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Ultrashort pulsed-laser radiation is an effective method for precision materials processing and surface nano-/micromodification because of minimal thermal and mechanical damage. This study demonstrates that controllable surface nanomachining can be achieved by femtosecond laser pulses through local field enhancement in the near-field of a sharp probe tip. Nanomachining of thin gold films was accomplished by coupling 800-nm femtosecond laser radiation with a silicon tip in ambient air. Finite-difference time-domain numerical predictions of the spatial distribution of the laser field intensity beneath the tip confirmed that the observed high spatial resolution is due to the enhancement of the local electric field. Possible structuring mechanisms and factors affecting this process are discussed. The present process provides an intriguing means for massive nanofabrication due to the flexibility in the substrate material selection, high spatial resolution of ∼10 nm (not possible with standard nanomachining techniques), and fast processing rates achievable through simultaneous irradiation of multiarray tips. © 2003 American Institute of Physics.