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6 CNC terms you need to know before getting started

As with all highly technical fields, the world of CNC wields its own unique language of acronyms and jargon widely used and understood by industry pros. If youre thinking of getting involved in CNC work for the first time, its important to familiarize yourself with some of the verbiage youll come across on an everyday basis.

Here are six common CNC terms to know before getting started in the trade. There are dozens of important terms beyond these few, but these will provide an introduction to help you start talking the talk.


Where it all begins CNC itself. CNC is one of those many acronyms in the industry, and it stands for computer numerical control. It refers to the automated control of machining tools such as routers, drills, and lathes with a computer in order to perform a cut or series of cuts on a piece of material.

CNC machines follow specific programmed instructions without a manual operator, providing the benefits of added precision and efficiency for users.


G-Code refers to the most widely used CNC programming language. Its whats used to tell the machines motor where to move, how rapidly, and along which path. It ultimately determines the process by which the finished product is made.

G-Codes get their name because they begin with the letter G (they are also sometimes called preparatory codes). A given G-Code will inform the machine of which movement to perform, such as a rapid positioning, dwell, or variable-pitch threading just to name a few.

All ShopSabre systems run from Standardized G-Code which is the most common form in the world.


Heres another one of those acronyms. CAD stands for computer-aided design and refers to the software used to create the codes that will be input into and run the machine. The process begins with a CAD drawing of the product being created and then translated through CAM software into G-Code.

Utilizing CAD drawings increases the productivity and quality of the design phase and also puts the designs into a database for future reference and use.


The spindle plays a crucial role in the CNC process. It consists of a motor, a taper for holding tools, and a shaft to hold all of the separate components together. The spindle rotates on an axis that receives input from the CNC controller.

CNC machines use high-speed spindles which are designed specifically for various high-performance cutting needs. Without the spindle, the CNC is simply moving in space.


An axis is a plane of motion along which the tool moves to execute the cut. Most CNC machines have three axes X, Y, and Z.

The x-axis moves from left to right.

The y-axis moves from front to back.

The z-axis moves up and down and provides three-dimensional cutting capability, which is what makes CNC work so customizable and effective.


Nesting is the process of laying out the patterns of a cut so as to reduce the amount of waste in a project. It allows for more pieces to be produced without using and ultimately discarding more sheets of material.

Pieces cut with Dynamic nesting

Pieces cut with Rotational nesting

Improved nesting or True Shape Nesting combining different cut patterns to get the most out of your material

Nesting decreases the cutting time and increases the overall efficiency and productivity of the job.

Break into the world of CNC with ShopSabre

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