Six CNC Terms You Should Know

Computer Numerical Control (CNC) technology has been around since the 1960s, but its popularity is growing among hobbyists and professionals as CNC machines become more affordable, powerful, and precise. The increased demand has created an opportunity to learn about common acronyms used in CNC machining that are useful to know if you’re using or interested in using this technology. Here’s a list of six terms everyone should know if they want to be well-versed in CNC machining.

1.   G- Code

G-code is the language of CNC. It controls what happens on the computer and what goes on with the machine. G-code is a programming language that controls the motion of a CNC machine tool across its workpiece based on data given by the user or programmer through either manual control or computer controls. It can also store instructions or measurements for sequences of operations executed by a CNC milling machine or lathe.

For instance, if you want to cut two sheets of metal into four pieces each without spending hours measuring everything manually, this coding will do all the work for you. You can generate G-code from Easel CNC Software which lets you edit, save and re-use G-code files. But since there are no universal standards governing G-code, you need to ensure your program is compatible with the machine’s specific version of G-code to create accurate machining commands.

2.   Toolpaths

CAM software is the core of any CNC machine and defines how the tool will make cuts. Toolpaths are the instructions that specify where to move the device, what direction to move it in, what cutting speed to use, and other parameters. It then involves programming the toolpaths into a CAD model before transmitting them to the CAM software.

CNC software can store different types of toolpaths in various dimensions, such as 3-axis or 4-axis. A 3-axis CNC typically works on 2D objects, while a 4-axis machine can work with 2D or 3D objects. A library of toolpaths can help produce a prototype from an idea faster than starting from scratch each time. Most modern CAM packages have libraries of standard shapes and designs for easy access.

3.   Raster Carving

Raster carving is the process of removing material from an object with a laser beam. In this case, the goal is to remove all of the material that does not have the desired cross-section. It can help cut intricate shapes in thin metal sheets or engrave images and text into almost any type of material, including wood, plastic, and stone. The process typically starts with a design created using computer software and then transferring it to vector graphics. CAD (computer-aided design) data for translation into code controlling the machine’s operation.

4.   CAM and CAD

Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) and computer-aided design (CAD) work together to create virtual models that will become real, physical objects. CAM software helps to develop a 3D model, which you can then export to the CAD program for design. After finalizing your design, CAM software will control the movement of the machine to produce your desired object.

For example, if you want to mill out a square block from plywood, CAM software would first draw out the shape on the plywood surface. Next, it would define the edges where you want to cut by specifying all points on either side for both inside and outside faces. Finally, it will tell your machine through CAD where to start cutting so that all four corners are square. CAD program helps to create tool paths for cutting or other machining operations.

5.   Design Tools

A CNC machine is a computer-controlled device that is helpful for cutting, shaping, and forming materials. It uses various tools to make quality precision parts from a material based on coordinates provided by the CAD design file. CNC design tools may include bits, knives, wire cutters, mills, lathes, sanders, grinders, and many more. The tool type determines how deep into the material it cuts or what it does with it afterward, such as milling or turning. For instance, if you are drilling holes in a piece of metal, you would use an endmill. If you ride a piece of metal on a lathe, you will use a roughing gouge.

6.   Operations Panel

The operations panel is the part of a computerized machine that controls the operation of the CNC machine. It contains buttons and screens where you input commands to start and stop the CNC machine. An operations panel also includes controls for specifying parameters like feed rate, depth of cut, and machine orientation. It helps the operator set up jobs and determines what instructions the machine will follow. The human interface device provides the connection between the user and the machine control. It translates an operator’s input into electronic signals that the control system can read.


CNC terms help us understand the process and how the machine works. CNC is a field that can look daunting to newcomers, but once you get familiar with the jargon and different acronyms, it becomes much easier going. These terms are by no means the last you will need to learn, but they are a good foundation for anyone interested in the more complex concepts of CNC machining. As always, continue giving the topic a little more research for a deeper understanding.

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