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How to Become a CNC Machinist

Buzzle Staff
A CNC machinist operates a CNC machine to manufacture and machine components. He is required to possess fair knowledge about metal shaping and forming processes. This story will elaborate further on how to become a CNC machinist.
"Students can receive the CNC machinists certification or go a bit further into the design and engineering side of the subject and obtain an associate degree in advanced manufacturing with a focus in CNC. Both options have seen quite a bit of possibility and opportunity."
― David Dewey, CNC Program Coordinator, Charlevoix High School
A CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) machinist operates CNC machines―a type of machine widely used for mass production in the manufacturing sector. A machinist operates these machines efficiently to ensure that products or components are machined according to the desired accuracy. 
He is required to know the working and primary maintenance of various machining centers widely used in the manufacturing industry. He is primarily responsible for the output of the machine he handles.
This job can involve handling heavy machinery and equipment rotating at high speeds, which can make it prone to mishaps or accidents; yet, if proper precautions and operating rules are followed, these can be avoided. Also, a machinist may be required to stand for long hours. In the following paragraphs, you will find some tips on how to become a CNC machinist.

Job Description

  • As a CNC machinist, your job would be to manufacture machine parts with precision according to the component drawing or part requirement.
  • You would be selecting the appropriate tools and time cycle for every operation.
  • You have to set the right speed and control the action of the machines by generating appropriate programming codes.
  • You should ensure that the final product is within permissible tolerances.
  • You should use CAM (Computer-Aided Machining) software to determine the proper tool paths and machining codes.
  • You should also be adept at reading and interpreting component drawings.
  • You will not only deal with a variety of metals, but wood and plastics as well.


  • Extreme attention to detail
  • Physical strength
  • Basic computer programming skills
  • Mechanical aptitude
  • High accuracy
  • Presence of mind
  • Good practical skills
  • Mastery over technical aspects
  • Ability to take on challenges


  • CNC machinist training is important to excel this field.
  • However, prior to that, you need to be a high school graduate with good grades also; you should have taken some related subjects, like math and computers.
  • Next, you require a college education; therefore, it would be preferable to have a degree in a specialization, like mechanics or machine technology.
  • You will learn all about machine design, computer-aided design, cnc programing, trigonometry, etc.
  • After college, you can join a short training program to get some experience in machine operations.
  • A couple of years of work experience will help you get an insight of what is expected, and you can then go in for a higher level job.
  • If you do not complete college, you can opt for a training program from a vocational school immediately after your high school education. After completing the program, you can immediately apply for an apprenticeship.
  • Your training program will mostly include on-the-job training. On completion of the training, you can apply a job as a machinist.
  • Remember that your job interview may include demonstration of practical as well as technical skills.
  • After gaining sufficient experience, you will need a certification.
  • This field is government-regulated, and everyone is required to take the certification exam to become a qualified journeyman machinist.
  • The exam will test your basic skills, computer skills, and technical skills. You will be required to know all the safety regulations as well.
  • At a very senior level, you will be training junior staff, generating precision tools paths and codes, and designing new components.


  • According to the BLS, the average annual CNC machinist salary is above USD 40,000.
  • The salary varies as per the industry―machinists in the actual manufacturing field may earn lesser, say around USD 43,000, while the ones working in the gas industry may earn high salaries, perhaps more than USD 90,000.
  • Your training program normally lasts from 6 months to two years, and mostly, they are paid (a lesser paycheck, though).

Work Environment

  • You will be working with machines and computers all day, you may also be required to lift heavy loads.
  • As per the BLS, this field has a decent job growth.
  • You will mostly be working in a regular 40-hour per week shift, unless you are required to work extra during deadlines.
  • You will use a lot of protective gear, like boots, hard hats, gloves, ear-guards, overalls, etc.

For someone who is tech-savvy and who enjoys working with machines as well, this job can be a dream come true. Get adequate work experience though, it is essential to obtain the certification. Good luck!!