth here including cnc setup time. cycle time redction which will save you a ton of time in future. This course is located in Toronto.

Getting a certificate in cnc programming in Canada can be a good bet. The standard cnc programmer salary in Canada to start is $40,000 a year and goes up depending on technical ability and experience. The average cnc programmer wages are between $44,000 to $48,000 Canadian dollars.

UK cnc programs

The CNC Training Academy – courses in Fanuc, Siemens and cnc operator training. They even have specialized cnc programmer certification courses for advanced cnc programmers for subject areas like FeatureCam and PC Tapt. This seems to be the premiere cnc programmer course available in the U.K.

CNC programmer resume

resume for cnc programmer

The resume should ideally have educational experience – prefferably with one of the courses mentioned above – so some sort of cnc programming certificate/ diploma.

You should also have practical experience as hours for a cnc setter programmer/ technician/ operator. You can convey these as apprenticeship hours or actual hours you have used a cnc machine for. This also goes with programming experience and experience using CAD/CAM software.

Depending on the type of cnc machine used (laser / plasma / router etc) you are going to have to tailor your cnc machine programmer resume so it showcases the skills that you have for the type of machine that is most used for the firm you want to work for.

I suggest starting out with the usual cnc router and lathe experience, but you may also want to look into laser CO2 machines, plasma cutters or water jet cnc cutting machines. Each cnc machine has its own quirks – too many to go into right now, but if you read around on this site – there should be plenty of information here for you to learn. Remember that with the ever-changing technology of the cnc realm your cnc programmer job description is going to be constantly evolving.

Where are cnc jobs in demand?

Well there are many different hubs out there, but I would say cnc programmer jobs in Singapore, Dubai, India, UK, US, China, Canada and the US are high right now. There are plenty of vacancies to be found for the qualified cnc programmer with good experience, so be sure to check out some of the courses and tips above to start your career now.

What do you think the best way is to get a good cnc programmer operator education? Please leave your comments below.

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4 axis cnc router

Are you looking for a 4 axis cnc router? Well I’ve put together a guide on what to buy, what the big brands are and also what parts you may need going forward.

Specific 4 axis router brands are hard to come by, as a lot of typical 4 axis machines are modded from an original 3 axis machine. Without further ado, here’s our 4 axis cnc router guide:

Top brands to look for:

Haas – Haas do great 4 axis cnc machines.The ES-5-AX, ES-5-4T, HS-3R are big bed type 4 axis cnc milling machines. From $130k to just over $500k (the first two models are enclosed) The largest 4 axis machine here is a monster 150″ x 50″ x 60″. Yes that’s right, a cnc machine that is actually the price of a house – definitely worth a look.

Haas also does slightly smaller (but still big) machines. Check out their VF-2SS cnc machine for a 16″ x 30″ table travel 4 axis machine, or their 26″ x 40″ table travel HAAS VF-3YT enclosed cnc machine.

Flexicam – Flexicam have some cool machines that have different strengths and weakneses. If you want variety – see these guys.

The Flexicam XXL is a HUGE machine that can have multiple gantries. The XXL machine can go up to a length of just over 12 meters!

Remember, Flexicam doesn’t just do super huge 4 axis cnc machines, they also have a good range of smaller machines that are worth a look.

Careel Technology – Careel’s CR-1325S and their CR-2040S are solid 4 axis machines. Each have a fairly sizable table size. One at 1450×2950 and the larger model at 2500×4700. There is sufficient size here to cover your 4 axis cnc milling needs.

Other recommendations:

MDX-540 subtractive rapid prototyping system – This machine isn’t technically a cnc machine, but is a rapid prototyping machine that has 4 axis capabilities.

Rapid prototyping is something I have never really gone into too much on this particular site, but it is a great alternative as opposed to a cnc router. This is because of its accuracy.

For snap-on parts, smooth finishes and parts that need a smaller resolution (very fine and small parts) – rapid prototyping is a must. Definitely worth checking this machine out.

Different 4 axis cnc controller parts/ accessories to look at:

4-axis CNC driver box – This is my top pick for a 4 axis cnc mill driver box. This is a Sherline cnc driver box. We have been looking and writing about Sherline cnc machines for a while. This also comes with Linux software and a 6 amp power supply. – This is a great site that has a ton of options for different fourth axis parts. If you have a diy 4 axis cnc router, then this site is definitely worth checking out.

Products and accessories include 3 and 4 jaw chucks, motor axis, magnetic faceplates, adaptor kits and different tutorials for these particular parts/ cnc accessories. – These guys do some solid cnc machines. They also have specific 4 axis cnc machines.

Their machines come with larger bed sizes, such as the Swift 4-axis 24 x 48 as wekk as the Smartshop D 48″ x 96″ 4hp cnc router 10hp vacuum. A larger cnc machine like this definitely needs a vacuum to function well, so I’m glad to see this functionality with this larger bed cnc machine.

Probotix – 4 axis stepper motor driver kits for the person who loves the diy 4 axis cnc scene. These are some quality parts for a potential 4 axis cnc kit.

Xylotex – For cheaper 4 axis drive boxes, check out the Xylotex 4 axis drive box.

4 axis cnc software

BobCAD-CAM – 4 axis mill professional software. This is a great piece of cad/cam software. Cad/cam software can be really expensive.

Solidworks and Pro/Engineer are my usual go-to’s, but the BobCAD-CAM cnc software works perfect for a 4 axis cnc machine, without needing to have the extra bells and whistles of the aforementioned programs.

Seats for Solidowrks, Pro/Engineer and Autodesk Inventor can be expensive. BobCAD-CAM also has software for 5 axis machines too. Also I wouldn’t recommend AutoCAD 3d, it’s best to just go straight to a dedicated 3d program or with Inventor.

Beginner G Code – Check out our tutorial for beginners. There are plenty of other books out there as well for this sort of stuff (see below) or our write up on different cnc courses.

CNC must-have books – check out these books for further information on cnc training and software recommendations. Good luck!

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cnc operator training

Are you looking for the best cnc machine training courses? Want to be come the ultimate cnc operator?

Well look no further than out MASSIVE breakdown on all the different online cnc training schools as well as cnc machine operator training in a physical location. Here we go:

Breakdown will be for USA, Canada, and the UK.


Cuyahoga Community College

Tri-C offers cnc operator training for the new and the experience cnc personnel. They have a ton of different courses from cnc fundamentals to advanced mill and lathe techniques. There are also courses in MasterCAM too.

City Colleges of Chicago – Wibur Wright

Check out their advanced certificate in cnc – which goes from basic principles to advanced cad/cam and cnc programming training.

This program incorporates some engineering subjects like machine shop technology, math and even an internship which is invaluable for getting some hands on experience. Definitely take a looks here if you are looking for cnc training in Chicago.

Los Angeles Trade-Tech

Los Angeles Trade-Tech (LATTC) has some solid options for a cnc training school. For machine shop cnc, you can get an Associate of Science Degree or a Certificate of Accomplishment

For their adjunt machine shop cnc courses, a certificate of accomplishment as well as an S.M.E. (Society of Manufacturing Engineers) LATTC Chapterment.

LATTC has a massive workshop full of both cnc lathes and machines. Check them out if you are over in the West coast of the U.S.

University of Texas, Arlington

University of Texas, Arlington has a basic cnc programming certificate for those who want basic cnc programming skills alongside their cnc lathe training or router knowledge. This course covers lathes as well as mills.

Akron cnc training center

Akron cnc training center is great for people looking for cnc training in Ohio. They have a bit of an old-school website, so its best to just call them or email them for information on start dates etc.


Institute of Machine Tool Technology

IMTT has both a certificate and diploma program to become a successful cnc machine tool operator and programmer. Each course is 21 and 42 weeks respectively.

The certificate program teaches Mastercam as well as multi-axis programming, Autocad (I love Autocad!) and a ton of cnc tooling, milling, programming and turning work.

Their 42 week program is a longer program, but also suited for beginners too. You don’t have to do the certificate first before doing the diploma. The physical location offers day and evening classes in Mississauga, Ontario.

College of New Caledonia

Based in BC, Canada – the College of New Caledonia offers continuing education cnc classes.

Metro College of Technology

These guys offer cnc and MasterCAM technology training courses so you can become an amazing cnc operator. Their cnc machinist training courses involve learning Autocad 2d, cad design and both cnc router and lathe usage among other things.

Canadore College

Check out their CNC/MasterCAM program. You can get a machinist mechanical diploma here, which offers hands-on cnc machinist training.

British Columbia Institute of Technology

British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) has a great program for cnc machining training. They have a massive 30,000 square foot shop with state of the art equipment that includes cnc machines and top notch cad software for learning cad/cam as well as operator responsibilities.

The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

Based in Edmonton, Alberta, The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT). Their website is pretty cool and boasts a 100% grad employment rate with a median starting salary of $40,000. I like the transparency in stats, especially given how easy it is to jump on a pay scale comparison site like

United Kingdom

CNC Training Academy (Mill’s CNC)

Established in 2010 – these guys do some great cnc training courses based in a physical location at Mills CNC’s facility in Leamington. They have a whole bunch of courses here – to name a few: Siemens, Fanuc, Heidenhain and their cnc operator training/ maintenance courses. There is definitely solid variety here for the beginner to the expert.


Bridgewater offers college level cnc training courses in engineering (cnc production) up to a diploma level that are worth a look.

British Woodworking Federation

Provided by SGM Group (UK) Ltd. and based out in Nottingham, this is an interesting opportunity for cnc programmer training for apprentices and experienced workers. The course is only available to members of the BWT/WITTorum.

There is a beginner and an advanced course to suit different experience levels. This cnc mill training course encompasses  a good selection of cnc skills necessary, such as programming, use of guides and off-sets, AutoCAD and file management/ prep for cnc and translation to G-code. Best thing about this course: It’s 100% free! (some terms are involved, so check’em out for more details).

Also check out our recommended cnc books section to help supplement the cnc machine training school you might choose to pursue. Good luck on becoming a great cnc operator!

What other courses do you recommend?

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