What is a CNC Machine and How Do You Use It

Whether you’re a journeyman craftsman, have a woodworking business, or work in industrial production, chances are, you’ll cross paths with CNC machines at some point. CNC software technology has become tightly integrated with manufacturing in the past half century and is becoming more and more commonplace for personal use.

Advances in software and technology mean lower barriers to entry. Companies like Inventables have made CNC machines accessible for even the most amatuer craftsmen. However, a basic understanding of CNC technology is still required in order to use.

So without further preamble, here is an introduction to CNC machines and how to use them.

What is a CNC Machine?

First things first, what’s a CNC machine?

CNC stands for ‘computer numerical control.’ It’s a technology that was first developed in the 1940s in which punch cards would direct the inputs of machines in manufacturing. It was faster and more efficient than manually operated machines.

Nowadays, CNC machines are controlled by digital inputs from software design programs. The machines use mills, lathes, routers, and other tools to remove precise amounts of material like wood, plastics, aluminum, steel, and other metals.

What are the Advantages of a CNC Machine?

Precision and speed are the primary benefits of CNC technology.

They provide the ability to adjust designs at extremely fine levels.  Prior to CNC machining, tools like mills, lathes, and routers, needed to be controlled by hand. Operators would guide the movements of machines which meant they were prone to error. Not to mention slower and less precise.

Now, with CNCs, not only are the cuts more efficient and precise, but operators are able to run machines without direct supervision. This dramatically decreases the amount of labor required for manufacturers. CNC has become so commonplace that it’s become a mandatory skill for machinists.

The same benefits that commercial and industrial manufacturers enjoy can also be enjoyed by hobbyists. CNC machines are becoming more common for personal use. Whether people are using them for fun or side hustles and small business, they provide incredible benefits for those wood or metal working at home.

How Do You Use a CNC Machine?

Using a CNC machine is a simple step by step process that’s not as intimidating as it may immediately seem.

First you’ll need to design your prototype, whatever it is you’ll be carving. This can be done with a computer aided design software, or CAD. It can be two or three dimensional and the machine will convert the inputs into something called G-code.

G-Code is the code that actually directs the machine where to cut and at what depth.

Next, you’ll need to set up the machine itself. This includes mounting the proper cutting tools: a lathe, router, or whatever you’ll be using. Secure the piece you’ll be carving in the workspace area. Then you should be just about ready to start carving!

CNC machines can provide great opportunities for hobbyists at home trying to make a few extra bucks. In fact, many people have turned their woodworking hobbies into a full on small business. All you need is a bit of know-how and the right tools. So get out there and start your CNC carving today!

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