CNC Operator vs CNC Machinist: What’s the difference? | Epic Tool
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CNC Operator vs CNC Machinist: What’s the difference?

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Operator vs Machinist

CNC Machinists are skilled and knowledgeable of two main things and it’s not hard to guess either. CNC, and machining. Typically, CNC Machinists are highly trained machinists who learned CNC programming from the ground up as part of their training and eventually on the job. These experts combine their technical knowledge of programming a CNC machine tool with the practical machining experience. Together, their competence in both areas allows them to design CNC programs that result in world-class finished products, ready to use.

In contrast to a CNC Operator, the job of a CNC Machinist is much more specialized. It’s widely considered that a CNC Machinist is a much more advanced version of a CNC Operator. They know more than just how to turn the machine on and off and some basic programming; they understand why the program should include certain operations, and how to create a precision machining program to achieve optimal results.

Operator vs. Machinist: Skill and Training

So you might be wondering, when does a CNC Operator become a machinist? Technically, someone could operate a CNC lathe or mill for decades and never have the knowledge or mechanical expertise to call themselves a machinist.

To actually become a CNC Machinist it requires far more knowledge than how to run a CNC machine tool, or even how to create a precise G-code program. Instead, a machinist is a certain career path. A CNC operator may be on that path, but while all machinists are likely qualified to be CNC operators, not all CNC operators will become machinists. Hence why it’s seen as a “step-up” from each other.

Careers as a CNC Operator and CNC Machinist

You can find CNC machine tools basically everywhere across the modern manufacturing industry today. Due to the flexibility between both job titles, the most practical difference between a CNC Operator career and a CNC Machinist career often comes down to the overall work experience and the way it’s presented.

Many machinists learn CNC programming on the job; while some operators pick up the essentials of modern machining from their own years of experience in machine shops and manufacturing floors. An experienced CNC Operator with plenty of work under their belt across industries anywhere from aerospace to science labs can rightfully call themselves a CNC machinist. 

There’s many courses and training programs offered at many universities across the United States where you can earn a degree that can provide more straightforward, formal training and overall knowledge. For those interested, the coursework is definitely meticulous but it’s worth it and financial aid is also available to those who qualify.


CNC Operators and CNC Machinists aren’t opposites; they’re more like stages of growth on the path to mastering machinery but both play a vital role in the success you see in our industries.