How to Become a CNC Machinist

How to Become a CNC Machinist

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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. 

What is a CNC machinist?

A cnc machinist operates a cnc machine. There are a ton of different cnc machines out there, the main ones being cnc routers and cnc lathes. Cnc routers can be split into two classes, a 3 axis machine, which has the typical x,y,z axis and then there are 4 and 5 axis lathes where the spindle will be able move around more angles, e.g. go around and under curves without having to move the item off the cutting bed.

A cnc machinist typically takes a 3d file (.stl) or 2d file (.dxf) and inputs that file into a program that will produce g-code. This g-code is the path data that the machine uses to cut/ engrave the shape.

A cnc machinist will need expertise in both 2d and 3d modelling programs, g-code programs, and be able to handle, maintain and troubleshoot a cnc machine – although many large scale machines have tech support/ help on hand as to not void the warranty by opening up a machine by yourself. Many also come with training so you know the ins and outs of a machine – and so the company has less liability if something bad were to happen.

Skills required

2d and 3d modelling program experience. Using splines etc. should be super easy for you. Programs like AutoCAD or Rhino should be a breeze for you. Great thing about these programs is that there are a lot of tutorial vids out there, but the software licences for something like Solidworks or Autocad is in the thousands to tens of thousands.

Your best bet if you are studying is to potential get a student version or use the computers in your school lab. There are some decent alternatives out there, but for technical 3d modeling and 2d drawings, nothing beats having the real software. However for g-code output there are a lot of options that are reasonably affordable like Mach 4, or free linux solutions. Here are some options for g-code.

Courses to take

This really depends on whether you want to go the diy route or the institutional route. Most design degrees like architecture or industrial design have 2d drafting and 3d modelling components. You of course could teach yourself, but having a formal certificate in drafting or 3d modelling with some op programs is key. However if you can create a great portfolio, then you should be okay – however most companies will need you to be proficient in AutoCAD 2d/3d and another 3d modelling program.

One other way to go is through online technical training. You may look at online automation programs or plc technician programs. There are a ton of universities and colleges that offer plc programming or automation programming courses that you can do from a distance at a relatively decent price (under $1000).

The other thing you have to get yourself up to speed on is the actual cnc machine handling and gcode output. Good thing here is that g-code programs available for free on Mac, Windows and Linux on top of the paid programs like Mach to help practice your programming and translating your 2d/3d program inputs into gcode ready for optimization in material/ time cost and final production.

CNC machinist salary

This really ranges, but typically a good bracket would be between $45,000 to $60,000 USD. Most cnc machinists would be in the $50 range, and of course there are some outliers depending on the trade you are in. In the aerospace or marine industry there is a lot of profit to be made doing commercial stuff, so you are going to be on a higher salary, whereas working for a company that does ad-hoc designs may not pay as much.


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