Tips to Improve Your CNC Programming Skills

November 8, 2019 4:08 pm

Modern metalworking is all about CNC machining. CNC machines offer benefits that manual machines will never be able to match, such as: improved accuracy, increased production speeds, enhanced safety, increased efficiency, and most of all, cost savings. They are a staple in the metalworking industry and are a necessary asset for any shop that aims at staying competitive in this demanding industry.

Machinists who have basic programming skills are extremely valuable. That’s why CNC programming is one of the most popular and financially rewarding jobs in manufacturing right now.

CNC programmers are expected to develop instructions for running any type of machine. They are therefore required to be familiar with computers and machine controllers, as well as have a good understanding of basic CNC programming codes.

If you want to become a CNC programmer or are looking to hone your skills to boost your career, there are many routes you can take. In this article, we’ll give you an overview of the different ways you can learn or improve your programming skills.


College courses 

Enrolling in a college course is the most straightforward way to learn the basics of CNC programming. recently compiled a list of the best colleges with CNC machining technology degrees in the US.



Apprenticeships are probably one of the most comprehensive ways to learn CNC programming. These programs, often sponsored by companies, labor organizations or joint labor-management organizations, typically consist of a mix of hands-on work and classroom learning.   Since apprenticeships are considered full-time jobs, the best way to find one is through job search tools like LinkedIn or Indeed. The Department of Labor also provides a list of apprenticeship programs.


Online resources

If you already have a good knowledge of machining and feel like a college course is not the right route for you, there are several online resources that can teach you the basics. We handpicked a few to help you get started with the research.


GCode Tutor

Our friend and website contributor, Marc Cronin, offers plenty of CNC programming courses on his website From milling machines to 3D printing, these courses cover almost everything related to CNC programming. Here’s a sample tutorial.



With more than 500 unique online classes, Tooling-U provides an incredibly broad catalog of manufacturing training topics, among which includes CNC programming. Every online class has been reviewed and carefully vetted by industry experts to ensure training is delivered by the best in industry.


Udemy also provides several different CNC programming courses. From basic to advanced CNC macro programming classes, this online university can help you deepen your understanding and become a better CNC machinist.

Last but not least, the CNC machining section on our forum features plenty of insightful conversations about CNC programming. And if you can’t find the information you’re looking for, you can always become a member (registration is free!) and connect with more than 156,000 metalworking professionals who are sure to have the answers you need.



We’ve stressed this in the past, but we’ll say it again: books are your friends. While they will never be able to substitute hands-on experience (especially when it comes to machining), they can help you master even the most complicated subjects.

Considered by many machinists as an authority in this field, Peter Smid has published multiple guides and handbooks for all levels of CNC programming. Here are a few of his books that we recommend:


CNC Programming Handbook


The de facto standard for training and material reference at all levels of CNC programming. Used in hundreds of educational institutions around the world as the primary text for CNC courses and daily by many in-field CNC programmers and machine operators, this book literally defines CNC programming.


CNC Control Setup for Milling and Turning


No other book covers CNC control setup in such practical detail. This unique reference features nearly all the activities a typical CNC operator performs on a daily basis.


Fanuc CNC Custom Macros


This book is a general introduction about macros (known as Custom Macros or User Macros). Its purpose is to familiarize you with what macros are, how to develop them, and how to use them effectively. It also explores related subjects and identifies other helpful topics in CNC programming.


CNC Programming Techniques


This practical and very useful resource covers several programming subjects, including how to program CAM software. Information on these subjects is notorious for being virtually impossible to find. Other, more common, subjects, such as cutter radius offset and thread milling are covered in great detail as well.


CNC Simplified


This textbook takes the mystery out of CNC, puts it into a logical sequence and translates it in simple language that can be understood by all.


As for any technical skill, the best (and most obvious) way to learn is through experience. The resources mentioned above will never be able to substitute real-world practice but will surely complement them. So, if you get the opportunity to work with a mentor that can teach you how to program and give you hands-on experience, take it.

Are there other resources that you recommend for learning about CNC programming? Comment below and share your experience with us.


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  • NC programmers fun song from Belfast UK from the late 70s
    Sung to the tune of the Deadwood Stage….
    Now the boring bar is approaching the clearance plane..
    And we’re gonna try this boring cycle again.
    23 tips we’ve tried out today.
    So chip breakaway , chip breakaway, chip breakaway!

    Other verses on request!!

  • Don says:

    As a former CNC instructor, I would strongly recommend participating in one of the Fanuc schools in Charlottesville, Virginia.

  • Current CNC Instructor in Sarasota Florida – member of the HTEC network – We have just converted from all hand code programming to a blend of CadCam with 2 different Software (Mastercam and Fusion 360) plus hand G code programming. On Mill and lathe in Fanuc format. Plus all students do some manual machining projects to understand the basics. We have a 6 month CNC Only program of 600 hours and a full year program Total Machinist.

    We are also planning an advanced CNC course for more CadCam like 4 axis lathe, 3d milling, 4 and 5 axis mill

  • Jason T says:

    Jon Saunders at Saunders machine works, Jon, is a down to earth guy who eats and sleeps machining. His ethos is to share skills and promote machining to the masses.
    Titan at Titans of cnc is another great guy for sharing and up skilling people.

    Problem with manufacturers courses is they are dedicated to their own controllers and machinery, plus their courses are very expensive. College courses are only as good as the lecturer and have a tendency of only teaching on low cost equipment (colleges strapped for cash and all that).

    If an employer is genuinely struggling to recruit why not have an open house day, open your doors one weekend to any one who might be interested in machining to visit your works and see for themselves what a career in the industry would be like. If that sound like too much trouble then please stop wining about the skills shortage – There are far too many people out there looking for work, the key problem is employers are blind or indifferent to their own recruitment problems. Only they can employ people, there isn’t a magic pot.

  • None says:

    I’m in Northern California, near Sacramento, and I’m using Fusion 360 for CAM and tool path programing for my CNC mill work. I’m doing pretty well with Fusion but occasionally, I run into a programming issue. The local college doesn’t have a Fusion course and I haven’t found anyone that can help me when I get jammed up. Does anyone know of a resource that can possible help work through a few issues as they arise?
    Thank you.

  • Hey there, first of all thank you so much for this post. Really informative post about CNC machining. You have wonderful views which are evident from your writings. Keep posting such kind of blogs as they are really informative, wish you good luck for your future blogs.

  • Lucas Cao says:

    I’d also recommend Titans of CNC. They have step by step video tutorials of the CAD and CAM process that are very easy to follow. The information is probably not as detailed as the other resources but it’s much more digestible than reading textbooks.

  • Thanks for sharing the useful information about the tips to improve your cnc programming skills. Keep posting such kind of blogs as they are really informative, wish you good luck for your future blogs. Keep it up and keep sharing.

  • As you mentioned, there are some online training options for CNC machine training. My uncle is wanting to improve his skills without taking time out of his workday. I wonder if he would be interested in online training.

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